The Three Amigos Have Landed: Diamondback Beer Opens Brewery in South Baltimore
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron
I met Francis Smith at a happy hour at the Baltimore Museum of Industry a couple of weeks ago and spoke with him about his new brewery as I sipped a glass of Diamondback Brewing’s Omar’s O.P.A. Oatmeal Pale Ale that had been poured from a can.
He’s a co-founder of the brewery and, since it’s not a big operation yet, he also serves as the bookkeeper and the Human Relations Manager. “I tend to the business side,” he told me.
This isn’t a story about kids who pulled themselves out of poverty to brew good beer. It is a story of perseverance and vision–things you don’t often associate with college kids or millennials. In fact, I think this trio of 26-year-olds have an incredible amount of work ethic and a shot of ambition.
“We all went to Loyola,” Francis told me. “(Co-founder) Tom (Foster) and I went to the University of Maryland. We started brewing there as undergraduates. We quickly we knew it would be our career path, but not as quickly as it became.”
But where do a bunch of fresh college grads get the money for such an intensive startup? They all went out into the corporate world for a brief time after college and saved their money. “We were self-funded to get our contract brewing capital investment,” Smith recalls. After a couple of years of that, they put together a friends and family offering to raise seed money for the brewery. “At first, we were brewing off-campus from 1 barrel to 5 barrels to 10 barrels,” Smith proclaims. Then they moved operations to Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels, Maryland and later, Beltway Brewing in Sterling, VA. They also did some contract brewing with Peabody in Baltimore City, where they produced their 6.1% ABV Oktoberfest.
Now they’ve hit the big time: a 7,000 square foot facility in one of South Baltimore’s hottest retail and residential areas, McHenry Row in Locust Point. 5,000 square feet were set up for brewing, leaving 2,000 square feet for the tasting room. They’ve started with an 8 1/2 barrel system with 17 barrel fermenters and plenty of room for expansion.
The brewery is centered around the old smokestack for Coca-Cola’s corn syrup boiler room, which was lately better known as Phillip’s Seafood’s packing plant and mostly known for the neon dancing crabs on the smokestack that could be seen along Interstate 95.
Over the weekend, the brewery celebrated its grand opening, and they’d kicked a lot of kegs before I arrived on Sunday morning. Brewer Tom Foster shared that their sixtols of small batches were wildly popular. The Galaxy Wheat, a wheat beer with Galaxy hops and their #8 Stout, laced with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans and High West Campfire Whiskey were long gone and only the empty vessels remained. The #8 Stout was also a big success during Baltimore Beer Week when it debuted at Brewer’s Cask in South Baltimore.
One beer that was still available was Green Machine, a Northeast-style IPA, “a juicy, hazy, big forward bodied hop -complimented IPA”. The moniker Northeast-style signifies the use of London ale yeast that become popular in Vermont that is used in the brew.
“It’s a whirlpool-heavy beer,” Foster told me. “Then we follow it up on the back end with fruitier hops. Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo hops with fruit senses. It’s a more mellow fruit flavor. The hops aren’t just there to provide bitterness. They’re they’re to provide flavor and balance.
They all agree that the place feels like a new home. “It’s great to have a home,” Marshall said. “A huge historical presence comes through in the character. We tried to keep as much of that character here.”
“We met (McHenry Row developer) Mark (Sapperstein) and then walked into this spot and it was an absolute disaster,” Marshall recalled. “It was going to take months and months to get this place ready for brewing. But Mark (Sapperstein) realized that this has a great opportunity as a cornerstone and this could be a piece that could bring a lot of people in–an anchor point”.
Is this the new beer anchor of South Baltimore? “Right now it is, And I think we have the best location in Baltimore,” he said. Marshall says he looks forward to new brewing neighbors in South Baltimore over the next year with Checkerspot and Suspended.
Like so many other brewers I’ve met, these guys are imbued with the sense of shared sacrifice and fraternity present in the industry. “You can reach out to anyone, and anyone is willing to help you,” Marshall said. “I think there is camaraderie and there’s room for all of us to grow. There’s room for ten of us to grow and Budweiser to go down 1%. No matter what, there will always be the neighborhood brewery and you have to set your expectations correctly.”
The tasting room at Diamondback Brewing Company is open from 4pm-1am on Fridays, 11am-1am on Saturdays and 11am-10pm on Sundays at 1215 Fort Avenue.