Road Beer: @MDBrewers Craft Beer Festival in Frederick Showcases Free State’s Finest

Road Beer: Maryland Craft Beer Festival in Frederick Showcases Free State’s Finest
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron

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After last October’s Baltimore Craft Beer Festival in Canton, hosted by the Brewers Association of Maryland, last Saturday’s Maryland Craft Beer Festival felt like an away game. For the waterfront festival, I was able to stroll down to the waterfront from my Canton home. For the group’s spring event, I had to drive, and more importantly, I had to pace myself.  The event was worth the trip: all of the incredible brews and great cheer of the Charm City event in an alluring location in downtown Frederick’s Carroll Creek Linear Park.

This one was even closer to the water: You could fall in Carroll Creek if you weren’t careful. Luckily, it was only about two feet deep.

As I did last fall in Baltimore, I wanted to try some far-flung breweries at the event. But the Association gave us an amazing surprise this year in the form of a “Breweries in Planning” tent with four brand-new or germinating outfits. Like Baltimore’s incubating Checkerspot, Hysteria Brewing, Midnight Run Brewing and Rockwell Brewing are either about to open their facilities or just opened.

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Hysteria Brewing’s Operations man Vernon Liebenthal told me they started construction on the Columbia brewery last fall. They’re shooting to be open in June with a 20 barrel system.

“At first, we’re going to have 12 taps, which will always be rotating with fun seasonal stuff,” he told me on Saturday.  “A lot of bourbon barrels, barrel-aged stuff in general.”

What Will Set Them Apart: “We’re really liking the fact that we’re going to open with barrel-aged beers and sours. We also have a distillery right next to us, Lost Ark Distillery. They’re doing rums and whiskeys right now and as soon as they have some barrels open up, we’re going to have some fun collaborations with them.”

With 30 seats around the bar and plenty of tables, this sounds like a party waiting to happen. He won’t drop names, but implies a big-name chef’s food truck might partner with the brewery on the weekends and engage in pairings.

Black Flag Brewing, Maryland Craft Beer Festival 2017

Warren Hendrickson is Black Flag’s head brewer. They’re about to celebrate their one year anniversary in Columbia, and I recently sampled a couple of their brews in Baltimore bars. Last week, I was engaged in a generational debate at a local Canton watering hole, where a 65-year-old imbiber was reminded of the pesticide of the same name when he saw the tap handle. I told him it was likely a Henry Rollins band reference. We were both wrong. “The idea was the pirate or independent theme of a black flag, no affiliations, just doing whatever we want,” Hendrickson told me.

What will set them apart? “We just like doing every kind of style,” he said. We’re not beholden to any particular concept. We like to do IPAs, stouts, Belgian ales and we’re just starting to do sours now. We want to run the gamut.”

Backup Beverage is now distributing Black Flag to Baltimore. The brewery’s anniversary party is June 25th. Look for a new sour and a DIPA in time for the party. “Columbia’s becoming Beervana,” he says with a smile.

So if Columbia is the new Asheville, then that would make Frederick the new Columbia.

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Rockwell Brewing co-founder Matt Thrasher is excited about the four barrel system upgrade for their shiny new Frederick brewery. They’ve been open for two months and they’re already expanding. With a beer garden out front on East Street, this seems to be the hot new downtown area.

With a pub grub menu prepared by Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant, Family Meal, next door, this is a place to stick around for a few.  What sets Rockwell apart? Thrasher immediately jumped in. “Number one, you can see it’s modern, rustic, industrial and comfortable,” he said. “You can do date night there. It’s not an unfinished warehouse like someone’s basement. Number two, our beer philosophy is drinkability: solid staple beers that people want to drink, not stuff that we think is crazy or cool or wouldn’t this be funny to make? Alot of times it was just us looking at it and drinking it. But we are going to do two new small-batch releases every month.”

Thrasher is a home brewer and modest, too. “We still consider ourselves novices, we love help soliciting recipes. They’re hoping to hire a full-time brewmaster this year.  “It’s a lot of work. People think it’s fun, it’s a hobby. It’s not. We still have our day jobs, but it’s hard work.”

Midnight Run Brewing, Maryland Craft Beer Festival 2017

Midnight Run’s Brent Turner is also feeling good about the beer future of East Street. “Frederick is expanding in that direction, so East Street is where we’re going,” he said. “At some point, they’ll be a Frederick Beer Tour and you’ll be able to bounce to different breweries. We kind of specialize in high-alcohol, flavor forward beers. More Northeast style beers. The higher ABV stuff is beer we like to drink. Eventually, we want to do some wilds (yeast). ”  They plan to brew at least one big beer every month on their three barrel system. The one barrel pilot system will allow them “the freedom to do a bunch of different stuff” and the brewery is ready built for future expansion. ”

“If everything keeps going the way it’s going, it will allow us to jump to a larger brewing system. But for now, if we run out of beer, we’ll just brew more,” Turner told me.

“There’s so many breweries and so many people out there making great beers. We want to attract people that like the beers that we love to brew. We understand that not everybody will love the product that we’re producing. We just want to do it the way we’ve been doing it for twenty years and we think we’ll contribute to the scene in Frederick.”

Turner’s favorite is the Northeast IPA Time Loop, lacking the heavy citrus but imbuing a fleshy, peachy flavor. Mine was the White Sexual Chocolate Imperial Kolsch with cocoa nibs.

Stephen Marsh and Judy Neff, Checkerspot Brewing, Maryland Craft Beer Festival 2017

A Baltimorean could get a little jealous seeing all of these nascent brewers who don’t have a stop on the light rail. Fear not: Checkerspot Brewing will whet the palates of Charm City drinkers later this year. Co-founders Steve Marsh and Judy Neff showed up with a treasure trove of outstanding offerings, like a Saison with chamomile and a Juniper IPA. Equally good was the Farmer’s Pale Ale No. 4, a collaboration with Milkhouse Brewing using all local hops and grains. The most unusual ingredient of the entire Festival was contained within a cask of Two Paws, a collaboration with Flying Dog. They brewed the ale with 150 pounds of Paw Paw fruits, a historically indigenous fruit that resembles a mango in taste. Nothing comes close in Baltimore to what the scientists at Checkerspot are up to.

This is going to be a good summer for Maryland beer and I’ve already marked my calendar for the day when most of these brewers head to Baltimore in the fall: October 7.

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