Patuxent Brewing Company

This weekend I had the distinct privilege of meeting the team behind Charles County’s very first brewery- Patuxent Brewing Company. This brand new brewery isn’t open yet but things are on track for 2019. In fact they were hesitant to even order their equipment due to the tangle of zoning issues and inspection shenanigans, along with a host of other things I will get to shortly.

At the heart of Patuxent Brewing are the founders, husband and wife Davie and Kendra Feaster, and their business manager- the third member of this perfect trio- Tranice Watts. I can state simply that they are a cohesive, symbiotic unit, and could not be more perfectly suited to work together. They are inseparable ‘peas in a pod’ according to Kendra. Tranice and Davie have known each other since they both attended Crossland High School. They met in welding class- yes welding class. Tranice was mistakenly scheduled in the class, while Davie actually signed up for it, but the friendship was instant and Tranice never looked back. Welding and race cars forged a lasting partnership that has stood the test of time and relocations, and has served them both well building a brewery. Kendra Feaster, with her Master’s degree in Marketing and a photographic eye is a veritable “Jill of all trades” and Davie’s wife of four years.
They all offer critical elements to the collaboration. Kendra brings her marketing expertise while Davie brings his passion and experience as a homebrewer in search of bold flavor. He also has experience in both the retail and wholesale sectors of the three tier system leaving him uniquely suited to navigate the monopolistic, restrictive, and archaic alcohol regulatory system in place in Maryland. Tranice in addition to her extraordinary business acumen brings a background in environmental science to help make the brewery as green as possible. They are all in balance, whether constructing the brewery tables and bar, or reminding one another to keep pushing forward despite the obstacles- and there have been plenty. The underlying component to all of this is their deep friendship and their unwavering faith. Through the most trying times they always go back to the understanding that this is exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and despite the challenges- God is navigating, lighting the path forward.

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Right to Left: Kendra Feaster, Tranice Watts, and Davie Feaster of Patuxent Brewing Company

Those hurdles have been numerous and extremely daunting. Charles County has been incredibly supportive of Patuxent Brewing and has worked with Kendra, Davie and Tranice to make sure it opens. The difficulty comes from the complete and total lack of experience, regulations, and zoning for breweries- quite simply because Charles County has never had one before. They are quite frankly guinea pigs, doing the hard work so that other breweries might follow suit. It is one heck of a gamble that Kendra and Davie have sunk their life savings into. The learning curve for them and for the County is large. Patuxent did their due diligence, with Tranice studying brewery business models extensively, and Kendra and Davie working with the Brewers Association of Maryland’s director Kevin Atticks, and President Cindy Mullikin, while getting up to speed on their boards, commissioners, and elected officials. They have also found the entire brewing community extremely welcoming and helpful. Davie has a standing offer from Calvert Brewing (among others) to gain practical experience on their industrial system in preparation for working on his own.

Despite all of this they still have no brewing equipment in place. Inspections have hindered them- again due to the inexperience of the inspectors. A prime example of this could be seen with Patuxent’s cold storage inspection. Davie installed foam board on the walls. This was approved by the fire marshal, but he was forced to remove it when a clearly inexperienced local inspector told him only drywall or fiberglass was allowed on the walls. Davie and the fire marshal argued that drywall or fiberglass would mold and foam board was standard protocol for cold storage-to no avail. It has been just these sorts of things that provide a lesson for everyone involved- unfortunately at the expense of the Feasters.

Another rather incredible series of delays came from the Smallwood Village Zoning Board, run by Meredith Management. Zoning has taken several months- in this case not only because of the lack of zoning in place for this type of manufacturing (breweries), but something far more disconcerting. The zoning board immediately challenged Patuxent with “concerns” about what type of crowd they wanted to bring in and the music they would play…. Yes Patuxent Brewing Company is 100% minority owned- a rarity in and of itself, but becoming more commonplace with each passing year. The insinuation by the board was (disappointingly) clear. Unfortunately the county could not help move things along because they had no actual representatives on the Smallwood Village Zoning Board. Therefore the delays piled up and enormous restrictions were placed upon Patuxent once the final language was agreed to. The good news is that they have final approval- which is what the county was waiting for to help push toward the finish line. The greatest restrictions include limiting capacity to 45 patrons- despite fire code allowing 75+, and they are required to operate as a Nano brewery producing no more than 200 barrels per year. This is not a recipe for profitability without additional events and streams of income. They are looking at the parking lot as an opportunity to expand capacity for events like festivals, yoga, single mingles, and a host of other wonderful ideas.

This is where I need to share with you Patuxent Brewing’s take on Charles County and being a 100% minority owned business. Kendra, Davie and Tranice absolutely LOVE Charles County- it is their home. They love their community- which is diverse and eclectic, and inviting regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, class or gender. Tranice truly believes there is NO better place to raise a family than Charles County. Davie speaks with great fondness about his home, the support from neighbors, and the idyllic days of fishing on the Patuxent River; while Kendra tells of how everyone in the community has reached out to welcome Patuxent Brewing with open arms. Many partnerships have already been constructed from restaurants (and Huntington Golf Club) carrying their beers, to planned fundraisers with the Humane society and various religious groups. The genuine affection they have for their home, county, and the people within is palpable. Everyone in Waldorf is family to them. The Feasters would not have tied their entire financial future to a brewery in Waldorf if that were not the case.

The other component to this is how much they want to give back to this incredible region that has been so generous to them. They view themselves as stakeholders responsible for acting as good stewards in their community. They want to bring people together over a beer and get them to actually talk- like good neighbors and friends do. They recognize and embrace their role, as their brewing predecessors in Maryland have always done, to build strong communities. When it comes to being one of the only 100% minority owned breweries in the nation they spoke with like mind. Kendra summed it up decisively,

I don’t want this to be a black thing or a white thing…it’s a beer thing.”

They want to be known for the quality of the beer they produce and promise NEVER to sacrifice quality for quantity. A promise I have no doubt they will keep. A recent trip to the Fresh Fest in Pittsburgh also brought in accolades- particularly for the King’s Wife, Davie’s New England IPA made in honor of Kendra. It also brought comradery from other minority brewers that experienced challenges and discrimination when getting started in the industry.

After all of this I asked them what they might do differently if they had it to do all over again. The response was one that comes from knowing now just what it was they didn’t know when they began:

  1.  Hire a lawyer from day one to help navigate many of the intricacies, from inspections to zoning to permitting, and just about everything in between.
  2. Find a guide for opening a brewery. Well there really isn’t one yet….other than attending a brewery start up class at Seibel. Fear not Kendra is probably going to write one geared specifically for Charles County, Maryland! The breweries that come after Patuxent should thank her- better yet immortalize her!
  3.  Networking- establishing connections on the various boards, and with elected officials and commissioners to facilitate the process. You have to know people as it is much easier to work with existing relationships to get things done than start fresh with strangers.

So what comes next? Ordering equipment of course! Davie is looking for a 1 or 3 barrel system to get started, along with 3 barrel fermenters. They will partner with local farms, not only giving spent grain to farmers as feed, but purchasing local hops and malt as it becomes available. They have partnered with Martin Prouxl, Agriculture Business Development Manager hired by Charles County Economic Development Department to promote local agriculture, to assist them in this endeavor. They already have a regular bevy of food trucks lined up once the taproom opens. They will have 8 taps with 4 dedicated to year round flagship beers, and 4 to seasonal and experimental offerings. Davie strikes a balance between what is expected- porter, IPA, NEIPA, cream ale, with the unexpected- sweet potato bourbon, or peanut butter bacon beer among other exciting and bold flavor profiles. The sweet potato bourbon beer was a collaborative effort with local Blue Dyer distillery and comes as no surprise. After chatting with Davie I learned very quickly that he is a man that loves FLAVOR! It is also no surprise that if he had his druthers, he would work on a collaboration beer with Sam Calgione of Dogfish Head to see just how far they could push the flavor envelope together.

The brewery offers ample parking, and includes a children’s play area that will have a dedicated monitor. They want it to be a family place where everyone is welcome, so much so they sacrificed their only office space for the play room. The brewery also has two VIPs that will almost always be on premises, Cinnamon and Spice. They are the Feasters wee puppies that are so undeniably sweet your heart is guaranteed to melt. They take after Kendra and Davie, two of the nicest people I have ever had the honor to meet.

Eventually, perhaps a few years from now, they will need to relocate to expand operations beyond 200 barrels and the current limited seating capacity. It will still be located in Charles County, most likely not too far from where they are located now.

Today they are just excited to get the beer flowing, and build a lasting legacy. What is the legacy they want to leave?
In one hundred years, Davie wants people to say, “They were all about their community, and the King’s Wife is still here.”
For Kendra, “They were unstoppable. They had an idea and stuck with it no matter what, and it is still bearing fruit.”

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Perhaps both of these visions of their future are best described by the writing on taproom wall when the three faced some of their most difficult days,

Your only limit is your MIND!!

Sláinte!

If you are interested in helping build their legacy please check out their fundraiser:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/patuxent-brewing-company#/

 

Craft Brewers of Maryland Welcome Guinness

October 20, 2017

The arrival of Guinness in Baltimore was met with mixed emotion, instead of the expected anticipation of a new brewery opening in the state. In large part this jubilance was muted due to the legislature in Annapolis cutting backroom deals at the behest of special interest groups while ignoring the welfare of the craft brewing industry in the state. This was carried out with absolutely no regard for the breweries and their role as a driving economic force in so many communities across Maryland. Despite the legal wrangling, the brewers of Maryland rolled out the welcome mat for the new Guinness Brewery in Relay on Friday for their (pre-opening) Industry Night. Union Craft, Denizens, Pub Dog, Monocacy, Jailbreak, Checkerspot, Key, Heavy Seas, and a host of others were represented. The event revealed a first look at the taproom and the sampling of what Hollie Stephenson (Head brewer) and Peter Wiens (Brewmaster) had in store for those experienced palates in attendance.

The evening was a success, and the brewers of Maryland demonstrated their generosity of spirit, and the brother (and sisterhood) that Maryland breweries are so well known for. The offerings ranged from expected staple beers Guinness Stout, and Guinness Blonde Lager, to the rare and small batch. These special delights included the dense, luscious Foreign Extra Stout on draft (apparently for the first time in the USA), and the small batch Golden Series #1. This blonde ale was exceptional, a favorite for most in attendance. It comprised a beautiful compilation of hops (Mosaic, Amarillo, and El Dorado) that complimented Guinness yeast as the ale was fermented at higher temperatures. This brought out an abundance of aromas and a distinct, yet not overwhelming note of peach that married the flavors beautifully. To the credit of Diageo, they have brought together a winning team in the brewery. Maryland is looking forward to what they have in store for future brews in their Golden Series, and beyond.

The taproom is clean, industrial, and spacious. The expected barrel tables accompanied stools for a brief respite while sampling. This however is merely the beginning. Guinness plans to finish off the taproom, and construct an expansive beer garden that can accommodate several food trucks. Additionally a small hop farm is planned for a sensory experience, along with a pub style restaurant on the third floor of the facility where beer and food pairings will take center stage. Of course much like the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin, tourists will be guided through the history of Guinness, and the brewing process with substantial displays, and a retail store from which to purchase remembrances. The 100 hectolitre brewery will be housed in a separate facility, to accommodate the needs of the anticipated 300,000 tourists per year. Coincidentally, Greg Norris of GEA Brewery Systems (formerly the owner of Clay Pipe Brewing in Westminster) happens to be responsible for supplying this brewing system to Guinness.

With a 10 hectolitre system (in addition to the 2 barrel test system) there is much room to experiment with new brews from a hazy New England IPA, to a Belgian, and a host of other brews. It also provides the perfect opportunity for collaboration brews. In just a few hours, collaborations between Guinness and a few different Maryland breweries were already lined up. There is quite a bit in store for beer aficionados in Maryland and beyond! Guinness will no doubt draw a large tourist population, but all of our breweries should benefit. Collaborations will bolster that. Beer tourism was already thriving in the Free State due to our incredible craft brewers, and the arrival of Guinness will foment that trend. All we need now is an adjustment to the legislation and Maryland will become the premier destination for breweries in the United States!

Sláinte!

“Women Brewing in Maryland”  Left to Right Julie Verratti of Denizens, Judy Neff of Checkerspot, Lynn Pronobis of Union Craft, Hollie Stephenson of Guinness. Photo by Author.