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

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!