Taste The Future: Checkerspot Brewing’s Tasting Party

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Rob Neff, Judy Neff and Steve Marsh of Checkerspot Brewing Company on February 4, 2017. (Photo: BaltimoreBeerBaron.com)

Taste the Future: Checkerspot Brewing’s Tasting Party
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron

There’s nothing better than sampling new releases and unreleased beers here at the Baron, so I considered it an exceptional invite that I recently received in the mail to attend a Patterson Park tasting party of developmental beers from the folks at Checkerspot Brewing Company, who are shooting for an August opening in South Baltimore near M&T Bank Stadium.

I’m accustomed to trying beers a month or weeks ahead of their scheduled release dates, but some of the more popular brews in the Checkerspot basement last weekend won’t be on draft again until September. By then, they could be all over Baltimore. This is literally the future of beer.

The nascent 15-barrel brewery is the brainchild of Rob Neff, Judy Neff and Steve Marsh. Wanting to hit the bigger brew kettles with a plan in hand, the Neffs invited the beer cognoscenti to their Patterson Park basement last Saturday afternoon to sample and critique some of their sure bets and a few of their maybes.  This isn’t just any basement: with 3 massive boilers, 7 taps and an industrial sink, this was a John Barleycorn Cave of Distinction which should be covered in its own feature article.

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Checkerspot Brewing Company Saison De Rose (Photo: BaltimoreBeerBaron.com)

A Saison de Rose (6.6% ABV) was first up on the brewer’s suggested lineup. Made with rose hips and petals, this was a solid stand-alone beer. With the addition of honey and elder flower syrup cooked up by Stephen Marsh, it was sublime.

It’s all about the yeast for IPAs, and the yeast made all the difference. The brewers wanted us to pick between their East Coast and West Coast IPAs, which made for the most difficult decision of the weekend. Both used Mosaic and Motueka hops, but they couldn’t be further apart, with the tropical fruit notes of the East Coast and the familiar pine spice of the West Coast. “We’ve gone back and forth,” Neff explained. “Today, I like the East Coast. Two days ago, I liked the West Coast.”

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Checkerspot Brewing Company West Coast Double Hop Pale Ale, Juniper IPA, Nut Brown Ale and TSB (Photo: BaltimoreBeerBaron.com)

I told her to keep ’em both.

Next up was Nitro Chesapeake Stout (5%). Brewed with crab shells, it works. It’s every bit as rich as an Oyster Stout. Neff explained. “Like an Oyster Stout, you’re getting most of the flavor from the shells,” she said. “It’s salt extracted from the shells. It’s like salting food, so you’re going to get more roundness to the beer.” A visual of leftover crab shells popped in my head and made me wonder what else was getting into the boil. “We actually ate the crabs, and we made sure to bathe the Old Bay off of them. It was remnant crab meat and the shell,” Neff said with a laugh. Another Checkerspot keeper.

The Nut Brown (5.9%) was one of only two I didn’t love. It was slick and sweet by design, but a little too cloying on the cocoa nibs. It reminded me of something from a Saranac Winter Sampler.

The TSB (5.9%) was a very serviceable ESB brewed with, and thus for me, ruined with tea. While I enjoyed the 5-ounce pour, I don’t ever need to drink the style again. It’s a noble concept with no market. Prove me wrong.

The Juniper IPA  was the final pour on the menu, and I was impressed by the subtlety of the juniper and the mouthfeel. Neff and I spoke about Juniper as a difficult ingredient, but in the end, the brewers got it perfectly. “I like the way the Juniper pairs up with the earthy hops”, she said.

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Checkerspot Brewing Company Saison De Rose and East Coast Double Hop Pale Ale (Photo: BaltimoreBeerBaron.com)

Several times I’ve noted the brewing community’s sense of collective pride in Baltimore (like the Amish with really good beer) and as yet another example, the Checkerspotters are already scaling recipes with the assistance of several local brewers. Speaking of local brewers, Waverly’s Roy Fisher and Greg McGrath were on hand to check out the concoctions from the Neff-Marsh project. Marsh had also prepared a menu of beer-influenced foods, including some impressive smoked meats. McGrath, who smelled like smoked meat even though he’d just arrived and hadn’t been near a smoker, ran through the 7-strong gauntlet of beers with the speed you’d expect from someone who gets paid to put beer in his mouth every day. Incidentally, McGrath always smells like smoked meat to me. I like that.

Checkerspot collaborations are already planned with Key, Waverly and Flying Dog.

With Marsh’s prior experience at Heavy Seas and Judy Neff’s background in science, these beers come out of the gate in strong form. I’m feeling confident that you’ll look forward to trying these beers in your favorite watering hole later this year. When you do, you’ll know they’re brewed in South Baltimore but born in Patterson Park.

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