Top Ten Baltimore-Area Drinks and Brews of 2016

Pina Colada at Pen & Quill
Pina Colada at Pen & Quill (J.M. Giordano/City Paper)
1. Chardonnay Barrel Belgian style ale by Evolution Craft Brewing Company (201 E. Vine St., Salisbury, [443] 260-2337, evolutioncraftbrewing.com)
If you’re not turning your drive to the beach into a brewery crawl (with a DD, of course) you’re missing out. Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels, RaR Brewing in Cambridge, Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin, and Tall Tales Brewing Company just west of Ocean City are all putting out killer beers, but it was a stop through Salisbury for Evolution Craft Brewing Company that really turned our heads. While we’ve had plenty of Lot No. 3 IPAs and Lucky 7 porters, it was the discovery of their barrel-aged Migration series that had us seeing the brewery with fresh eyes. Aged in rum, bourbon, or chardonnay barrels, every beer in the series was solid, but the chardonnay barrel-aged Belgian pale ale something else. Wild fermented with a strain of bacteria called brettanomyces, this 7.2 percent ABV beer starts with a familiar punch of hops, continues with a smooth malt backbone, and finishes with a “what the fuck was that?” mix of funk meets wine-imparted oak. It’s limited in release, but if you find it, get it. (Ryan Detter)
2. ‘Rye’sing Sun at Bookmakers Cocktail Club (31 E. Cross St., [443] 438-4039, bookmakersbaltimore.com)
Brave Federal Hill for the sweet and spicy ‘Rye’sing Sun at the swanky Bookmakers Cocktail Club. It starts with robust rye whiskey and a bit of freshness from Strega, an Italian herbal liqueur. But the real showstopper is the Chinese five-spice pineapple cordial. Chinese five-spice with warm, comforting flavors like clove, star anise, and cassia, speckled throughout the cocktail while the pineapple adds a vibrant sweetness to it. The sweetness is balanced out with Japanese chili-lime bitters and a dash of chili oil, which leave taunting little slicks on the surface of the cocktail and a delightful tingle on your lips each time you take a sip. A surprising sensory experience like none other in Baltimore, the ‘Rye’sing Sun is an adventure in a coupe glass. (Casey Embert)
3. Cuvee Freddy at Wet City (223 W. Chase St., [443] 873-6699, wetcitybrewing.com)
The people at Wet City have been garnering lots of attention for their eclectic selection of beers on tap. It almost seems strange to write about the Cuvee Freddy, because it’s not actually very beer-like at all. But, as our food writer Mary Zajac said in her review of the place, it was so good that it promises to convert even the most avowed beer hater. It is a deep reddish-brown, tangy, and very tasty. Brewed by the Flemish Picobrouwerij Alvinne, it is aged in wine barrels for a year before being blended with a stout. It packs a punch, too. Great for when you are bracing yourself to go back out into the cold winter night. (Lisa Snowden-McCray)
4. Pink Flamingo by Union Craft Brewing (1700 Union Ave., [410] 467-0290, unioncraftbrewing.com)
Union found a gem with their first kettle-soured beer Old Pro Gose (winner of our Best Beer 2015), with its tart profile and slight salt finish, and took it a bit further with Pink Flamingo. Released this past summer as part of their small batch series, this sour ale starts with that familiar pucker-inducing flavor of Old Pro but then the addition of pink grapefruit adds a jolt of citrus, eventually finishing with a ginger kick thanks to the purée that’s added during brewing. It was only available at the brewery and at select taps around the city, but whenever we saw it, it was our go-to summer pint (the Miami-meets-Baltimore logo was pretty sweet, too). Here’s hoping it’s not just a one-off, or they at least have something else up their sleeve for next summer. (RD)
5. Cucumber Lemonade at Wicked Sisters (3845 Falls Road, [410] 878-0884, wickedsisterstavern.com)
You can have summer in a glass any time of the year at Hampden’s new neighborhood hangout, Wicked Sisters. Mixed with tart Deep Eddy lemon vodka, slightly floral St. Germain elderflower liqueur, sour mix, and fresh muddled cucumber, their cucumber lemonade goes down smoother than a cool breeze in July. Served over crushed ice and topped with a slice of fresh cucumber, it has the appeal of pseudo-healthy spa water, almost as if this could be an any time drink. But don’t be fooled—this front porch sipper actually has booze in it and it’s quite the creeper, so load up on the tavern’s shared plates and bar snacks and stay awhile. (CE)
6. Riding Easy by Oliver Brewing Co. (4216 Shannon Drive, [410] 483-3302, oliverbrewingco.com)

Oliver Brewing Co.'s decision to start canning in March brought an embarrassment of beer riches into our homes this year. While the colorfully named Balls to the Wall APA has become a house favorite, we just kept coming back to Riding Easy. Is it the piney bitter hops that give just a hint of a floral note that draw us in to this American blonde ale? The fact that the alcohol hovers below 4.5 percent but in no way tastes "lite"? Or is it the ability to buy the beer in nitro cans (or not) which changes up the texture to give it a hint of creamy richness? Or does any of this matter? Pop a can and let it ride. (Mary Zajac)

7. Piña colada at Pen & Quill
(1701 N. Charles St., [410] 601-3588, penandquill.net)
Ever since Rupert Holmes’ song ‘Escape (The Piña Colada Song)’ hit the airwaves at the tail end of the disco era in 1979, this frothy confection of a drink has been much maligned. Though it started off as a legit cocktail created by bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero Pérez at San Juan’s Caribe Hilton in 1954, over the ensuing decades, the colada devolved into a college level Slurpee drink. Enter Naomi Hope Karzai, manager and head bartender at Pen & Quill. Karzai hosts Tiki Tuesdays at the Station North bar and her menu includes a piña colada made not from some sugary sludge, but from scratch. Her dedication to the original recipe, made with Coco Lopez, will change the way you taste and see this Puerto Rican classic. (J.M. Giordano)
8. Kali Imperial Stout by Goonda Beersmiths (401 E. 30th St., facebook.com/GoondaBeer)
Goonda Beersmiths Tim Scouten and Rahul Cherian, who work out of Peabody Heights brewery, unleashed their spooky Kali Imperial Stout on an unsuspecting beer drinking public at Wet City in November. Named in honor of the Indian goddess associated with time and death, this was one powerful glassful. For all of the darkness in the pint, Kali was superb and immensely drinkable with a lot of coffee and cocoa flavors breaking out of the first malty swallow thanks to the infusion of cold brewed coffee and vanilla beans. If they brew this stout again, don’t be afraid of the dark. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. (JMG)
9. Thirstay Pale Ale by Peabody Heights Brewery (401 E. 30th St., [410] 467-7837, peabodyheightsbrewery.com)
Peabody Heights does a lot of contract brewing for other labels around town, but we like it when they step out on their own. The Thirstay American Pale Ale is the latest reason why. Billed as a “hop bomb,” this brew certainly does bring the hops, but in a way that’s far more mellow and enjoyable compared with some of the strongest IPA offenders. And that gives way to a delicious burst of fruity flavor that, again, is an example of how to draw balance. As of this writing, the Thirstay is between batches and won’t be back on shelves until January. Be sure to look for it. (Brandon Weigel)
10. Oktoberfest by Diamondback Brewing Company
(1215 E. Fort Ave., [443] 388-9626, diamondbackbeer.com)
According to the Reinheitsgebot, a law dating back to the 16th century, German beer is only allowed to contain three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. In other words, keep it simple, stupid. It can be easy for breweries to lose sight of that idea in the age of new-fangled beers that either go to hoppy or malty extremes. Diamondback, which just opened its brewery in October of this year, kept things traditional with its German beer. The Oktoberfest had a light body and a slightly creamy flavor, making it a great session beer. That’s why it was a clear favorite when we taste tested locally made fall beers several months back. The only drawback is we won’t be able to have it again until next fall. (BW)

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