Road Trip! The Beer Road Goes To Heavy Seas Brewing.

This is definitely a good time to be craft beer curious.  Craft breweries producing well made, hand crafted beer are enjoying growing success, and are becoming easier to find as well – most grocery stores now have a dedicated section, and many restaurants are getting the hint as well, putting them in as either a bottle or draft selection.  For many, what at one time was a beverage choice made with a knee-jerk like reaction, with little thought, is now revealing itself as a flavorful, quality one worthy of appreciation.  Craft beer comes (and truly, has always come) in dozens of different styles, and within those, dizzying numbers of flavor interpretations as individual brewers work within and around those definitions.  These brewers work the passion they have for their craft into their product daily.  The truly lucky ones are those of us who are curious, or are becoming curious, for the good beers which they produce.  Bottom line, this is an exciting time for the craft beer industry.  I stopped by one source of all this excitement just recently – Heavy Seas Brewing, located near Baltimore, Maryland.

Not surprisingly, at the center of Heavy Seas is plenty of experience, in the form of founder Hugh Sisson.  In the late eighties, he helped lobby the Maryland General Assembly for legislation necessary to open brewpubs in the state.  Afterwards, he managed Sisson’s, a well established family restaurant and Maryland’s first brewpub.  He then moved on to establish Clipper City Brewing in 1994, recently rebranded as Heavy Seas.  The accolades for Hugh Sisson continue, but accomplishments listed on paper are not enough to do justice.  After meeting Sisson in person, and watching a very entertaining brewery tour (available on YouTube) given by Sisson earlier this year, it is his passion for the craft beer industry and a dedication to making flavorful beer that jumps out.  Example A of this came through in the few moments I talked with him last week.  Sisson, motioning enthusiastically with his arms and hands as the words began to flow, echoed what sales and growing popularity nationwide seems to show as he spoke of what he calls a “golden age” for well made beer – that the time for those who enjoy craft beer has simply never been better than it is today.  As craft brewers like Sisson enjoy this surge in appreciation and Heavy Seas’ own beers continue to pop up in stores and restaurants – a couple of locations here in Roanoke carry them on tap currently – Sisson must also be feeling sweet satisfaction as his desire for making good beer is becoming reality at Heavy Seas.

The Heavy Seas line-up of beers is currently built upon three different levels of complexity.  The first is their “Clipper Fleet”, a selection of lower ABV, more “drinkable” beers, such as their Summer Ale, Pale Ale, and Classic Lager.  The next two feature beers with greater complexity of flavor and the expected higher ABV levels.  The “Pyrate Fleet” beers come in six packs with growing availability.  Their “Loose Cannon” India Pale Ale is steadily and arguably becoming their flagship beer – this is the one available on tap here in Roanoke at Fork In The Alley and at 419 West.  The “Mutiny Fleet” beers are available in bomber style (22 oz.) bottles and are bottle conditioned (yeast added to the bottle for secondary fermentation, adding flavor and the ability to age quite well).

The day I visited Heavy Seas, the brewery was (thankfully) in the midst of brewing a limited release Anniversary Ale.  As I sipped on a taste of their delicious, rich, “Smoke On The Water” porter, and listened to Hugh Sisson describe this golden age of beer, he told me the Anniversary Ale was a way to thank the fans of Heavy Seas for fifteen years of continued and growing support.  While we walked back near the brewing equipment, I was occasionally hit with waves of wonderful, flowery, hop aromas slowly drifting through the air – there is nothing quite like a brewery for its’ glorious smells on a brewing day.  A couple of brewers, smiling somewhat mischievously – in that “oh yeah, we’ve got something good here” kind of way – were preparing the first batch of the Anniversary Ale to be filtered through their hopback (a vessel to strain beer through which is literally lined with hops, acting as both a filtering method and as a way to add additional hop flavor).  As Sisson went on speaking with obvious vigor for his craft, our tour guide poured me a taste of the Loose Cannon this time, reminding me that I really should taste it; although I had it before, it doesn’t get much fresher than drinking it from thirty yards away from where it was brewed, after all.  She noticed that I kept the last sip in my mouth for just a bit longer, moving it around some and savoring its citrusy flavor.  We shared one of those great moments of mutual, unspoken understanding  – my face telling her all she needed to know about what I was thinking – wow, now that was good.  I then thought how much I might enjoy tasting that Anniversary Ale, but how Sisson might have it wrong.  As I left the brewery that day, the ale designed to be a thanks for the fans sounded all well and good, but with the aromas and flavors from the brewery and Sisson’s words of passion still spinning around in my head, I’m not sure that the real thank you shouldn’t be squarely directed back at folks like those at Heavy Seas.

Visit the Heavy Seas Website.

Watch Part Two (Of Four) Of The Heavy Seas Brewery Tour Found On YouTube.


~ by thebeerroad on November 19, 2010.

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