Sailing the Heavy Seas – A Brewery Tour by Lee Salawich
Last fall, I toured the Heavy Seas Brewery outside of Baltimore. A friend who heard of my passion for beer asked if I wanted to return, and, of course, the answer was “Yes!”
Begun over 15 years ago by local brewing legend Hugh Sisson, Heavy Seas is Baltimore’s largest brewery. A city with a proud beer tradition, Charm City was once home to such giants as Gunther, American, Carling, and, of course National Bohemian. “Natty Boh” is back, but is now brewed by the Miller Brewing Company in Eden, NC.
Heavy Seas’ skull and crossbones logo adorns many of the labels in the regular production Clipper Fleet: Classic Lager, Gold Ale, Pale Ale, Marzen, and Summer Ale; and Pyrate Fleet: Loose Cannon American Hop IPA, Peg Leg Imperial Stout, and Small Craft Warning Uber Pils; plus the seasonal offerings such as Black Cannon Black IPA; Dubbel Cannon Belgian Style IPA; Red Sky at Night Belgian Style Saison Ale; and Winter Storm Category 5 Ale. The Mutiny Fleet consists of a different beer for each month.
Tours are offered four times a day on select Saturdays and are frequently filled. Those who intend to taste pay $5.00 and are handed a pirate-logo pint glass and five chips, each chip good for one 4-ounce pour.
Brewer Chris Mallon lead the tour. He is very informative, explaining the history of the brewery, the bottling line, and brewing process. Loose Cannon is by far, the biggest-selling beer representing 45% of Heavy Seas’ sales.
Chris also said that production can not keep up with demand, and that this was “not a good problem to have.” Chris indicated that the stacks of what looked like several thousand cases were the entire inventory on hand, and that beer is shipped as soon as possible. (Before the tour, I visited my local craft beer-centric spirits shop looking for Leinie 1888 Bock and the store had only two varieties of Heavy Seas in stock, the Loose Cannon and the Marzen.) Heavy Seas is sold in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Five beers were on tap: The Gold Ale, Pale Ale, Loose Cannon, Small Craft Warning and March’s Mutiny Fleet beer, Aarsh Red (Imperial Red Ale, and my guess as to how a Pirate says “Irish.”) Loose Cannon is the best of the bunch, this hoppy rich gold brew is hopped three ways “in the kettle, in the hop back, and dry hopped” according to the Heavy Seas brochure.
The Gold, Pale Ales and Aarsh were okay but nothing very memorable. I bought a sampler last fall, and rated the Summer Ale and Peg Leg Imperial Stouts both three stars out of five. Enjoyable, and I wouldn’t turn one down, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find one, either. The Red Sky at Night was a sinker. I’m not a Saison kind of guy!
Most of the tour attendees were 20-something males, and considering all the colleges in the Baltimore Metro area and the appeal that beer has to young men, not too big a surprise.
One other observation: the website indicates directions from the Baltimore Beltway (695) as “go west.” This young man is directionally challenged – when traveling from Towson or Pikesville, make a left turn off the Beltway at Exit 9, Hollins Ferry Road. Interestingly enough, there is no map on the website with an X marking the spot of the brewery. Aarrrgh!!!