Under the Oak

What is in store for craft beer lovers at the new brewery breaking ground in Queen Anne’s County?

Sunday marked the official groundbreaking of a new brewery in Queen Anne’s County- Ten Eyck. The name is familial, drawn from founder and brewmaster Nicki Sener and her father, affectionately known as “Gangster Ten Eyck”. The Ten Eyck family emigrated from the Netherlands during the Colonial era and planted roots throughout what eventually became the United States of America.  Etymologically, it is derived from the Dutch and translated as ‘under the oak’ or ‘lives at the oak’. Charming most certainly, but not the most interesting aspect of this new brewery.

It is the women behind the brewery that provide the most intriguing story behind this venture- veterans and first responders. Nicki Sener is not only the founder but both a veteran and a first responder (law enforcement). Sharon Horgan and Shayne Sewell both served in the Air Force along with Michelle (Mo) and Jennifer Barrett. Jessica Hammond Graf coached women’s rugby at the Naval Academy, while she and her wife Yancy Hammond Graf both played for USA Women’s Rugby. What brought them together? Rugby and craft beer, and a common set of experiences.  It was actually Yancy that first delved into mash tun of homebrewing while playing rugby, and from that point forward it became an integral part of the group dynamic.  Although quite talented, Yancy has since passed the mash paddle off to Nicki, and for good reason,

 “It was easy to believe in the vision of Ten Eyck, because we enjoy the creativity that emanates from this woman.” Yancy Hammond Graf, speaking of founder Nicki Sener.

Nicki’s mash paddle.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, these women are close- they not only support one another, but perhaps more importantly build and invest in each other. They champion strengths while helping buttress the gaps. They are a united front, one that not only understands the magic of teamwork, but the essential role of allowing individual character to shine.

The brewery is situated on a patch of land ideally suited for local patrons and travelers. Ten Eyck is just off of Grange Hall Road and Rte. 213, within spitting distance of Route 50 (Blue Star Memorial Highway or Ocean Gateway- you choose.) The location also happens to be directly across from Chesapeake College and the nearest gas station. Between beach goers and the college crowd, foot traffic should not be a problem for Ten Eyck no matter the time of year.  The 4,244 sf facility will house a 10 bbl system from Oregon, with three 10 bbl bright tanks and a 20 bbl fermenter. Foeders are also in route. For those of you unfamiliar, they were created predominantly for wine although other craft creations from spirits to beer have incorporated these enormous wooden vats in the maturation process. The high liquid to wood ratio provides a perfect environment for the beer to develop, while imparting oak, vanilla, and other mellow characteristics into the alcohol without threat of acidification that is often a product of smaller barrel ageing. The vast height of the vessel allows for greater capacity with a smaller footprint than standard barrels. Lagers and stouts are ideal for Foeders, and if dedicated- can make a particularly sublime sour.

The taproom will have 12 taps of myriad styles. The goal is to offer a little bit of everything to the consumer from lagers, to IPA’s to sours. For the non-beer drinkers they are also crafting both soda and cider. There will not be a full kitchen, so food options include a picnic lunch, or available food trucks. Ten Eyck will have a full bier garden, complete with dog pools for your waggy-tailed quadruped, and perhaps a hitching post for your thoroughbred. They have literally thought of everything!

I have sampled Ten Eyck’s offerings before, but on a 94 degree day filled with bright sun I was curious how my opinion and my palate might be informed. I will begin with the one thing I rarely drink- cider. It was quite perfect for such a warm afternoon. The blueberries and blackberries were all locally grown and handpicked, lending themselves to a lingering and immensely refreshing mouthful of bright, full flavors that would have been lost in mass harvested berries, but were not overpowering.

The Blackberry Rye IPA offered a similar profile in that it was fully flavored, yet impressively balanced between the hop profile and the expected bite of the rye.  My favorite however was the Tail Dragger IPA. This little beauty was named after Hanna, who not surprisingly is a pilot who was gracious enough to actually wear a t-shirt with her plane imprinted upon it. This cunning craft was a merger of Galaxy and Citra hops, producing an IPA that brought forth every nuance of malt underneath the hop profile that was not at all overpowering, but brilliantly complex.

The brewery is slated to open no later than January 2020, although they are hoping for an October debut. This remarkable group of women are building something incredible together…..stay tuned and don’t forget to thank them for their service!

Prost!

Before the Banner

Thomas Peters was famous for his Baltimore brewery, now find out what a hero he was before the mash tun!

July 5, 2019

As an historian you never stop documenting the current, investigating the past, and learning more about those that came before.  Thomas Peters, as many of you have read, was an early brewer in the city of Baltimore. He opened his industrial brewery on the Jones Falls in 1784, just after his service in the Revolutionary war. What most don’t know is the extent of his service and his affiliation with George Washington. Details of Thomas Peters’ service in the Continental Army has come to light from his 4th great grandson, Wilmer “Pete” Barnes. Barnes, a 26 year Air Force Veteran carried on the family’s birthright of military service and commitment to our great nation. Pete was kind enough to share the details of his namesake’s heroic deeds.

Thomas Peters’ father William hailed from Liverpool, England, but Thomas was an American born and raised in Pennsylvania. He was a founding member of America’s very first military unit organized in defense of the colonies in 1774. After the first Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia, three members of the Committee of Correspondence along with twenty five concerned citizens which included Thomas Peters formed the Light Horse Cavalry of the City of Philadelphia to defend the colonies. This all-volunteer unit equipped at their own expense with horses, sabers, a carbine and two flintlock pistols with saddle holsters. The uniforms were those of the fox and hound hunting club that many of the founders claimed membership in. This much heralded unit is still in existence today, renamed the 1st Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry and stands as the oldest serving cavalry unit in the Republic. The flag of the regiment is the first to visually depict the thirteen colonies, represented by 13 stripes festooned along the top left of the flag.

Light Horse Cavalry of the City of Philadelphia Flag. Courtesy of Wilmer “Pete” Barnes, 4th Great Grandson of Thomas Peters. Frame hand constructed by “Pete”.

Thomas Peters’ service was nothing short of exemplary. He and his troop served as the rearguard escorting George Washington across the Delaware River in 1776. At the battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776 a Light Horse Cavalry detachment was responsible for capturing Hessians (the German mercenaries from Hesse hired by King George III as auxiliary troops during the American Revolution). This was critical to the American victory at Trenton.  Thomas Peters was also deployed with Colonel Joseph Reed, Adjutant General and his small team of Light Horse Cavalry members sent on a reconnaissance mission that successfully captured enemy dragoons and revealed the number of British soldiers Washington was to face in battle. Thus, knowing he was outnumbered Washington marched through the night to Princeton where he would launch a successful counterattack against the British with the Light Horse Troop at his side, routing three of Cornwallis’ regiments. Many military historians argue this was the turning point for the revolution.  It most certainly kept the Americans in the fight and the British on their heels. Peters’ war time service did not stop there however as he was subsequently appointed commissary general of prisoners in York, Pennsylvania.

That was merely the beginning of the story for Thomas Peters, as through his service he developed a fine kinship with the man whom he fought beside and would later become our first President, George Washington. After the conclusion of the war Peters set about opening his brewery in Baltimore. One of the most curios aspects of this endeavor was not only Peters building one of the largest, most expansive industrial breweries in the nation at the time, but his continued relations with George Washington. This is best captured in the various correspondence between them in the years following the conclusion of the war.  When Peters opened his brewery, he did not have his own malting operations- that would come with the initial expansion a year later. The concern for Peters was getting the proper barley supply for the purpose of malting. This is where General Washington came into the picture, along with a few other notable figures.

The planting of grain to aid recovery efforts after the destruction levelled upon the fields during the Revolutionary war was impressive, and an agricultural boom was in full swing. Not all of the seed sown was the best for planting in certain climates or suitable for malting, however. Washington relied upon Thomas Peters as brewer, and maltster with access to suitable barley seed, and harvested bushels. Peters also supplied vital technological aid to Washington, taking advantage of the latest inventions of the time aiding agricultural production. In one correspondence, Washington thanked Peters for the recommendation of an efficient barley cleaning machine that reduced the work of men. It is unclear which machine he was referring to, but most likely it was the grain cleaning machine of J. Savory.

Shortly after the war, great difficulty existed in finding barley that was not compromised with oats, or finding the right type of barley for malting and spring barley was scarce. Peters engaged with John Beale Bordley, the famous agriculturalist who specialized in growing hops and malting grains for his own brewing and distilling operations on Wye Island. This was one of his prime sources of barely. Bordley was integral to supplying the beer ration to Washington’s Continental Army along with many other goods during the war. Peters was also able to procure spring barley for the purposes of malting from George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation by 1788, when seed and grain accessibility was more abundant. Washington also relied upon the grains to supply his own brewing and distilling operations at Mount Vernon.

Many of the letters detail the deep connections between the brewers in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania- a network of allies working together once again for a common cause- good beer. Like so much of the past this is not unlike the brewers of today, the networks they developed amongst one another to aid in common cause and develop a lasting kinship.

Thomas Peters’ legacy is one of heroism and determination. His brewery would eventually change hands and become known as the Star Spangled Banner Brewery where Mary Pickersgill sewed the stars on the garrison flag that flew proudly over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment September 13- 14, 1814. Peters’ story also serves to illuminate the close relationships that developed among colonists and brewers in our nascent country. It truly was a small world, yet a very connected one in which a brewer, a president, and a farmer from diverse regions would consort for a common, noble cause and remain steadfast friends until death.

Sláinte

Memorial Day

A little reminder of what is behind Memorial Day…

Today is Memorial Day. It is the day we remember United States service members who died serving our nation in combat.

For some it is a day of BBQ and gatherings, a long weekend, or just a wee respite from the daily ins and outs of life. For others it is a solemn day of remembrance and reflection, thinking upon those that gave all for their country so that we may enjoy that BBQ, long weekend, or friendly gathering.

I want to take a few minutes of your time to remember our fallen heroes, lest we forget why today is a national holiday. Arlington National Cemetery is a solemn place where many of our fallen are laid to rest, but not all. It is a place of great reverence, where John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Grace Hopper, Joe Louis Barrows , and my great uncle are interred. They served our nation with distinction, but many more were lost- in combat defending the freedoms we hold so dear… more than Arlington can hold.

Marine Cpl. Jennifer Marie Parcell of Bel Air Maryland died February 7, 2007 supporting combat operations in Al Anbar Province during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was a Lioness.

Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III from Randallstown, Maryland perished September 9, 2008 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. 

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez of Baltimore, Maryland died July 18, 2012 in Ghazni City, Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Army Spc. George Mitchell of Rawlings, Maryland died April 7, 2003 in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

These are merely a handful of the fallen heroes from our nation’s most recent conflicts. There are so many more from every corner of America dating back to the Revolutionary War and the founding of our great nation.

Today please honor those Americans that sacrificed everything for the rest of us to live the lives we choose. Freedom is not free, and we as Americans are free because of these fallen heroes. Never forget!

What am I doing today? I am attempting to take the Murph challenge. United States Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy was a Navy Seal that lost his life June 28, 2005 behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Gravely wounded, he exposed himself to enemy fire to send a distress signal to HQ in an attempt to save the lives of his Seal Team. Only 1 survived- Marcus Lutrell. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

Navy Seal Lt. Michael Patrick Murphy

The Murph Challenge raises money for the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Fund and involves: 1 mile run, 100 pull ups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, followed by a 1 mile run. My niece, a Marine and a graduate of the US Naval Academy Class of 2008, served three tours (1- Iraq, 2-Afghanistan) during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently in her second trimester of pregnancy and has taken and successfully completed the Murph Challenge today. I am extremely humbled by her, and proud of her… and no where near her level of fitness. Therefore, I am not timing myself, and I may not make it through- but I am going to give it my best effort for all veterans and particularly those that have lost their lives. Hopefully by next year I too can be a factor in raising money for this worthy cause.

After I am done I will fully enjoy a local Maryland craft beer- probably Full Tilt- Memorial Pils. I bet you can guess why.

God bless our fallen heroes.

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!

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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