Taking Flight: Six Beers Reviewed at Growlers of Gaithersburg

Image of a glass of dark beer
Image credit: Jon Sullivan

One recent afternoon, beset by a case of the Sunday blahs, I took an opportunity to pursue a bit of hands-on research for this article, which is one I’d wanted to write for some time. It was one of those all too plentiful things I had continuously postponed to be done “tomorrow” or “next weekend” or at some other immaterial future date drawn directly from the procrastinator’s monthly calendar; dates that roll around only slightly less frequently than Halley’s comet. That afternoon, however, I crossed one such date off that calendar and made the supreme sacrifice of going on a beer flight at a neighborhood brewpub.

Growlers is a comfortable two-story restaurant-and more importantly for my intended purpose, a microbrewery-located in the historic renovated J.A. Belt Building in Gaithersburg, Maryland. That I should stretch my wings there, where more than two-dozen house and seasonal beers harmoniously co-exist under one roof, seemed a foregone conclusion. So on that recent Sunday afternoon, I waited until after 4 p.m. for its upper level pub to open for business, and went over to settle into a flight of six 6-oz. beer samples that included four pre-selected in-house brews and two of my choosing. The descriptions and opinions that follow are taken from my notes recorded that day as I sat staring down the half-dozen carafes set before me:

Sample 1: D’Rail Lite Ale 4.5% abv
I begin my flight with this straw-colored ale. My first impression of it is that “Lite” must surely be intended to refer to everything from its hue to its aroma to its presence upon the palate. Its lingering sweetness and the smooth ease with which it goes down call to mind summer’s dog days, humid temperatures from which this ale would be a welcome relief. It occurs to me that if desert oases could somehow be filled with a self-replenishing supply of D’Rail, the world would only be better for it.

Sample 2: Whistle Stop Wheat 5.0% abv
A shade darker than my initial selection, Whistle Stop Wheat spreads the mild flavor of hops, a taste featured less prominently in D’Rail Lite Ale, across the tongue. Whistle Stop also carries less sweetness than its predecessor. Its malt finish takes me pleasantly by surprise, as does the faint tartness that falls just short of dominating its sugars, which recall more of honey than cane. It succeeds at maintaining an uncomplicated and near weightless presence upon the taste buds. The texture and flavor differences between the sunny D’Rail Lite Ale and the slightly more subdued Whistle Stop Wheat call to mind the difference between the flavors of milk and dark chocolates.

Sample 3: Kingpin Kolsch 5.1% abv
On my past visits to Growlers, Kolsch has appeared to be a popular favorite among my fellow pubgoers. Its medium level of smoky bitterness works hand-in-hand with the rich flavor of hops to accomplish aromatic greatness. It has a taste that makes each sip feel so refreshingly clean that it seems to shout, “Everybody into the pool!”

Sample 4: Sierra Nevada Summerfest 5.0% abv
This is the first brew of the flight that is a personal selection. It isn’t an in-house beer, but a honey-colored lager characterized by the burst of sugar, tanginess, and yeast upon which I form my first considerations of its appeal. Most memorable about it is the compelling effervescence that marks its aftertaste, conveying in each sip a spirit of festivity that makes me glad for having selected it.

Sample 5: Growlers I.P.A. 5.6% abv
Notable about this brew is that its aroma evokes essences of malt that I taste long before it reaches my lips. This sharp, caramel-colored ale expresses dry flavor notes that taste slightly burnt. The combination conveys a maturity that is missing from others I’ve tasted thus far. At striking a satisfying balance of fun and sophistication, this one succeeds where others fall short.

Sample 6: Yorkshire Porter 6.2% abv
Here is the second beer that I selected, an in-house British-style ale. Whereas I’ve never much favored dark ales or their tendency to feel heavy upon the palate, I choose this porter in the name of evaluating the widest range of offerings, and discover it to be a luxurious libation that I like a great deal more than I expected to. Darkest of the flight, with a creamy mouthfeel, its initial presence smacks powerful coffee elements into the mouth and nose, finishing with a subtle kiss of chocolate. Latte-thick with a foamy head, and exhibiting a striking richness of flavor, it seems better suited to a chilly Autumn night spent fireside than to a sun-drenched Spring afternoon.

What I learned from this experience is that as Growlers’ house selections go, I consider D’Rail Pale Ale and Kingpin Kolsch my favorites of the flight. Both are satisfying thirst quenchers whose flavors and aromatics collaborate effectively to spin yarns that I could taste. Each offers up an entertaining diversion from bottled brews and would be a welcome sight at any county fair or tailgate event that I attended. Sierra Nevada Summerfest, meanwhile, seems like a lively, crowd-pleasing choice for bringing along to a backyard barbecue or beach party.

My flight and my research thus completed, I returned my barstool to an upright position and returned to Earth, amused to think that whoever said man isn’t meant to fly was perhaps, simply not a beer drinker.


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