The Not So Local Tap – Max’s Belgian Fest 2015

So, that time of  year again, our annual President’s day weekend trip down to Fell’s Point, Baltimore for Max’s annual Belgian Fest.

While the forecast was cold with a chance of freezing, the outlook was still better than last year when we had to call our hotel to add an extra day onto the start of our trip to beat an on coming blizzard. We arrived OK, and so did the blizzard. While the weather was a little (OK more than a little) harsh, I have to admit that spending the day in Fell’s Point on a day when Baltimore was totally closed down, was pretty fun. If you like empty bars and bored bartenders, that is.

But this year all was good precipitation wise, so we bundled up and headed down. Our first stop (as always because it’s right across the street from where we park the car) is Duda’s Tavern. Nothing really fancy about this place, just a nice setting and good beer selection.

Here we met up with fellow Dogs of Beer, Chuck and Kat (AKA Beer Goddess), for a few drinks and dinner planning. After Chuck and I’s social directors spent several minutes phone searching the surrounding area we ended up picking the place that was….well, right across the street.

Bond Street Social, for those who know the area, now occupies the location where a DuClaw Brewpub once called home. To be honest, I’ve pretty much ignored the place since DuClaw moved out, after all there’s just an amazing amount of interesting, cozy places to eat and BBS always looked a little, well too snazzy for us dogs.

But we decided to give it a go – for the oddest of reasons.

Liquid Nitrogen Martinis.

Yeah, don’t look up at the banner. This is still a beer blog. But Chuck and I both work in the chemical field, and well…liquid nitrogen martinis. They were highlighted in several of the places we checked out, and I was wondering if this was some kind of growing trend in the area. So I checked in with my designated local expert on all things Baltimore to see what the story was.

Question answered.

But here’s what I can tell you about the Bond Street Social – don’t go for the liquid nitrogen martinis. Don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly good martinis, but the liquid nitrogen really doesn’t bring anything to the party. Oh, the smoking glasses elicit “ohs and ahs” when they reach the table, but then the waiter stands over you until the smoking stops so that you don’t accidentally toss a marble size chunk of ice whose temperature can be measure in Kelvins down your throat. Once the smoking ends, you’re left with, very good, but pretty standard martinis. Priced up for the liquid nitrogen show.

But what you need to go to BSS for is the food. What we didn’t know is that the restaurant is set up to focus on shared plates (or tapas), and there’s some excellent things to be found on the menu.

Sharable plates like, “Eggs & Bacon” Deviled Eggs, Mac ’n Cheese Bites, Pulled Duck Confit Arepas, Eggplant “meatballs” and Spicy Buffalo Shrimp. And don’t skip past the Brussel sprouts, even if you’re not normally a fan of these cabbage cousins, the sauce they come in is addicting. We know. We ordered seconds.

After dinner we picked up fellow DCBaWL Dana who had decided to come down and headed over to what I love to call “The Calm Before the Storm”.

If you’ve been to Max’s, I don’t need to describe it to you, but you might be surprised if you walked into the bar the night before Belgian Fest starts – only about 20 people in the place, the side bars closed, the upstairs roped off, and only about 10 beers available on draft.

It’s just a fun departure of the usual experience you’d expect to find at Max’s. It’s also fun to talk to the bartenders, especially Casey and Bob, as they’re starting to prepare for what I can only imagine is one of the closest things to “hell weekend” for a bar and staff that has to manage 140 taps, 5 beer engines, and God knows how many bottles.

But you’d never know it as the guys are always jovial and friendly. Before we knew it, Casey was pouring us off-list Deliriums, and Bob was handing us the master tap list for the weekend. THIS was a thing of beauty.

Soon, it was time to bid farewell to Chuck and Kat, and head off to our final stop of the evening, The Wharf Rat. It’s always great to stop in and see what’s on tap (or cask) and get a much needed late night snack. This year it was Merry Old SOB, 3 Lions Ale, and Iron Man Ale.

Nine thirty the next morning and I’m beginning to understand how those martinis must have felt. But the line waiting to get into Max’s on Friday is always fun. A crowd of beer lovers all together talking and joking to pass the time, quite a few of which I’ve grown to recognize from year to year. It’s like that once a year gathering your family has where you get to see all of your relatives that you haven’t seen since the previous event.

Thankfully, Max’s put out some of those propane heating towers so at least you were able to get a little warmth now and then. And everyone laughed when a guy put his hands close to the flame source to warm them up, only to catch his glove on fire. But not nearly as hard as they laughed at the second guy to do it, because who would be so brainless as to do something stupid that he’d just seen another guy do?

Buddy Avatar 50It was you wasn’t it?


*SIGH* Yeessss.

Just as we were beginning to believe we were going to have to count toes as casualties of the weekend, along with the presumed brain cells, the doors thankfully opened. The complementary taste for the first 100 people in the door was Brasserie Dubuisson Cuvee des Trolls, which I wish I could tell you more about, but that beer disappeared between the open door and our traditional seats at the back bar. Casey and Norris were both behind the bar as usual and ready to facilitate our annual tradition of drinking beers we can’t pronounce.

But luckily we didn’t have to utter a word as the card system was in use again, so all we had to do was stumble through some spelling. Beers like Oud Beersel Bersalis Triple, De Dolle Arabier, Hofbrouweriek Anarkriek, Van Steenberge De Garre Triple, Drie Fonteinen Zwet Be, Struise Tsjeeses Reserva 2012, Troch Hopdraeck and Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Cuvee Chateau.

As well as collaboration beers from Burley Oak/Max’s/Dawson’s Liquors (XI) and RAR/Max’s (3870).

How do you navigate all these – letters? I used to try to game plan, but after years of trying I’ve realized that its just impossible for me not to go all “kid in a candy store”. What I do is run down the style column and look for things that sound good like triples, brown ales and things that just sound out of the ordinary.

We had the place pretty well covered, Tracey, Dana and her friend John, were with me at the downstairs back bar, while Chuck and Kat were upstairs with the State Line Liquors crew. Of course, Chuck came down to visit for a while and towards the end of our stay, we went upstairs to hobnob with his group. A fun time was had by all.

After awhile, it was sadly time to leave. We ended up at The Horse You Came In On for a few drinks and then walked over the Leadbetter’s to watch the very talented Katey Bowers Band.

All in all another awesome trip to Fell’s Point with friends. Thanks to Max’s and their amazing staff for once again putting together an unparalleled collection of beers that are certainly outside of anything that we’d normally get a chance to experience.


The Katie Bowers Band at Leadbetters.