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!

Life. Beer. Repeat

A look a B.C. Brewery and Jim Wagner’s newest venture with Rich Mak.

December 4, 2018

Tuesday evening I was afforded the opportunity to sit down with Jim Wagner of B.C. Brewery and talk about life and beer and history. As an integral part of my journey to document the legacy of Maryland brewers I spent the day with him when he was still brewmaster at DuClaw. It wasn’t too long after they moved operations to the Yellow Brick Road facility in Rosedale. It was a memorable day. Wagner was and still is one of the kindest people I have ever met- genuine and completely open hearted. The (new) DuClaw facility was grand and each unfinished space whispered a promise of continued growth and recognition for the creativity behind the malted beverages- that were suddenly produced on a much larger scale than the first wee brewpub could have imagined.

I always wondered if and when Wagner would strike out on his own. I didn’t have to wait long. After nearly two decades as brewmaster, Wagner left DuClaw in the summer of 2017 to become an ‘international man of leisure’. That lasted for some months. Wagner needed time to figure out what was next and rediscover what is was to truly enjoy life again. Once he was ready, he began charting a path back to brewing- on his own terms. After a lot of ’misses’ he eventually found a partner- Rich Mak, on ProBrewer. They spoke for hours to discover if they had chemistry that could not only open a brewery together but sustain a strong working relationship well into the future. It turned out to be a very good match with both coming to the quick realization they were both in it for the beer. They chose to open in Hunt Valley- one of the few brewery deserts in Baltimore County. The industrial space was perfect- it literally screams BREWERY with its high ceilings and readily expandable space. Located adjacent to a light rail stop and within walking distance from hotels, businesses, a college extension campus, and I-83, it could not be more perfectly situated.

P1060391Jim Wagner standing next to 7 bbl brewhouse at B.C. Brewery

Both Wagner and Mak are ‘hands on’. Together they literally built B.C. Brewery- the cooler, the bar, the tables, the lights, the boiler, and the brewhouse. The brewery has a 7 bbl brewhouse, along with a 2 bbl brewhouse (that they fortunately do not have to use), and 7bbl fermenters to hold the liquid gold. In addition to great beer, B.C. Brewery also has great food, courtesy of Dave Magdeburger, an incredibly talented chef with a gift for creating delicious food that skillfully complements the beer. In fact he was wheeling a whole hog (yes literally) out to smoke while I was there. Another very unique offering of the brewery comes from Beth Vita, a young craft brewer forced to redirect her passion for beer into gluten free cider because of a celiac diagnosis. Vita is incredibly talented at making dry, flavorful ciders and will soon expand into crafting gluten free beers once a dedicated mill is added to the brewery. She is a gifted and focused member of the B.C. Brewery team and I look forward to sampling the gluten free offerings once they become available.

Cider however is not the most unique thing about this brewery- Table Tap is. Much to Wagner’s surprise, Mak’s idea of self-serve beer taps has charted a new course of sorts for the brewery. Self-serve taps are relatively new, but not completely. A few restaurants in Maryland have had self-service wine taps for years. The transition to beer was inevitable. It is a simple concept- grab a glass, enter your card, and chose how much of a pour you desire (½ ounce or more) of a particular beer or cider. Quite frankly I too was surprised at how very successful this concept was- so successful in fact they had to install more. Table Tap accounts for upwards of 75% of their sales. Beertenders are happy not to bother with samples, and customers can choose from an assortment of beers without waiting for help. That frees patrons to take their time in deciding which beer to order as a full pour. It is a win for everyone- and customers are quite happy to get back to socializing or playing corn hole. Yes corn hole is located inside the brewery so that weather is never a factor!

P1060393 A view to the brewery with the Table Tap self-serve taps on the wall to the right. 

What was Wagner’s hesitation with Table Tap? People. It is also why he left DuClaw. He missed the brewpub atmosphere where he could interact with consumers on a daily basis, explaining the style and the choice of ingredients, and the inspiration behind each brew. He has plenty of that at B.C. Brewery and the best part (for them) is they don’t distribute. One of the most stressful aspects of his time at the DuClaw Rosedale facility was dealing with distribution. I could go on and on about franchise laws in Maryland and how absurd they are for smaller breweries- but you all have heard the mantra by now. It is sufficient to say that between distributor hassles and shelf-space being at a premium Wagner and Mak have found a path to success without it. Table Tap is a big part of that. They also don’t have to sacrifice the human interaction- the social component that makes every day so special to be successful.

Wagner is back to really enjoying his work life- interacting with his team and all of the people coming in and out of the brewery to sample his brews, play corn hole and yes- ask lots of questions about their favorite beer. Wagner and Mak are also keeping it local. They are enjoying the resurgence of maltsters in the region and they have been using Proximity Malt (on the Eastern Shore) for many of the beers. Wagner has also delved into Paw Paws- the largest native fruit in North America, grown right here in Maryland at Deep Run Paw Paw Orchard. The most recent incorporation is his Paw Paw Hazy IPA- clean, juicy and crisp, with a surprising depth of flavor.  In addition, local collaborations are planned with his former brew mates Kurt Krol and Brandon Miller, among others. The vitality in Wagner is once again evident, and it permeates every facet of the brewery, and every beer produced. Life. Beer. Repeat.

Currently B.C. Brewery has a total 24 beers/ciders on tap. Wagner has named 90% of them- most from fishing trips with his friends. I urge you to head on over- ask questions, and spend the day enjoying a one of a kind Maryland brewery. You will not be disappointed!

Cheers!

Small Business Saturday, Football and Beer

Tis the holiday season, a time for gatherings and gratitude, and yes sometimes gifts. We are all familiar with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and a host of other days I am certain I have lost track of. This strange tradition is rooted in quite a lot of myth and misinformation, and dare I say fun. No I will not argue the merits of getting up at 4 am to catch a fantastic bargain on snow blowers or video game consoles or even a rare bottle of Westvleteren 12, but making a go of it with one (or some of) your favorite people can turn into an adventure that can last an entire day, and memories that last a lifetime. Perhaps that is one of the very reasons we engage in these shenanigans in the first place. Or perhaps it all started with football.

Annually in the 1950’s the Army Navy game would be held in Philadelphia the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Friday after Thanksgiving was a time when hordes of tourists and suburban shoppers flooded the streets of Philly in anticipation of the game, and a little retail therapy with utter pandemonium ensuing. Every police officer was required to work overtime to deal with the fallout. It was the Philly Police that actually dubbed it Black Friday. By the 1980’s the term was rebranded by retailers to denote the official start of the holiday shopping season with big sales, and even bigger profits- removing the influence of the Army Navy game which has since been moved to December. Taking a look at any annual sales report will demonstrate how very successful this rebranding has been. 30% of annual retail sales take place in the month between Black Friday and Christmas. According to the National Retail Federation an average Black Friday shopper spends over $1,000! Incredible really. This is a retailer’s golden hour to turn a profit.

Black-Friday-Old-Days

So, what does all of this have to do with beer? Quite a bit. I was gently reminded by a Brewers Association of Maryland post recently that breweries are small businesses too. Of course I knew that, but many think of breweries as manufacturing entities- often disconnecting the ‘small business’ side that could benefit from the holiday shopping season from the industry they are categorized by. The more than 6 dozen breweries in Maryland. Almost all have a taproom, and benefit from the direct brewery sales, but they also benefit from the 3rd tier retail shopping that takes place at package stores across the state. Like other small brick and mortar businesses in Maryland they are looking to the post-Thanksgiving crowd to help boost their sales, recognition and profitability.

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Diamondback Brewing samplers

 

This year America has had a resurgence in consumer confidence- and spending. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has reported an optimism in the economy that we haven’t seen in years, promoting greater capital investment in small businesses, and an increase in hiring to meet the anticipated demand. This is all fabulous, but there is much for breweries and all small businesses to contend with. Breweries comprise an industry that is capital intensive. The equipment costs can be astronomical. Profitability for breweries has webbed and flowed over the decades, sometimes suffering from hop shortages, and more recently aluminum tariffs. Greg Kitsock of the BA just published an in depth look at the rising cost of aluminum and its impact on craft breweries. Now, most of us wouldn’t mind paying $1 more per 6-pack for our favorite craft beer if it meant the extra shelf life that aluminum cans provide. Competition is tightening however in the craft beer market, and for some folks $1 or $2 might make a difference at the checkout counter through no fault of their own.

Small businesses are the backbone of Maryland’s economy, creating jobs, building communities, and supplying tax dollars to pay for important and necessary services from schools to transportation to critical infrastructure. We all need small businesses, and breweries are immensely important to each and every neighborhood they operate within. A purchase from a local brewery or business is an investment in your community. I ask you all to bear that in mind this and every season.

Now even though Small Business Saturday and Black Friday have passed, get out of the house and go shopping at a small local retailer, preferably with your favorite person/s and don’t forget to make a stop at the nearby brewery. I can guarantee you the service will be friendly, and you are sure to make lasting memories.

Cheers!

P.S. Don’t forget to tune into the Army Navy game on December 8th (preferably at your local brewery) after all they started this adventure in shopping!

Go Navy!

The Baltimore Craft Beer Festival 2018

The 2018 Baltimore Craft Beer Festival has come and gone once again. Earlier in the week the weather looked to be of great concern as a tempest raged Friday night. By Saturday morning the worst of the storm was over, having left a grim reminder of man’s inability to conquer nature. As dawn broke, the clouds parted and the sun peaked through, offering a crisp albeit windy day on the waterfront for craft beer lovers, and their furry friends.

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Brad and his 3 year old Leonberger Meike enjoying the festivities.

The check-in line was long, but moved quickly and efficiently uniting festival goers with their wrist bands and glasses in minutes. A cornucopia of Maryland craft breweries were spread across the park with host of styles to sample. Accompanying them were a variety of food trucks offering a little something for everyone. There were a handful of non-craft beer vendors on hand selling nuts, portraits, tchotchkes, and the like, but they were few and far between- this truly was a craft beer festival…not a festival with craft beer. There is a distinct difference between the two. One of the more intriguing vendors included Valencia glass-blowing, a mobile glass blower in the tradition of the Italian glass blowers of Venice, on the island of Murano. The demonstrations were mesmerizing, and the audience rapt. This certainly kept festival goers sampling at that end of the complex, and headed home with hand blown ornaments, vases, and gifts.

P1060254Glass blowing demonstration with Founder Phillip Valencia using his mobile furnace.

There were some notable beers to sample while watching the demonstrations like the Brewer’s Art 7 Beauties locally sourced with Dark Cloud malt, or Lot 54 a blonde ale from Inverness Brewing, and Cult Classic’s take on a NEIPA using only Mosaic hops. The breweries were well spaced to manage the throngs and close enough to help one another keep the tents on the ground on the extremely windy side of the park. Make no mistake, the gusts did not hinder attendance, and certainly helped to keep the beer cooled.

P1060258Volker Stewart founder of The Brewer’s Art toasting 7 Beauties on cask.
P1060289Co-Founders Ray and Sandy Frank of the new Baltimore farm brewery Inverness Brewing with Comptroller and Industry Ally Peter Franchot, and Kevin Atticks, Director of the Brewer’s Association of Maryland and Grow & Fortify, toasting another successful year for Maryland Craft Breweries.

On the other side of the complex, festival goers were equally enchanted by the live bands that graced the stage. They weren’t just good- they were fantastic. Get Steady was spot on not only with the musical selection, but the dulcet tones of their lead singer that kept everyone singing along. The majority of brewers were located at this end of the park offering the expected styles, and what I like to call ‘adventure styles’. Most craft beer goers are willing to sample any beer in hopes of discovering something new and wonderful to tempt and tantalize the palate. There was quite a bit to choose from in this regard. A personal favorite came from Waverly Brewing’s own Gregory Lee in the form of Horni-Issac a play on the origins of this delightful ale. Greg got back to his Norse roots embracing a Hornindal yeast which fully complemented the hop profile across the palate in a beautiful marriage of its Norse and English origins.

P1060266Roy and Greg of Waverly Brewing in front toasting Horni-Isaac.

No matter where you started, you ended with great craft beer and got to know a collection of newly opened breweries and breweries in planning. I was thrilled to see True Respite, Cult Classic, Balt County Brewing, Checkerspot, Crooked Crab, Brawling Bear, and Inverness Brewing– all newly opened in 2018 pouring at the festival. The breweries in planning included Mobtown, opening in Canton in 2019; Ironweed opening in Ocean City in 2019; and an absolutely delightful surprise- Ten Eyck a completely women owned and operated brewery opening in Queen Anne’s County in 2019.

P1060262Bailey and Brendan O’Leary, Co-Founders of  True Respite Brewing. 

The usual suspects that we all know and love were also in attendance including Union Craft, Heavy Seas, Manor Hill, Jailbreak, Monocacy, Oliver, Flying Dog and a slew of names like Denizens that every beer drinker in Maryland has tasted, and probably has in their beer fridge right now! A complete list of participating breweries is available through the Brewer’s Association of Maryland. Every participating brewery had at least one (if not several) high-quality, well-crafted brews to offer- a promise (of sorts) that a drive to their brewery would not disappoint. They also served as inspiration to the myriad homebrewers contributing to the Nepenthe homebrewing event of just what is possible if you have the drive and the patience to make it happen…. A lesson for us all.

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All in all it was a brilliant day on the waterfront sampling Maryland craft beer. It also got me thinking about a few things. Recently I have read articles touting the demise of beer festivals using words like ‘ubiquitous’, and ‘tired’. Hmm… No- not at all. I humbly agree to disagree. Craft beer festival like this one (very well planned and executed) provide the PERFECT place to gain an audience and a consumer base. This is where a beer drinker will be introduced to a new brewery, or an old brewery with a new offering. This is where it begins, or in some cases where the flame is reignited and we fall in love all over again with a brewery or a beer we let slip away for a time. There is no better place to bring the family, the dog, or a friend and spend the day in a scenic park enjoying a brisk fall day discovering what talented artisans we have in our midst.

Sláinte!