SUMMER OF (BREWING) LOVE
By Steve Fogleman
After 15 months of the industry being affected by an historical pandemic, it’s starting to feel like a new era in Baltimore with plenty of good news to start the summer. We’ve all been talking about the big party that we were going to throw once the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and Baltimore’s brewers already have you covered.
We kicked off that new era at one of the City’s most eagerly anticipated projects, which took three years from conception to completion. It was worth the wait. When we entered Guilford Hall Brewing for the opening at the beginning of June, we were immediately awe-struck with the place.
Located in a 19th century building that housed Baltimore’s famous Crown Cork and Seal Company, the owners have reclaimed fan motors for chandelier fixtures, and the tables, benches and bar are all made from reclaimed beams and floorboards from the structure. The look and feel of the tasting room is breathtaking and may serve as evidence that Baltimore can have nice things after all.
With a 23 barrel brewhouse and 13 fermenters with a total capacity of 720 barrels, they shouldn’t need to expand in the near future.
Although their brewing capacity is impressive, co-owner Stefan Popescu said Guilford Hall has no immediate plans to distribute outside of the tasting room. “We’re going to maximize and grow our in-house sales as much as possible at first,” he said. “We want to build our brand and our relationships with the public and then we’ll go to select bars with kegs, but we don’t have a bottling or canning line.”
The beer, Popescu declares, is heavy on “easy drinking Europeans” and the brewmaster, Martin Coad, has plenty of experience cranking out the Pilsners and Kolschs from his time at Chicago’s Hofbrauhaus. Coad also brewed for Greenstar Brewing in Illinois and gave me his refreshing take on the positives of the last 15 months in that it was beneficial to the beer and to his personal growth.
“The pandemic gave me more time to make sure the beer was closer to the way that I absolutely wanted it,” Coad told us. “I’ve never personally rushed beer, but to have a little extra time for the styles, has been a big benefit.”
The brewery was also gifted with extra time to conduct a search with a national headhunter which ultimately led to the luring of Coad.
“The positive thing about the pandemic for me, was, it gave me time to think about what might be a next great step in my career,” Coad told us. “I was looking at breweries around the country and this group I felt most simpatico with.” An Illinois native, Coad told me that there are more similarities with Chicago and Baltimore than than you’d imagine. “Baltimore and Chicago are both neighborhood cities,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and go to the different neighborhoods to know the City and the people in both cities are very friendly.”
The occupancy restrictions in Baltimore City had been lifted just days before the grand opening of Guilford Hall, and co-owner Popescu admitted that “we got really lucky with the timing.”
As for the time off to have a look at the larger picture, the shutdown was helpful in his mind. “It realigned our business plan,” he said. “It allowed us to look at the project with fresh eyes after the COVID shutdown to get to the finish line quick and ready.
Popescu was elated to be embraced by Baltimore’s brewing collaborators. “We got the same welcome to the brewing community that everyone gets.” He recalled. “Great people, from Justin (Dvorkin) at Oliver Brewing to Nick (Fertig) at Full Tilt Brewing and everyone else. They make us feel so welcome to be here, ” he added. “Guilford Hall is a community-driven place. We’re really looking to show off what Baltimore has.”
If that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate, Charm City got an airdrop of good news when Pariah Brewing of San Diego announced on June 14 that they will open an East Coast brewery in 2022 at the original site of Union Craft Brewing. Pariah was launched at the Brewery Igniter program in Southern California and reached maximum capacity at the facility in November. Rather than look for new digs in San Diego, the team looked east. It turned out that Baltimore was natural fit for the company, with its easy Mid-Atlantic access to the distribution chain. The former Union location was a perfect fit, since the space was already built out as a brewery. “We are honored to carry the torch forward by continuing to offer excellent beer to the beautiful community of Hampden and beyond within those walls,” the brewery announced on Facebook, referring to the local Baltimore neighborhood in which Pariah is setting up shop. The West Coast brewery does indeed have Maryland roots, as the Baltimore Business Journal reported that founder Kevin Mitchell is a Prince George’s County native and its distribution manager, Steven Sabors is a Baltimore native. The company’s COO, Christa Mitchell, who is married to Kevin Mitchell, has already relocated to Baltimore. Kevin Mitchell is expected to follow shortly.
When we caught up with Mitchell, she expounded on the similarities between Baltimore and San Diego, calling them “communities with pride in their unique cultures and filled with good people surrounded by small businesses of all types. Oh, and who doesn’t love being by the water while enjoying great beer? You can’t beat that.”
It won’t be a culture shock with the sports team allegiances, since the largely Maryland native ownership already roots for the local teams. Mitchell, a San Diego native and Padres fan, put it best. ”I’m excited to join the ranks of an Orioles fan and support our local team. Sorry Dad!”
Pariah’s Baltimore brewery is approximately 7,000 square feet and includes an outdoor patio and parking lot. The team has purchased a 20 barrel brewhouse and 40 barrel fermentation tanks which will double Pariah’s bi-coastal production. The San Diego location, known for its IPAs, will not be modified or closed, which brought relief to the company’s California customers. By the end of the year, expect a great addition to the local beer scene in Baltimore. All we want for Christmas next year is to drink a locally-made flagship Dank Drank IPA (7% ABV) with Mosaic & Amarillo hops and a LeBron Haze IPA (7.5% ABV) focused on Galaxy hops.
With the swing into Summer, with restrictions on public gatherings and the change in seasonal styles, cans were dropping like flies in Baltimore.
The Summer drafts were dropping all month long at Inverness Brewery of Monkton in June. Jammed with local ingredients, the Pink Heifer (5.4% ABV) a raspberry Hefeweizen and Fuzzy Bunny (6.3% ABV), a hazy peach IPA were released in early June as the crowds began to return to the farm.
Checkerspot Brewing celebrated their third anniversary on June 21 with 3 musical acts, 2 DJs, 1 comedy show and 1 beer release. “3” (6.5% ABV) is a New England IPA with Double Honey Malt, and spiked with Citra, Cashmere and Callista hops. The team dedicated the brew “to everyone who has helped make this dream possible”. And just in time for summer, Checkerspot also recently re-released some of their most popular cans, including Stoop Sesh (4.3% ABV) session IPA and New England IPAs Megamaroo (7.1% ABV) and Fancy Pants (7% ABV).
In July, DuClaw Brewing released Getaway Message (7.6% ABV), a Pina Colada Hazy IPA brewed with monkfruit, pineapple Juice & toasted coconut flakes and The PastryArchy (8.7% ABV), a root beer float Imperial Brown Ale brewed with vanilla beans and other natural flavors.
Nepenthe Brewing continues to can their Polydribble sour series and released Polydribbles #8 (5.3% ABV), with rosemary, hibiscus and vanilla beans and Polydribbles #9 (5.3% ABV), with mango, passionfruit, Tangerine and vanilla beans. Both beers feature Pilsner and Wheat malt backbones.
Diamondback Brewing released an American IPA and a Wild Ale in July. The grain bill for Papi (7.7% ABV) includes oats and honey malt, while Little Pools of Light (7.4% ABV), an “urban” wild ale uses refermented sweet and tart cherries over several months to produce the magic in the glass.
For its easy-drinking July offerings, Monument City Brewing is serving up cans of Hand Hewn (5.2% ABV), a Helles lager, and White Marble (5.2% ABV), a Belgian-style Witbier with coriander and Curacao orange peel whose name is a nod to the old marble steps of Baltimore rowhouses.
Finally, Heavy Seas Brewing is dropping…food. They plan to open a much-needed kitchen at the brewery’s tasting room before the summer is out. That is September at the latest. Any opportunity for something to soak up those Loose Cannons is a very welcome addition to this writer.