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

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