While I was back in Canada for two weeks, I received an e-mail from Peabody Heights Brewery inviting me to try their new beer, Old Oriole Park Bohemian Lager. I don’t get a lot of these kinds of e-mails and I get excited every time because honestly, who wouldn’t? Peabody Heights Brewery is a tiny facility in Charles Village, Baltimore. It’s right across the street from Waverly Elementary School and just a few blocks from where I live, and Union Memorial Hospital where I work. They have a few different breweries that brew at their facility, including Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, Monument City, and Public Works. None of the beers brewed there are earth-shattering, but they are predictably reliable.
On Sunday after work, I went out for a drink with a couple coworkers. I saw Old Oriole Park (hereafter, OOP) on tap, and grabbed a pint of what would turn out to be the most surprising beer I ever drank. Trying any new beer has an inherent risk, which I not only accept, but I rather enjoy. I like that I could end up with a beer that I think is bad because it helps me learn more about what flavours I do or do not like. Some craft beers suck, and that’s ok. You try them once, and move on.
OOP, however, was a slap on the face of my beer-drinking career. This was not craft beer. This was a craft brewery marketing the macro swill pushed on the American population for decades while exploiting their craft status. I went back and had it again, just to be sure that I wasn’t making a huge mistake posting this piece. Two sips in, I hated myself for ever questioning my initial impression. It’s hardly worth wasting time describing this beer to you because you’ve had it a hundred times before. You’ve had it at parties or sporting events and the reason you tolerated it was because it was cold and fizzy and you didn’t want the sweetness of a rum and coke. OOP is no different: watery, thin, barely hopped and sparingly malted.
Calling it OOP a Bohemian Lager serves two purposes. 1) It deceives the customer into thinking he or she is getting a lager resulting from a recipe a brewer took time to consider, and 2) references National Bohemian, which is the PBR of Baltimore and everyone respects. The face of Mr. Boh might only be rivaled by the Domino Sugar sign in cultural significance. The subtitle ‘Bohemian Lager’ might be best described as a farce.
And you have to wonder: what the hell was ‘businessman’ J. Hollis Albert (owner of Peabody Heights) thinking? There is no reason this beer should ever have been made, by any rationale. Albert did an interview with City Paper, where he blurted out some of the most moronic statements I’ve ever read. Among them, he says “There needs to be an easy drinker beer…and this is it,” which would make complete sense if this beer didn’t already exist in the form of PBR and Natty Boh and Budweiser. OOP is a replica of those beers, except it costs more. No one is going to choose this beer over the others, not the craft-beer lover, not the guy-who-sometimes-tries-new-six-packs, and mostly certainly not the people attached to macro beers. I assume the logic behind this beer was to not to reduce the market share of Coors/Bud/Miller, but to become a part of it. That economic philosophy is the same as a prevent defense in sports: you’re not playing to win, you’re playing to not lose. And any sports writer will tell you, that’s an awful strategy.
But its not surprising lousy beer is made when you put a guy who says, “I’m not a malty-hoppy guy” in charge. If you’re not a malty-hoppy guy, what are you? Those are the two dominating ingredients in beer. That’s like being an architect and saying “I’m not a walls or floors guy.” I have no problem with a businessman/non-beer drinker owning a brewery. In a booming craft market, breweries are going to have to start turning to businessmen to make their brewery stand out from the thousands of others. But when he’s the one deciding the recipe (and make no mistake, this is Hollis’ brain-child), that’s when a brewery’s reputation is torn to shreds.
How can I support a brewer who not only doesn’t care about beer, but prefers the generic fizzy crap America’s been drinking for generations, all while hiding behind the respected moniker of ‘craft brewery’? This is a brewer who has clearly shown he doesn’t care if he’s selling crap, so long as its selling. This is a brewer who is probably content saying his beer is the most ‘crisp’ and ‘refreshing’ so long as he doesn’t have to work hard. This is a brewer who stands in firm opposition to everything craft beer stands for. With the ascension of craft beer, you now are likely to live within 10 miles of a brewery. It’s unfortunate that the I live next to this one.