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.
Jim 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!
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!