Nearly a year to the day before the inaugural National IPA Day, I tried my first Maryland-made IPA. It was a concoction called 7 Finger Farmer at the soon-to-be-opened Burley Oak Brewing Company. Although this blog is generally about the local beer culture, in honor of National IPA Day (celebrated on August 6 this year), I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the early IPAs on the Shore. We’ve come so far in so few years, it totally is worth mentioning.
In what follows I’m going to recall without notes the development of my three favorite IPAs on the Shore. I’m sure there are and will be more and would love some feedback, but the three breweries that follow are ones I’ve covered from their inception and I’m most comfortable writing about them. Similarly, if anything comes across as uncomplimentary, they know I love them.
Being Burley’s first IPA
Full disclosure in the interest of pretend objectivity: I have a pretty close emotional relationship with Burley Oak. I’m not in Berlin and don’t get there as often as I would like, but it was the first brewery I covered and the original subject of what would become my first book.
That said, I didn’t like 7 Finger Farmer at all. I never was much of an IPA fan and only just getting a handle on craft beer, so part of that impression could be that my palate was still getting used to non-Budweiser. My palate, such as it was, was tuned to the maltier beers.
The other factor is that Burley was on the verge of perfecting Rude Boy, which was an excellent beer even when it wasn’t as good as it would eventually would become. If there was a Rude Boy to be drunk, there was no point in my trying anything else, which is why it took awhile for me to find the first really fantastic IPA out of Burley, Aboriginal Gangsta. They made it with the (then hard to get) Motueka hops and couldn’t keep it on tap.
Since then, because Burley is Burley, they’ve topped themselves with nearly every IPA outing. If you can find and have an Aboriginal Gangsta, though, it totally is worth your while. If you swing by the brewery the Secret Sauce DIPA is never a disappointment.
The dark side of 3rd Wave
For me, 3rd Wave’s “1st Wave IPA” was the first of what might be called aggressively accessible IPAs in the region. By the time 3rd Wave was up and running, I had developed a better sense of IPAs and still was slow to order them.
People really like this beer and I begrudge no one their decision to drink a very easy to enjoy beer, but, as with Rude Boy, I always felt they did so many other things so much better at 3rd Wave that I almost always chose something else.
Besides the Big Reef Porter, 3rd Wave always had something new and challenging on tap. Some were winners and some were not, but it’s tough to order an IPA when there’s stuff like (for instance) a cranberry Berliner Wisse with roasted chipotle on tap.
When they came out with their Bonzai Black IPA, though, things changed. It is one of the few IPAs I still have trouble passing up. It is roasty and bitter and a solid, solid beer. Sometimes I forget and order it before I try something new, then end up needing to eat a half-carafe of Goldfish to even taste the next beer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent problem to have.
If Black IPAs aren’t your thing, their DIPA (Bombora) is stellar and another one I’ll drink with some regularity.
A RaR treat
When RaR opened, as with Burley and 3rd Wave, its IPA (Nanticoke Nectar) didn’t really appeal to me. Again, this probably had to do with the fact that their Bucktown Brown was so good and their Minelayer Saison was just outrageous. Nanticoke Nectar has found its audience, although I am not among them unless it is the beer base.
The genius of this beer, and it could be by design, is that it can be improved by additives. The first, and still without question the best, iteration I had was the Habanero Nectar. Nanticoke Nectar brewed with habanero peppers. It was so subtle, bringing the heat without being too aggressive.
The guys at RaR continue to make “Nectars” and I’ve yet to have one that wasn’t astounding. They are very, very not afraid of experimenting and there’s no way they don’t have something great on or out for National IPA Day.
If you can’t get the Habanero or the Grapefruit Necrae, Nanticoke Nectar is by no means a distant second.
So those are the IPAs about which I felt as if I had something interesting to say. I generally don’t solicit responses, but I’d love to see your recommendations on Twitter, Untappd or Instargam @Ossurynot (it’s my name backwards). I’ll retweet all recommendations from the @Beerwstrangers podcast account.