Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge is a lot of things to a lot of people in Annapolis. For some, it's a great music venue with full-fledged shows and intimate open mic nights. For foodies, their seasonal, farm-to-table menu is perfectly suited to their tummies, as well as their Instagram accounts. (If you eat a meal, and the Internet doesn't hear about it, did it really happen?)
For me, their downstairs bar is my second home. And thankfully for Metropolitan, zoning laws prohibit me from building the elaborate blanket and pillow fort of my dreams inside their establishment.
Not only do the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders give Metropolitan a Cheers-like feel, the L-shaped counter is essentially an island oasis for craft beer drinkers. They may only have six draft lines, but under the guidance of bar manager Brendan Kilroy, they consistently showcase some of the best American craft beers in town day-after-day, week-after-week.
Then again, beer on draft isn't everything. This is something a lot of craft beer drinkers - myself included - occasionally forget.
Why? Well, in a small beer town like Annapolis, it's fun to monitor the ever-changing draft lists of local watering holes, especially as more and more places are trying to make a statement through their taps. Morever, there's the obvious freshness factor. For example, really hoppy beers are like Mickey Rourke - they don't age well. You should drink them as fresh as possible, preferably on draft.
Sadly, this has led some folks to overlook bottled and canned beer entirely, unless they're shopping for beer to drink at home. It's a shame too, as there are plenty of shelf-stable beers that age well. Even canned beer is growing in popularity for crafty brews - DC Brau, Oskar Blues and 21st Amendment, to name a few - thanks to improvements in canning technology.
That's why one of my favorite things about Metropolitan is their expansive, deftly-curated "bottles and cans" beer list. Over the past six months, it has invited me time and time again to put down the draft and pick up the bottle. In fact, I consider it to be the unsung hero of the Naptown beer scene.
Well, get hyped, y'all: During happy hour this Thursday, Metropolitan will be unveiling a brand new list of 33 bottles and cans for you enjoy.
I know Metropolitan's beer list getting a facelift is not news. They do it a few times a year, as beer is seasonal just like food and cocktails. What makes the new list special, however, is the obvious thought and care that went into it.
"This time around, we focused a lot on variety. We wanted a list that has something for everyone," Brendan told me over a pint (or three) recently.
Their new list has everything, from Maine's Peak Organic Amber Ale and Pennsylvania's Lancaster Milk Stout to six not-so-crafty offerings including Bud Light and Miller Lite. It also avoids the common pitfall of bars that brag about having a great craft beer list, but really only have a list of 10 IPAs and not much else.
But what they're doing now goes beyond variety. Both Brendan and general manager Tom Hanna grew up in Maryland - Silver Spring and the Eastern Shore respectively - so they know how important it is to highlight local beers.
"There is a lot of pride in this region ... so visitors and locals alike come in and ask for something they can only get here," Brendan said. "This time around, we're highlighting more local stuff ... Union, Evolution, Stillwater, DC Brau and Dogfish."
One thing that isn't changing is their focus on great American craft beer, with no imports offered other than Corona and Stella Artois. Brendan says this decision goes beyond their seasonal, locally-sourced vibe.
"It wasn't long ago that people were laughing at American beer. Now we're the ones setting trends in the industry," he pointed out. "We're going to continue to celebrate that transition here at Metropolitan."
Okay, so I know this all sounds great, but a list of 33 beers might seem overwhelming to some of you guys out there - even if you're a more seasoned beer drinker. To help you out, Brendan, Tom and I have some suggestions for you to help you get started:
Flying Fish's Exit 1 Oyster Stout (New Jersey) - 7 percent ABV
Even though it's a stout, Brendan says this is a great year-round beer. He's right: Not only does this beer celebrate oysters - a local favorite - its medium body and complex flavor profile of coffee, smoke and a bit of brine is rich, but not heavy. Originally Flying Fish didn't offer this year-round; it was part of a special "Exit" series. It was so popular, however, it became one of the brewery's core offerings.
DC Brau's The Citizen (Washington, D.C.) - 7 percent ABV
"I'm not even a Belgian guy. But this is a Belgian-style beer for people who might not normally like them," Brendan says of this Tripel-inspired brew. I couldn't agree more. Back in my IPA-shunning days, this was my go-to beer from DC Brau, and it's still a personal favorite to this day.
Evolution's Lucky 7 Porter (Maryland) - 5.8 percent ABV
Tom's choice goes beyond the fact that Evolution is based near where he grew up. First, he's a wine and spirits guy. So the strong malt backbone in this popular local porter is similar to the peat flavor found in scotch. Second, it's about the people. "They are just nice guys at Evolution, with a lot of integrity," Tom says. "You'd be surprised how rare that can be to find in this business."
Lexington's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (Kentucky) - 8.2 percent ABV
Tom's second choice is a rich ale aged up to six weeks in freshly decanted bourbon barrels, giving it rich notes of oak and vanilla. It's a great option for cocktail drinkers who are looking to make a leap to into craft beer.
Left Hand's Black Jack Porter (Colorado) - 6.4 percent ABV
Beer drinkers across the state set off confetti cannons when Left Hand finally started distributing in Maryland earlier this month. But amidst the fanfare and beer nerds falling over each other to get their flagship Milk Stout Nitro, I went for their Black Jack Porter instead. Yes, Milk Stout Nitro is delicious, but this porter - which I first had on a trip to Philadelphia at Monk's Café - is a crisp, roasty-toasty, malty knockout.
Stillwater Classique (Maryland) - 4.5 percent ABV
I was already stoked to see this local favorite on Metropolitan's new list, but then Brendan told me a story about this beer that made me even more excited. Brendan Strumke is the gypsy brewer behind Stillwater Artisnal Ales. One day he decided to brew a crafty take on mass market grain beers like the iconic Natty Boh. Thus, this delightfully crisp and refreshing saison was born. This is the perfect gateway craft beer for those who embrace the "yellow fizzy" stuff like it's their job.