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Eat Feature

The 7 Percent Solution

In Post-Boh Baltimore, Resurrection Ale Rises to the Occasion

Jefferson Jackson Steele

Eat Special Issue 2004

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Eat 2004

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 2/25/2004

In spite of what we learn from TV commercials, most people don't develop emotional attachments to a particular beer. Most of us have fleeting and fickle attachments. We might flirt with a pilsner, even go steady with a lager, but seldom do we develop anything quite like a relationship with a beer, the way we would a spirit, a cocktail, or a breakfast cereal.

But in Baltimore, a lot of people have exchanged vows with Resurrection Ale, a nut-brown, slightly bitter, gently spicy Abbey-style dubbel ale with a 7-percent alcohol content. In the seven years since its first brewing, Resurrection Ale has evolved into the go-to brew not only in its home quarters at the Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon but at any of the 60 or so restaurants around the city to which it's distributed.

Witness: A waiter stands at your table, ticking off the available beers on tap. When he gets to Resurrection Ale, you and your fellow diners grin knowingly. Someone says, "You have Rezzie? I'll have that." And, typically everyone does. This response arises partly out of ownership: We've drunk Resurrection where it's brewed, and we knew it before anyone thought to send it out to the world. (It travels as far as Philadelphia.)

Partly, though, our love is that of the dilettante. Like winemaking, the brewing of beer is a complicated, elusive process. You've probably begun a brewery tour promising yourself that you'll finally stick the process in your brain--mashing, malting, boiling, filtering, fermenting, the yeast, the hops, the wort--only to give up at the siphoning phase. And the only thing worse than a wine snob is a beer geek. Acquiring the jargon of the beer aficionado--"this nicely lacks in perceptible esters or diaceyt!"--is the last thing we'd care to do. Resurrection Ale, though, is something you know, without being told or explained why, is good. It tastes good, and if you've never before with confidence declared a beer to be "complex," you'll bravely say that Resurrection is--and mercurial, protean, and volatile.

When the first brews were being developed at the Brewer's Art, Resurrection wasn't foreseen as the front-running favorite it is now. The House Pale Ale was primed to be the signature beer. But within a year, Resurrection Ale began to acquire a following and a mystique. There's that name: After the yeast of the first brewed batch fell dormant during fermentation, it was brought back to life--resurrected--by brewer Chris Cashell (pictured, center). Now, the name suggests something else, to some an evening when energy and charm continually restores itself, to many others the slow vanquishing of a remorseful hangover.

Brewers Cashell, Steve Frazier (pictured, right), and newcomer Rob Perry (pictured, left) concern themselves less with scrupulous adherence to an imagined Belgian model than to their own sensory responses. People who take Belgian ales very seriously (aka assholes) might occasionally grumble about the bona fides of the house beers at the Brewer's Art--but while the brewers here are great and admiring fans of Belgian beers, they're more proud of brewing something that's distinct, new, Baltimorean.

The three other permanent house beers--House Pale Ale, Proletary Ale, and Ozzie (the "special-needs child," for the men who brew it)--have their followings, as do such frequently appearing names as Cerberus Tripel, Sluggo, and Scarlet Fever. But in a typical 20-day brewing period, 13 days might be devoted to Resurrection Ale. What keeps boredom at bay, Frazier explains, is partly the temperament of yeast, a living organism that wants constant vigilance and invites emotional attachment. Breadmakers understand this.

The formula for Resurrection has changed over the years, and it is still continually tweaked. The malt no longer comes from DeWolf-Cosyns, the Belgian maltery that was bought out and summarily shut down in 2002. But somewhere along the way, Resurrection has matured into a people's thoroughbred--accessible, volatile, a little dangerous, and loved.

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