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Fully Tilted- Finally!

It was Grand Opening Weekend at Full Tilt Brewing, and what a journey it has been to open these doors!

It has been a long time coming, and the day has finally arrived…the day Full Tilt Brewing celebrated the Grand Opening of their very own brewery. The journey has not been an easy one, in fact it would have dissuaded far less persistent souls. Persistent- a word that only just begins to describe Dan Baumiller and Nick Fertig, co-founders of Full Tilt Brewing.

Dan Baumiller and Nick Fertig, co-founders of Full Tilt Brewing

In 2012 the lifelong friends and homebrewers took the plunge into the industry and began contract brewing out of Peabody Heights. The two faced myriad challenges from scheduling difficulties to limits on yeast choices, and an inability to produce anything less than 75 bbl batches, effectively killing their opportunity to produce small batch and seasonal brews. The logical choice was to open their own brewery once they achieved name recognition to support it. This was a wise plan, particularly in a rapidly expanding craft brewing hub like Maryland.  Name recognition in Baltimore came not only from their regular lineup that included Baltimore Pale Ale, Hops the Cat IPA (affectionately named after Fertig’s cat Hops who has since passed on- and yes he has a dog named Barley) and a Memorial Pilsner honoring our nation’s veterans, but a genius endeavor that helped save an iconic Baltimore institution called Berger Cookie. The creation of the Berger Cookie Stout not only helped prevent Berger Cookie from closing its doors- it helped elevate the brand in Baltimore. It was finally time to open their own brewery.

Things would not transpire as planned however. A few false starts-including a potential Towson brewpub delayed their plans for a couple of years. As the saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.” Undeterred, Baumiller and Fertig forged ahead eventually settling on a simply delightful location in the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore on York Road at Bellona Ave in the nearly century old Accelerator Building. The exterior is inviting with massive glass bay doors that will open in summer weather.  The interior is well laid out, and the exposed brick walls with Hops the Cat and other ‘tilted’ frescoes painted upon them provide a comfortable, cool and welcoming ambience for the taproom.

Hops the Cat

The brewery is equipped with a 15 bbl brewhouse, two 30 bbl and two 15 bbl fermenters and cold storage. This will allow for a variety of small batch and one offs that will only be available in the taproom.  At the helm of brewing operations is veteran brewer Brian Smith, formerly of Lancaster, Beltway, DuClaw, Pub Dog and Flying Dog.  The search wasn’t easy as several candidate interviews were conducted in hopes of finding the right balance between talent and temperament.  Smith fit the bill perfectly.  The plan is to produce around 1,000 to 1,500 bbls out of the new brewery while maintaining the contract with Peabody Heights. This allows them to produce strictly small batch special, seasonal, and collaborative brews at the new facility, while leaving the large scale production brews like their Pale Ale at Peabody– embracing the best of both worlds.  This allows for the flexibility they craved but were denied. Now they could quite literally have something new every single week if they chose to. They finally get to work on their own schedule instead of someone else’s and that by itself is liberating.

They have a full beer, wine, and liquor license although they only plan to carry beer. Currently they have a near complete lineup of Full Tilt products on tap including Hops the Cat IPA, Port of Baltimore Baltic Porter, Better Dan Red IPA, Memorial Pils, Govans Blood Orange Gose, and more along with a few guest brews from RaR, Hysteria, Barley & Hops, and Atlas. In part this is a precursor of what is to come in the form of collaborations- notably Atlas, in addition to a host of others already on the calendar.  They have a barrel ageing program in the works using local whiskey barrels from Baltimore Spirits Company.  

Like so many Baltimore breweries of the past, Full Tilt has quickly become part of the fabric of the Govans community. They technically opened in December of 2018 before they were brewing on premises, but they already have a host of regulars who consider Full Tilt this their local neighborhood brewery.  The food offerings are plentiful with Rolling Grill providing food four days a week, a variety of food trucks scattered throughout the week, and a Wendy’s right across the street for the cravings of fast food lovers. The location is ideally situated to serve the residents including Steve Jones of Oliver Brewing fame who stops in often with the whole family to enjoy a brew and a meal. This truly is a family friendly place where children are welcome, and there is much to entertain them from Shuffle Board to Skee Ball to Galaga. Adults can partake of those games in addition to catching sports on the multiple big screens, or enjoying the talented live bands that play on the weekends. Saturday crowds were treated to the group That’s What She Said, who ably covered an array of familiar songs, and serenaded Nick with Happy Birthday. Yes the grand opening celebration on March 23rd also happened to be Nick Fertig’s 35th Birthday, and what a celebration it was!  

Nick Fertig (bottom right with birthday wrestling belt) celebrating his 35th birthday with friends at the Grand Opening of Full tilt Brewing.

Both Baumiller and Fertig have families to support, Nick and his wife have a beautiful 6 month old son named Max (subconsciously named after Hops the Cat who was formerly known as Max); Dan and his wife have two beautiful children and a third on the way in May. Both fathers want to see their children enter into what is now the family business- brewing. They will have quite a legacy to pass along with a few hard earned lessons along the way.

The Baumiller Family

They faced numerous challenges on their journey to opening the brewery, and when I asked what they would change if they could, I received two answers:

  1. Nothing because it brought us to where we are today.
  2. To aim for a smaller retail space to house the brewery right out of the box instead of thinking a large production brewery was the best option.

For now they are focusing on the fact that they have waited their whole lives for this moment and it has finally arrived. Make no mistake it is hard work, and both are keeping their day jobs while Full Tilt finds its footing. They have made it this far because they never gave up. Under no circumstances would they be deterred from pursuing their dream…

“Right now we are living our dream, and if more people come out to our brewery, it will be that much better!”

Dan Baumiller, co-founder Full Tilt Brewing

As I drove away Queen:  “We are the Champions” was playing on the radio and I found myself thinking yes, these men certainly have paid their dues time after time….. Now I am just happy to be able to give them a hearty congratulations that was so long coming.

Dan Baumiller, Chris Limon, Maureen O’Prey, Nick Fertig

What to look for in the near future:

  • Camden Cream on Nitro
  • Honey Saison
  • Session IPA
  • Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout

Sláinte

She Blinded Me With Science

Catching up with Lynn. An honest conversation with Lynn Pronobis of Union Craft Brewing.

Meet Lynn Pronobis, chemist, brewer, athlete, friend, and all around extraordinary woman. Lynn began her career at Union Craft as an intern in 2012 while completing her chemistry degree at UMBC. She wasn’t planning on a career in brewing, she actually started out wanting to go to med school to become a heart surgeon. After working at a hospital she gained clarity and realized that it was not the right path for her to lead a happy, healthy life. Next she explored a career in pharma – but soon grew disenchanted with the process and the waste. A career in brewing was never on her radar, but an internship was an integral part of resume building in the waning years of college and a brewery seemed like a great fit where she could apply her acumen in chemistry while gaining valuable experience. To call Lynn a ‘knowledge sponge’ would be an understatement- she has a subconscious drive to learn everything she possibly can, to immerse herself in process and execute her duties swiftly and efficiently, all while finding ways to improve the final results. This is her nature, and she is by nature a scientist.

It was not until her second internship with Union that she realized she was in the right place- perfectly suited for a career where she could meld her scientific background with her need to be challenged both physically and mentally. Union not only provided all of these things- they also provided the team environment she craved. Having played softball for UMBC, Lynn was not only used to the team atmosphere- she required it. Lynn has performed just about every job in the brewery as part of the learning process, and she has grown right alongside the brewery. She is responsible for launching their cask program- which has become an incredible and indelible success. What started as an experiment has turned into an important component of Union’s portfolio.

Lynn Pronobis in the brewery with her casks- no place she would rather be.

For Lynn, casks were the perfect platform to figure out how to combine flavors.  It is also a place where her rigid scientific training flows seamlessly into art. Lynn will be the first person to tell you that her base of operations – her foundation- is math and science where everything begins. She starts with her end goal and works backwards to attain it. That is not however where it ends. Cask beer is art just as much as it is science and Lynn has found the sweet spot in the give and take between the two.  In 2018 she broke her own record by taking over 350 casks to market, something most would have thought implausible in the not too distant past in Maryland. Although many people still don’t understand what casks are, in Baltimore the population of those that do is incredibly rich, according to Lynn.

She has a well-earned reputation for her casks. Many accounts are wary of casks until they find out it is made by Lynn. She instills confidence- they trust it because they trust her. This is what she has been working toward- trying to make her cask program the very best in the state.  It hasn’t always been easy however and there is a trail of lessons learned, some surrounding fruit, some surrounding process. Her motivation is strong as she wants to make THE perfect dark sour, a lesser known style and measurably more difficult as a kettle sour.  This woman appreciates a challenge! Anyone that has sampled her dark sour and the dark fruit undercurrent that delicately tantalizes the palate knows how very talented she is. Many believe she has already achieved her goal of producing THE perfect dark sour.

Casks are also the vehicle that inspired her recipe writing. There is a freedom with the cask program- total control over process and ingredients that she enjoys. There are certain limitations however that are not present when brewing. One example would include the ability to add and then remove ingredients after a desired time (which you cannot do from the cask). After watching Kevin Blodger write recipes for years she gained a tremendous understanding of the relationship between malts and hops, and how the flavors interact. Kevin has been a font of knowledge that she has eagerly tapped into.

Sampling the Bourbon Mezcal aged Old Pro from the barrel.

Lynn has a hand in almost everything happening in the brewery. She is responsible for brewing operations in addition to the barrel ageing and cask programs, distribution oversight, and a host of operational processes. One improvement that she is very proud of is her keg location map. After attending an MBAA seminar on managing a warehouse, she was struck by an idea to improve efficiency. She created a 16 lane layout, complete with coded markings allowing for swift keg access and retrieval for rotation and distribution. This coded language can be seen throughout the brewery from the brew schedule, to the barrel program, to her meticulous recipe notes. My favorite was a cask note marked ‘killed it’, an indicator that a cask turned out exactly as planned. Having tried that particular cask I could not agree more! These are all hallmarks of an orderly, scientific mind.

The brew schedule in Lynn’s code.

This mind has served Lynn quite well. She is extremely sharp with an uncanny ability to see the big picture where many get mired in the details. She has a maturity well beyond her 29 years which, combined with her extensive brewing experience has now cast her in the role of learned mentor- be assured however that her thirst for knowledge is never quenched. Her life hasn’t always remained as tidy and easily quantifiable as science; in fact quite often it has been a battle.

A female in a predominantly male industry faces intense scrutiny, and Lynn is no exception. As a gay female this has brought a greater range of challenges and reactions. As a woman, Lynn quickly grew tired of the assumptions that she was either a bartender (because she couldn’t possibly be a brewer), or incompetent because she was a woman, or very young, or both. She only wanted to be looked upon as an equal, and she made certain that she could carry her own weight- literally. When Lynn started at Union she would go in the bathroom and do pushups every day to make sure she could carry full kegs, and move the ladders and other equipment on her own; physically capable of doing everything the men could do. At Union she was treated as an employee, an equal, a member of the team, which was and always is the desired goal.

Drinking another winning cask creation.

At times being gay was easier for Lynn because she was looked upon as more of an equal since she wasn’t an option for men, and she wasn’t going to steal anyone’s girlfriend. It was almost easier to become good friends with coworkers. Outside of the brewery it was an entirely different story. Unfortunately sexism is still commonplace, but Lynn’s method of dealing with it has changed. When men would hit on her she used to attempt to diffuse the situation by telling them she was gay which often resulted in relentless badgering about her sexuality. She often received ignorant comments like,

 “You just haven’t met the right guy yet…”

All of this used to make her incredibly angry, but over time she learned to change the narrative with quick-witted, funny responses like,

“Perhaps YOU just haven’t me the right guy yet!”

There is nothing more powerful than turning the tables by demonstrating how much you don’t care what others think about you. For Lynn this was completely liberating. Sometimes, she still finds herself frustrated but that is when she takes to the forklift – an instant salve. Detaching from social media also provides respite- although social media has become the main driver for sales and marketing in this day and age. It is also a place where unkind thoughts are ubiquitous.  

This past year has been perhaps the most frustrating she has experienced. It has been a perfect storm of challenges- one after the other from the aluminum tariffs creating havoc with canning and in particular labelling when trying use alternative cans; the move from the old brewery to the new collective; the government shutdown which backlogged TTB approvals; the closure of a Crown Cork and Seal plant; and the high volume of sales in the taproom at a time when production was limited (due to the host of issues listed). There is a light at the end of this tunnel, but the road is long, and she is pacing herself. The old brewery is still operational at least for the next year, and the 20 bbl system is currently being used as the pilot system. An unusually large pilot system.

At the end of the day there are many things to take away. The first is that Lynn loves what she does- what she produces, and she loves the team that is Union. Her hope is that people take a moment before judging (beer or people for that matter) and think about the process, the various elements that needed to coalesce to make that beer- from the ingredients, to packaging to distribution. She wants people to really take the time to understand the beer. On this front headway is being made, and in part that is due to her ability to talk to people about beer, the style, and the inspiration for it.

The future is looking very bright for Lynn and for Union. In fact Lynn wants to see Union supplant Natty Boh as the beer synonymous with Baltimore- a town she will never leave. She also wants to surpass National Brewing Company’s peak production (yes we are headed for a brewery capable of producing millions of barrels of beer annually!)  

Lynn with Jazz Harrison-a friend who really understands the beer.

The next time you stop at Union for a pint or a growler take a moment to ask about the style, the process, the inspiration, as you might be pleasantly surprised. Oh and one last thing to remember- if Lynn isn’t smiling it doesn’t mean she is in a bad mood, she’s just plotting the next delightful creation, and one I can’t wait to try!

Sláinte

2020 Beer Babes Calendar

As many of you already know, the brewing community is one that engages in extensive outreach to help those in need. One of the projects I am honored to be apart of is the Annual Beer Babes Calendar. This incredibly important fundraiser was the brainchild of Alice Kistner- proprietress of Mahaffey’s Pub in Canton. All of the calendar girls are fixtures in the Maryland craft brewing community from brewers to distributors, to bar owners and beertenders, and everything in between and I am blessed and humbled to stand with them and be included in their ranks. All calendar proceeds go to the Kennedy Krieger Institute: Center for Autism and Related Disorders.

Caroline, Lynn, and Judy

Please enjoy these behind the scenes photos from our 2020 calendar shoot at Union Craft Brewery, who graciously hosted us once again. The stylists and make up artists, photographer and videographer all donated their time and costs for this incredible cause. Calendars go on sale April 20 at Mahaffey’s. Mark your calendars!!!

In the Middle with Erin: A Profile in Distribution

A behind the scenes look at the middle tier with Legend Erin Tyler.

Perhaps too often I profile only one part of the brewing industry- the breweries. On Saturday I was afforded the opportunity to sit down with Erin Tyler, General Manager of Legends Limited Distributing to examine the ‘middle tier’ of the industry while enjoying a beer at Mahaffey’s.  Erin got her start in the industry on the retail side working in restaurants. In 2005 she made the transition to the middle tier at Legends Limited.  A naturally gregarious person that enjoys interacting with people, sales married perfectly with her background in craft beer, wine and spirits. 

Legends Limited was founded by Pat and Sherri Casey in 1994 when they became frustrated by the lack of reputable distributors for their import alcoholic beverage brands. Yes, to clarify Legends started because of imports- not because of craft as it hadn’t really taken off at the time. Craft would soon follow. They opened in the Natty Boh tower at the same time Brimstone Brewing was in residence. When Erin began at Legends they were extremely small- only nine employees. With an unprecedented thirst for knowledge and ever inquisitive, Erin absorbed everything she could from her accounts and the specialists behind the bar/counter like Casey at Max’s Taphouse, Robert from State Line, and Randy from Whole Foods. This was invaluable and helped catapult Erin up the ranks at Legends. As she learned everything she could to maximize her potential, Pat and Sherri Casey sold Legends to a larger family of distributors in 2009, Sheehan Family Companies, a distribution company founded in 1898. This coincided with the rapid proliferation in craft breweries across the country and shifted the focus to specializing in craft and imports. Legends never distributed macro products like Budweiser, remaining dedicated to the craft/import side, and this continued under the new ownership.

Today Legends has eighty five employees, and distributes over forty craft beer brands. They landed five Maryland breweries including Union, RaR, Manor Hill, Oliver Brewing, and Burley Oak. As Erin noted- they are not brand collectors but work specifically with suppliers that fit well with their portfolio. The approach is not to sign breweries unless they can market and place the products with a full devotion of resources. In fact Erin made her opinion quite clear:

“New breweries should self-distribute to learn the ins and outs of distribution, before signing with a distributor.”

Sage advice, and unexpected from the distribution side- but that is what sets Legends apart from other distributors. Their territory covers all of Maryland and Washington D.C.  In 2018 they added 20,000 sf of warehouse space to bring the total to 70, 000 sf of temperature controlled warehouse, complete with cold boxes for all kegs.  This is one of the most critical components for breweries when it comes to choosing a distributor- temperature control to maintain the freshness and quality of the beer. Along with that they hired a new warehouse manager and operations team to change the layout and maximize space and efficiency. Legends is truly a ‘partner’ with their suppliers as they co-op everything: printing (they have an in-house printer), tap handles, POS, glasses, etc. Erin’s sales team is extremely well trained and highly respected for their craft beer/wine/spirits knowledge. This is one of the reasons the relationships Legends maintains with their suppliers is so strong, and why there is little turn over in her sales team. In addition, the company benefits are numerous and generous, from the health insurance to the tuition reimbursement, to the sixteen paid hours of leave for volunteer activities. This is an family-oriented operation, and that is exactly how Erin describes her team- a family, and one she is extremely reluctant to ever consider leaving.

Erin is content at Legends, enjoying the challenges brought on a daily basis from trucks breaking down to beer not coming in when a big event is on tap. She never asks her team to do anything she herself would not do, which has her doing a bit of everything- and she revels in this. There is always quite a lot happening, but she never lets her team lose focus- they need to collaborate and work together to make sure that at the end of the day the customers and suppliers are happy. This is the true end game of the middle tier, and Legends has mastered this. The quality of her team is a large part of the success, but so is consumer education (which her team engages in regularly), continuing education for her employees to learn about new products (and the push to work with the growing population of craft distilleries), and a willingness to adapt their models to the ever-changing climate- whether that be changes in consumer buying or changes in legislation. When queried about the slate of proposed alcoholic beverage bills on the table in the legislature her answer was simple- we have adapted before and will do so again whatever may come.

The recent host of craft breweries that have sold to AB-InBev and Constellation, has required a bit of flexibility on Legend’s part to navigate these uncharted waters. A sale of rare, premium spirits a few years ago required an IT intervention to add the extra digit (five instead of four) in the cost line to log the product in the system. No matter the challenges Legends adapts and one thing remains immovable: they strictly adhere to guidelines governing industry practices, and all reps are extremely well versed in each facet. Erin is very proud of this and this is why they have such a stellar reputation in the craft industry. In addition to this being policy- they are experts at understanding the products, retail spaces, availability of shelf space and refrigeration, and the market.  They do their homework.

This is really the story of Erin and of Legends and how the services they provide cannot be replicated. Whether it be a draft technician- a trade skill that so many people don’t know or utilize anymore, the Micromatic and other industry training classes employees participate in regularly, the BJCP manual used to train all salespeople, or the fact that they consider their most valuable assets at to be human capital…this is a one of a kind operation. Erin Tyler is also one of a kind. She is the only certified cicerone at her company, although the parent company has a master cicerone on staff, and provides funding for employees to complete cicerone certification.

Erin is also one of the very few women in the country heading a distribution house.  She states that she has encountered very little pushback, and her breadth of knowledge allays any concerns a supplier or retail establishment could drum up. Her reputation precedes her. She does acknowledge that things might have been different if she had signed with a macro distributor. The different establishments she would have interacted with might have tipped the balance in a less than favorable way for her and her career.  Erin sees more diversity in the industry now than ever before, and predicts an expanded presence in all tiers. She actively works to bring women in contact with craft beer as a co-founder of the Baltimore Beer Babes, and has helped introduce consumers from all backgrounds to the wonders of craft beverages. This is the industry, the craft industry (whether beer, wine or spirits) and it is her favorite part of the job, working with people- because as a whole they are really good people. This is also where she reminds me that she met her best friend Alice Kistner, owner of Mahaffey’s because of this industry. Years ago when Erin was just a sales rep and Mahaffey’s was one of her clients (when Wayne still owned it) Alice walked in to apply for a job. That was at the beginning of a wonderful and lifelong friendship that has continued to solidify to this day, and even includes annual tropical vacations.

Alice Kistner and Erin Tyler at Mahaffey’s

What does the future hold for Erin and Legends? Personally, she will finish the MBA she has been pursuing at University of Baltimore, and travel. Travelling affords time to completely detach (no cell service) and immerse herself in something entirely new. Croatia was restorative, and stunningly beautiful, while Estonia revealed a burgeoning craft brewing world filled with unexpected and delicious IPA’s. Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania are next on the itinerary. As for Legends? The focus will shift to a very proactive approach since the last few years have been reactive with the growth of the market. Spending time on strategic/long term planning is priority as Erin wants Legends to be the best specialty beverage distributor in the state in five years. Erin also wants to be the person behind the great breakthrough in craft beer distribution…stay tuned. One thing is certain, she is not leaving Legends:

“I can’t imagine doing anything else- they are my family!”

They are very lucky to have her. Unfailingly Erin operates in the best interest of her suppliers the way she operates in the best interests of her employees, reminding me- “without them where would we be?” I would add to that…without Erin where would Legends be? There is no question they are far better positioned because of her, as are all of their partners from suppliers to retail shops.

After nearly three hours spent on the intricacies of the business, Erin left me with a few golden nuggets to get excited about;

  1. Union Craft Brewing’s release of a new year round IPA- Divine (the name suits it perfectly)
  2. Firestone Walker’s release of Rosalee
  3. Oskar Blues Guns n’ Rosés Ale
  4. Better Wine Company Nitro Rosé in cans

They all sound intriguing! So put on a little David Bowie, or just watch Labyrinth and take a sip of that delightful craft beverage and be grateful Erin and Legends are here in Maryland to deliver it to you- always fresh!

Sláinte

Mark Burchick: Oyster Stout film premier

The Local Oyster Stout Premieres Online

Baltimore, MD (January 9th, 2019)The Local Oyster Stout, an 8-minute short documentary about the collaboration between a brewery, an oyster farm, and a shucker that led to Maryland’s first farm-to-table oyster stout beer, will premiere Monday, January 14th, 2019, at 9 am EST at the following link: https://vimeo.com/310463755

The short film chronicles the historical pairing of oysters and stouts, specifically through photographs and advertising from the Guinness Brewery’s Storehouse archives, before turning its attention to a collaborative approach to the oyster stout beer style taking place in Baltimore, MD.

Brewed by Waverly Brewing Company, in collaboration with True Chesapeake Oyster Company and The Local Oyster restaurant, the Local Oyster Stout is Maryland’s first beer to source its oysters entirely from within the state, a fact recognized by Sen. Ben Cardin on Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles in 2016.[1]

Such practices chart a future for sustainability in the Chesapeake Bay through the promotion of ethical aquaculture actively contributing to the health of the watershed, alongside innovative strategies to bring small businesses together.

Directed and produced by Sincerely Visual, a video collective of Baltimore filmmakers Mark Burchick, Jena Richardson, and Kyle Deitz, The Local Oyster Stout premiered at the Life Sciences Film Festival in the Czech Republic, followed by an Opening Night Screening for the Water Docs Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, regional recognition at the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival and Chesapeake Film Festival, and which concluded its festival run at the British Documentary Film Festival in London, England this past December.

“The Local Oyster Stout hopes to bridge our passion for life on the water and drinking craft beer into a captivating story to share with those who care about the environment,” says Mark Burchick, co-director on the film. “We couldn’t have made this film without that a-ha moment, hanging out at Waverly Brewing Company, looking up at the chalkboard, and seeing a beer with live oysters in it! We had to tell its story.”

***

Mark Burchick is a freelance filmmaker, owner of Sincerely Visual, and Multimedia Technician for Towson University. Not only did he shuck his first oyster during the making of this film, but he also had to visit his first emergency room after burying the shucking knife into his left hand.

Jena Richardson is a Baltimore-based filmmaker currently studying for her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, an artist-in-residence at Towson University, and a self-professed foodie. Her work has taken her from the sets of award winning television and films all the way to the Obama White House. Her previous film “Dear Country,” which covered the historic Women’s March of 2017, was recognized in film festivals at home and internationally.  


[1] https://www.brewersassociation.org/current-issues/u-s-senator-cardin-celebrates-new-beer-release-local-brewery/

Happy New Year!

A look back at the Maryland craft brewing industry in 2018, and glimpse of what is to come in 2019.

Welcome to 2019! After a brief hesitation I decided to open the year with a recap of 2018. There was much to celebrate:  several new breweries opened in Maryland- many to rave reviews for the high quality brews they were turning out; the rise of the sour to heretofore unseen proportions- with literally a sour in every brew kettle (completely NOT attributable to Budweiser despite claims to the contrary from Ab-InBev); a sharp rise in Veteran owned breweries across the Free State; and a developing appreciation for the NEIPA in nearly every brewery.

Unfortunately accompanying the triumphs came a pall of darkness cast over the brewing industry in Maryland like a malevolent trespasser. Some breweries closed, others read the tea leaves and chose friendlier climes across our borders to craft their beer. There was also much hullabaloo about a ‘contraction’ coming in the craft brewing industry to which I will comment upon later.

Most that have read this blog for the past few years have become well acquainted with the changes taking place in the industry- particularly those in Maryland. This also assumes most are familiar with the battle raging in Annapolis to adjust the antediluvian, obsolete portions of the laws governing craft breweries. Please note that I did not say ‘all’ breweries which is the relevant point here, and an important distinction.  I will be the first person to suggest that mega breweries[i] can wreak havoc upon distributors (and retailers) without specific franchise protections in place. History bears witness to this fact. For smaller craft breweries however those protectionist statutes, from franchise laws to taproom sale limits can spell an end to a craft brewery wasting the funds and life blood spilt in the quest to make their dream a reality. Despite the incredibly vocal support of the voters for these statutory changes, and a Comptroller bent on helping the brewers at all costs- the 2018 legislative session devolved into a mud wrestling competition that unmasked the naked, ugly truth of politics, “power is the great aphrodisiac.”[ii]  Much of the wrangling taking place had absolutely nothing to do with craft beer and everything to do with a power struggle.

The epicenter of that power struggle was the entitlement of a handful of career politicians in the legislature and the vigorous influence of the distributor’s lobby throughout halls of Annapolis. This push for corrective legislation deteriorated even further when those legislators not only tossed aside proposed legislation without consideration of the benefits to the majority of Marylanders, but chose instead to examine alcohol regulation in the state as a means of stripping it from said Comptroller’s office. That examination has since turned into a procession of neo-prohibitionist troglodytes (with their entourage of acolytes) trying to return us to the dry days of the Volstead Act. Not surprisingly they are accompanied by many of those bloviating self-important legislators that just love to try and manipulate witnesses in an effort to defend their indefensible shenanigans.

In the midst of this stage show behold our champions- Cindy Mullikin (President of the Brewers Association of Maryland) and Hugh Sisson (Founder and proprietor of Clipper City/Heavy Seas) interjecting relevant commentary on behalf of the breweries complete with supporting documentation, statistics, and above all –common sense- something that seems to be missing from many of the actors involved in the hearings. They have represented Maryland craft beer extremely well in the face of these unscrupulous narcissists.  The findings of this task force have yet to be released- and honestly I don’t know what they are going to suggest. If pressed I believe they will advocate for at the very least another increase in alcohol taxes, and at the worst- state control of all alcoholic beverage sales, which would be as dismal as one imagines for the industry.

This is where it becomes important to focus on 2019 and what we should be celebrating. The Brewer’s Association of Maryland is doing a fantastic job on behalf of the more than 80 breweries across the state. Every craft brewery regardless of size should be proud they are so well represented- because they are! No matter what the findings of the task force is not law- it is just a recommendation. Those findings would need to be crafted into proposed legislation and taken to the appropriate committee, debated, and voted upon first- before making it to the full house and senate for a vote. Hmmm…It almost sounds as if I still have a bit of faith left in the process…I do. Trust me I am almost as surprised by this revelation as you are! Let me share another brilliant quote from Henry Kissinger, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” When it comes to craft beer in Maryland these words have never rung more true.  

I still believe that most humans will heed the advice of their better angels and make the right choices for all the right reasons. Hopefully this applies to more than the ten percent of the legislature in Maryland. Only time will tell of course.

So, what do we have to celebrate in addition to our great team at BAM? Well let me start with Patriot Acres, and Checkerspot, and Valhalla, and Maryland Beer Company, and Cult Classic, and B.C. Brewery, and Inverness, and House Cat, and True Respite, and Full Tilt (it was a long time coming gentleman), and Guinness, and oh so many more that I haven’t mentioned. In addition there are several breweries in planning set to open in 2019 and beyond from Patuxent to Ten Eyck….

Which brings me back to that contraction… what contraction? Union Craft has expanded (the Collective) right along with Heavy Seas, Frey’s, and B.C. Brewery, and many others. Let us not forget the expansion plans of Dark Cloud Malt House which is yet another reason to fully embrace 2018 as a stellar year- the rise of malt houses once again in our region. It is finally time to reclaim our rich heritage of growing and malting our own grains for Maryland craft breweries.  Don’t forget that drinking locally crafted beer made with locally grown malting grains saves the Chesapeake Bay! After the Conowingo Dam debacle that should certainly make malt and the craft brewing industry a priority for everyone in the state. It also serves as a reminder that if you look, there is always a reason to celebrate and support Maryland craft breweries!

I don’t know what will happen in 2019 but I do know Maryland craft beer has not even come close to reaching its zenith.  There are many industry-centric bills headed to legislative committees in the Maryland General Assembly beginning on Wednesday January 9th. There is also a wealth of support from voters for this industry that has revitalized Maryland communities and consistently strengthened its powerful voice with action. For now I am enjoying the delicious fruits of our craft brewer’s labor- always mindful of their sacrifices, determination, incredible skill and dedication to this ancient and enduring craft that we love.

 Sláinte

P.S. ***Please continue to be a vocal advocate for your craft breweries and ask your representatives about the industry share with them how they can help ensure their communities success by supporting craft breweries.


[i] My personal definition of ‘mega’ includes any brewery producing over 500,000 bbls annually. Others choose to use the Brewers Association of America definition of craft as any brewery producing more than 6 million bbls annually (along with other caveats).

[ii] Henry Kissinger, NY Times January 19, 1971.

Monument City

A look at Monument City Brewing and what is in store for 2019.

December 15, 2018

Monday evening I had the distinct pleasure of attending a media event for Monument City Brewing Company. I was greeted with a Penchant Pils and an overview the evenings activities. What was quite surprising was the media turnout- all women beer writers! Needless to say I was in esteemed company. The purpose was to introduce those unfamiliar with Monument to the brewery, beer selections, and future plans; and to remind the rest of us of the quality product, the history, and what new adventures they were about to embark upon.

Ken and Matt Praay opened Monument City in Highlandtown in April of 2017. Prior to that they chose to market test their beers by contract brewing through Peabody Heights. The response- particularly for their 51 Rye was extremely positive. The journey had been several years in the making. The idea for the family run brewery came to Ken in 2009, after falling in love with Baltimore and its vibrant and growing craft beer scene. When his brother Matt was in town, they would brew together and continue tweaking the results. Ken proceeded to write a whopping 75 page business plan over the course of next year. As a Senior VP of Marketing for Citibank, Ken had both the insight and the acumen. Matt had been contracted to work in the Middle East, and after more than a year of midnight Skype calls the two took a hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2011 to decide if it was the right time to move forward. The bank had other ideas. Contract brewing seemed like the most logical solution- establish proof of concept while they located a building and more money to get started.

The structure they settled on was indeed historic. It was the Williamson Veneer building, built in 1901, and boarded up in 1983. It had (almost everything they needed) to serve as the old neighborhood brewery the brothers had in mind. It also, coincidentally was located not too far from the Pre-Prohibition brewery that inspired their name. The descendants of the historic brewery were kind enough to share plenty of information with the brothers, filling them with a greater sense of purpose- and nostalgia. The work ahead of them was tremendous however. There was only one salvageable window, no roof to speak of,and they had to install their own sewer lines. Yes outhouses were located across the railroad tracks if one was in need….wait what century are we livingin? It might as well have been 1900 considering all that had to be done to bring it up to code. They fabricated most everything they could themselves, and continue to do so if it makes financial sense. They even repurposed an old Miller Lite tank into a hop rocket for dry hopping- the irony of that is not lost. Despite the daunting obstacles in their path they succeeded- with hand trowels at some points, but they persevered nonetheless.

The success of 51 Rye and the core beers planned required very specific equipment that harkened back to the (German-American) brewers prior to Prohibition- including a jacketed mash tun for decoction brewing. They also purchased an oversized lauter tun for high plato brews, a 25 hectoliter brewhouse from MBT, and a  host of fermenters (40, 60, 80 bbl). Within six months of opening they needed to expand. What were they doing right?

Matt Praay providing a tour of the brewery

Simply put they were making quality beer VERY consistently. After listening to Matt (tour guide and Director of Brewing Operations) and Ken(Director of Marketing and Sales, and Business Ops) talk about leaning away from (instead of into) trends, and their adherence to four basic ingredients for beer….Reinheitsgebot immediately came to mind, and harkened back to yesteryear once again. The brothers denied strict adherence, but admitted that most core beers could be viewed by that standard. Where they certainly break from tradition is when it comes to their seasonal beers, occasional collaborations, or when they chose to participate in a ‘trend’ (about one timeper year). A prime example of this comes in the form of their Goetz Caramel Cream milk stout. Yes they used actual Goetz caramel creams in the brew. This is a far departure from beer purity standards- but one well received and for agood cause- MVET, which provides education and training to homeless veterans enabling them to get jobs.  Like the brewers of the past, and their modern counterparts Monument City is a good steward in the community, helping veterans, supplying recycling bins, and supporting Trash Free Maryland, to name a few.

This year (2018) they will peak just over 5,000 bbls.  That growth was supported by the investment in their own canning line, made with a little help from a brilliant local welder and some repurposed bakery conveyors. They have also reached the point where they need to expand once again in 2019- in part because of their desire to continue producing quality lagers that require the longer fermentation period, taking up valuable space from other core beers. They are also investing in their barrel ageing program with sherry, rum, bourbon, and whiskey barrels. Matt and Ken are working on a sour program, and have gone to great lengths to prevent contamination, but again this is a 12-36 month turn aroundfor the Lambics they have planned.  Two 80 bbls, and one 10 bbl tank are on the way to accommodate the 2019 production schedule.

They are also expanding programming through their taproom to include targeted educational programs and a host of new events. This is accomplished under the thoughtful leadership of Taproom Manager Crystal Wack. Therest of the team includes Jack Obernaier, VP of Sales; Kimberely Praay,Business Manager; the two Daves- Thomas and Watt (Head Brewer and Cask Specialist) affectionately known as Dragon and Nighthawk! It is a cohesive and energetic team, and the expansion will see the seven full time and eight part time staff grow in the next year.

Unlike many craft breweries in Maryland that have a business model centered on taproom sales- 96% of the beer Monument City produces is distributed. They viewed self-distribution as a bridge too far, and felt it would serve their interests better to enter into a distribution contract.  They are hyper-focused on Baltimore as their primary market and see themselves as remaining the ‘old neighborhood brewery’ for at least the next 12 years with production topping out around 15,000 bbls/yr. They hire local, buy local, and use local tradesmen and women to help get theirproduct to market.

If you want consistent, really well-made, quality beer that showcases the ingredients, and veers (most of the time) away from trendy- this is the place to be. This brewery is not about flash or gimmicks. That is whythe naming of the brews is so tough for them- it is about the ingredients(which are promptly posted on each and every can), brewed seamlessly to create a balanced, quality beer you can trust. Honest craft beer.

They have done what we all know and expect (rightly so ornot) of Maryland breweries- spur economic growth and help revitalize the neighborhoods that welcome them. Since opening, Monument City has been joined by Urban Axes, a ballroom, and a restaurant- making it a one stop location for beer, food, and fun.

Take the time to stop in if you haven’t and give them a try-whether you prefer the perfectly balanced American Brown Ale, or the seasonal offering of Woodstove- a beautifully crafted 100% malt Imperial Stout that provides a subtle ribbon of milk chocolate that dances across the palate. You will not be disappointed.

Here’s to 2019- may it be a grand and prosperous one for the Praay family and Monument City!

Prost!