What happens when a bunch of vegans, a crew of baseball cap–sporting Filipino cooks and a few dozen beer fanatics walk into a bar? Nope, this isn’t my most recent atrocious food-themed bar joke, but instead a pretty apt description of Atchara’s pop-up this past Sunday at Suspended Brewing.
Suspended opened the doors to their tavern–taproom in 2017, joining a rapidly growing community of craft breweries across Baltimore. But rather than simply churn out just another locally brewed double IPA, as head brewer Josey Schwartz told me, Suspended had something more in mind. Although, he was sure to note that their new 15 Miles East double IPA is killer.
This concept promises “ecologically conscious, socially justified, handcrafted Baltimore beer,” as described in their Instagram bio. The brewery isn’t just working to push their product (which, as I’ll detail in a bit, is more than solid) but also to promote a practice of ethical, vegan production that minimizes the negative environmental impacts of brewing.
In the past several years, chefs, restaurateurs, beverage professionals and diners from across the culinary universe have sought new and collaborative methods to stem the food industry’s contribution to global climate change. As any member of student groups like Real Food Hopkins or Refuel Our Future can tell you, the way we produce, consume and waste food is among the leading causes of climate change, and the industry has become much more introspective as such negative impacts have become undeniable.
As Schwartz told me, Suspended began with an urge to promote environmental stewardship in an industry that can be highly wasteful and seriously pollutive. The beer is delicious, but it is simply an avenue to a greater mission of providing an example for how a small, locally focused business can minimize its negative ecological impact.
It’s a big part of why the frequent chef and restaurant pop-ups inside the brewery’s Pigtown location are exclusively vegan. That may seem like a pretentious, holier-than-thou attempt to force colleagues to conform to Suspended’s self-imposed standards, but when chatting with owners, patrons and partners at Suspended, it’s clear that this is far from the truth. Instead, it’s about challenging friends to innovate toward a worthy, self-aware and conscientious aim.
Plus, if the bites and beers I sampled are any indication of how Suspended’s products and partner pop-ups can be, sustainability is just as delicious as it is responsible. Atchara, a Filipino project led by Chris Katz which normally doesn’t focus on vegan cooking, served up a totally plant-based menu that still delivered the salty–sour–umami flavor profiles central to the island nation’s cuisine.
The kombu dashi congee (a savory rice porridge, for those living under Euro-centric rocks) was a masterclass in robust hominess, balancing the depth of kelp broth with sweet and crispy fried shallots and aromatic short-grain rice.
Another dish called kare kare relied on a base of Beyond “meat” to bolster the flavors of baby bok choy and (my personal favorite) wok-blistered peanuts.
The standout plate of the event was Katz’s vegan interpretation of typical Filipino shrimp cakes called ukoy. The fried vegetable patties would have strongly resembled Indian pakora snacks if it wasn’t for the silky, perfectly seasoned smoked eggplant sauce served alongside it.
Of course, these rich, pleasantly greasy plates required a beverage pairing, so I sampled a few (eh, maybe more than a few) of the brewery’s offerings.
The Tuscan Pleather German lager and Battles with Giants red were both on the lighter side for their respective categories, but their flavors stood up to the boldness of Atchara’s dishes.
Like many craft beer halls, Suspended is also exploring new drink varieties, perhaps in an effort to cater to audiences that are sick of hop-heavy IPAs.
On Sunday, for instance, they were pouring their Blood Orange is Thicker than Water fruited pale ale. It tasted a bit like someone dropped a watermelon Jolly Rancher in a PBR, but, frankly, I wasn’t mad about it. For those who are avoiding booze altogether, tepaches, kombuchas and the like are also on offer.
All told, the event on Sunday seems to have done exactly what Suspended’s operators hope to do every day.
It showed that a local Baltimore business can serve top-tier products while remaining conscious of their ethical and ecological responsibilities.