Brace Yourself: Brass Tap Opens in Baltimore With 60 Rotating Taps
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron
“I decided I wanted to do a craft beer bar,” Baltimore resident Barry Lowenthal told me while waiting for the City Fire Marshall to show up at his shiny new Bolton Hill space, the Brass Tap, last week. It’s the final hurdle in a torturous gauntlet before a business owner can put a liquor license on the wall in Charm City.
He’s a Cornell Business grad and fittingly, he called an old professor to ask him for advice. With no restaurant development experience, but with a love of craft beer and a successful carpet cleaning franchise, he realized the franchise route might be the way to go. But which franchise?
His former professor mentioned the Brass Tap, with over 30 locations since its inception in Tampa in 2007, and it turned out to be a perfect fit. With a set menu and a plan to run the back of the house already in place, the Brass Tap concept would allow Lowenthal to focus on his true love: the beer.
He admits to having looked at Washington as a location, but his heart was set on Baltimore. “As I got into beer, I started looking around Baltimore. There’s a lot here. It’s started, it’s burgeoning,” he said. “There’s so much happening and I think that there’s so much room to grow. We’re not even close to where D.C. is beer-wise and much less than the West Coast cities that have been doing this for twenty years.”
A member of local home brewing syndicate Baltibrew, he appreciates the brain trust of home brewers in the area and noted that there’s at least one commercial brewer in this town who “isn’t half as knowledgeable as the home brewers in Baltibrew.”
A relatively recent convert to craft, he recalls the epiphany. “I got into craft beer in a big way about three years ago on a trip to Seattle. We went on a bike ride and found a small brewery that you could only access by trail.” At first it was all IPAs and Doubles all the time for Lowenthal until his palate branched out. “My tastes really vary. About a year and a half ago, I really got into sours. In the last six months, I’ve been back on the hop trail,” he acknowledged.
Lowenthal lists Brewer’s Art Resurrection and Weyerbacher Merry Monks as two of his favorites, “but I just can’t sit down and drink three Belgians a night or I’m done”.
With 60 taps, 2 beer engines, and 117 different bottles and cans, they’ll reserve a majority of the lines for regional beers. From the start, 38 of the 60 taps will feature area craft beers, which he reasonably defines as “a circle from Weyerbacher (Easton, PA) to Charlottesville.” Lowenthal also plans on constantly bringing in self-distributors, like Cushwa, Peabody Heights and Waverly. “On our first tap list, I’ve got seven breweries who self-distribute,” he said.
For you heartless, maltless drinkers out there, he’ll also have excellent products from Distillery Lane Ciderworks and Charm City Meadworks on tap.
To the rest of the world, fear not: of course they’ll offer Guinness Stout, which Lowenthal described to this approving writer as “an easy place for people to come in who think they know beer but they’re scared.”
Peak Tap Space is an issue for a lot of bars in 2017, as quality offerings far outpace a publican’s finite number of lines. It’s not a problem at the Brass Tap.
“The magic to a place like ours is rotation,” he said. “New stuff. We’ve got 60 lines. If I’m not putting twenty new beers on a week, then I’m not leveraging what I’ve got here, because that’s what’s going to keep people excited, coming back in and trying new things. I can play with taps and be OK.”
With the Mount Royal Light Rail stop right out front, the location will undoubtedly be used as a launch pad for Orioles games or the place to begin an evening of brewing adventure at Union and Waverly. “We’ll have a deal where you can park in the garage, begin your game night here, take the light rail and I guarantee you’ll be back here and on I-83 North quicker than if you parked downtown,”, said Lowenthal, and he’s probably right.
The Brass Tap will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, with “upscale pub food” and no entrees. While he has no Maryland-specific items to start other than crab tater tots, Lowenthal expects that to change over time.
When I went back to take some photos yesterday, the place was jammed, and it wasn’t even open yet. The employees were engaged in beer college: a rigorous lecture with tastings, two full days of beer training required to be employed at the Brass Tap. The City put Brass Tap through the gauntlet with its byzantine inspection and licensing process and now it was the restaurant’s turn to run their employees through a gauntlet of their own.
“The core is our bartenders. That’s where our knowledge is stored,” he said.
“Every time we put a new beer on, it is the responsibility of every member of the front of house staff to try it. If they don’t drink the beer, they’re not doing their job. We encourage them to take bottles home and see what it tastes like. The bartenders are where we really focus.”
And they already have some beer college dropouts. “Some people found it a little too intense, a little too much commitment” to the two day beer college, Lowenthal confides. “All of my servers should be able to describe the color, clarity, the aroma, the taste and the mouth feel of every beer we have.”
As a Baltimore craft beer drinker, the location perfectly fills in a puzzle piece for craft on the Midtown (and light rail) map–Joe Squared, Brewer’s Art, Wet City, Brew House 16 and now Lowenthal’s venture. Even though I drank a lot of the original National Premium in dirty lines there a long time ago, the Mount Royal Tavern across the street has never been known as a craft beer bar and it might punch you if you called it that to its face.
Right next to Maryland Institute College of Art, Brass Tap might appear to be a slick, shiny corporate joint in a hipster’s haven, a place a dusty-shotgun-rowhouse-beer-bar kind of guy might not want to be seen in. But there’s an ethos of craft and knowledge in the service management here that makes me think that they get it. Lowenthal definitely gets it. He’s a true believer.
The hood has changed much over the last twenty years. Mount Royal, you’re so fancy now. I just wonder what would have happened if the Brass Tap had been around when I attended law school at the University of Baltimore next door. Would I still be there today?
This Saturday is Friends and Family night, with a grand opening on Monday.
1203-05 Mt. Royal Avenue, (410) 989-3459, brasstapbeerbar.com, 11am-2am daily.