Enough people have either posted on social media or talked about going to Nepenthe Brewing Company that I felt inclined to get a group together and go myself. Located right off of the Main Street in Hampden, Nepenthe offered a lively atmosphere, plenty of seating and, most importantly, awesome food and beer.
We were able to sit after only a five-minute wait despite arriving at 7 p.m. on a Friday. Per Nepenthe’s COVID-19 precautions, you stand up and order at a designated area with a glass-protected counter when you are ready. Guests must wear masks when away from their table and remain seated when not ordering. Also worth mentioning is that Nepenthe offers delivery, takeout and outdoor seating, which are all great other options.
Like most craft breweries, the beers had quirky names aplenty — although they were definitely the funniest I had seen with the most amusing descriptions. “Astral Decay,” a wheat pale ale I ordered, was described as, “The perfect beer for late summer star gazing. Some of those stars are long dead. Don’t think too hard about it.”
Different beers on tap come in a variety of sizes, handily arranged on the board in a checklist so patrons can see which size their beer of choice was available in. You can also build a flight, for those with more refined palates or a desire to drink many different beers without actually consuming that much alcohol. My friend Charlotte opted to do so, getting four 4-ounce-size beers since she wanted the flexibility of the flight.
You can also get crowlers or four packs to-go of some beers, which I did because I think the big cans are pretty fun. Crowlers are 32-ounce cans that are around the equivalent of two and a half regular beers. The crowler designs are also fairly cool, with artwork by Mike Moses (whose work you can check out on Instagram @thedrowntown), so I’m holding onto mine. It’s not embarrassing, unlike the way men in their 20s choose to decorate their room with empty Tito’s bottles.
Their food also was uniquely excellent. We split a large size of the Garage Fries (highly recommend the kimchi aioli; the lemon dill aioli was a little less flavorful) and the Beer Queso Fundido. The decision to order beer queso followed some uncertainty over what beer cheese actually is, but I can tell you Nepenthe’s rendering was a fabulous cheesy experience. And while I didn’t order an entree or a sandwich, my friends who did were highly complementary of the Pork Belly Banh Mi and the Korean Cheesesteak, so I’ll definitely be coming back for those.
Brian Arnold (School of Education Class of 2010), who is one of the founders, co-owners and the head brewer at Nepenthe, explained that food is integral to Nepenthe's spot in Hampden in an interview with The News-Letter.
“We have a very creative chef who is able to operate a number of different styles,” Arnold said. “We kind of introduced some Asian fusion things and classic pub fare.”
Arnold, whose brewing origins lie in a homebrew shop he opened in 2012 with his then-girlfriend, now-wife, discussed what he tries to achieve as head brewer.
“We, in particular in the Maryland brewery scene, are very interested in producing complex, thick, creamy hoppy beers,” he said. “It’s one of the things we do well, and there’s a handful of other breweries in the state that are doing that, but here in Baltimore we’re kind of at the forefront of that style.”
Arnold also noted that he is always looking to make new beers with the help of an assistant who also gives input.
“I get bored easily,” he said. “We’ve only got four tanks so we can only have four beers going at once so that dictates the speed of creativity, but I look at what’s available in terms of hops. If there are malts I haven’t used yet that I’d like to get more familiar with... I just put recipes together according to what I’m feeling like.”
Arnold also explained the process of writing the descriptions for the beers, taking his experiences as an English major in college and a former English teacher in Baltimore City.
“Mostly we think about what we’re trying to convey with the beer. Is it a seasonal, are we looking to capture a particular type of feeling?”
I had been particularly curious about the naming of Queen Jellyfish, which is an 8.5% Double IPA described as: “The Jellyfish Queen rises from the depths of her alien landscape to feed.” Arnold explained that its description is a reference to the Metroid video game series, which he said is dear to his heart.
I highly recommend stopping by Nepenthe for those who are 21+ — due to COVID-19, the taproom is restricted to only those of legal drinking age.