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Making the Beer Cold in Baltimore

Tom Flynn

Baltimore has long been a city that loved its beer, from the time John Leonard Barnitz opened the first commercial brewery in the city in 1748 through the heady days of National Bohemian Beer (…brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay!).

But national and international firms bought out the locals and moved them elsewhere. Now, however, brewing beer in Baltimore has become a bit of a trend, starting with Hugh Sisson and his Heavy Seas brand in 1989 through what Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, calls an explosion of brewers.

“There are 12 that are open, two that are in the opening stage and six or eight that are in the licensing phase,” he said. “And they’re all across the city, in neighborhoods and industrial parks, all different models and business types.

Eddie O’Keefe, of Peabody Heights Brewery on East 30th Street in Charles Village, says many of the new breweries try to fit into their neighborhoods.

“If you come by on a Friday night it kind of looks like the living room of the neighborhood,” he explained. “We often welcome small families…We like to think of it as a community center with beer.

And at least one of them--Nick Fertig’s just-opened Full Tilt Brewery on York Road--is dog-friendly.

“We do have a big event coming up with BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter) on March 30 where we’re going to do an adoption event and a dog toy supply drive,” Fertig said.

The folks at Union Craft Brewing have taken over part of the old Sears distribution center on 41st Street in Medfield and Adam Benesche, one of the partners, says he has a vision for the rest of the property.

“We really look at this space as a venue that can open the doors for all these different types of community-focused projects, invite the community here and open their eyes to something that’s being created here in Baltimore,” he said,  “whether it’s beer, ice cream or otherwise.”

Beer historian Maureen O’Prey, who’s written two books on the subject, says that neighborhoods that are suffering may want a craft brewery to move in.

“I can guarantee you that everything is going to change,” she said. “Brewery after brewery after brewery what happens is they come in, they invest in the neighborhood.”

Many of the brewers have come up with names for their products that reflect the city or the region. Melissa Yukna, of Waverly Brewing in Hamden, says they named one of their beers for the Chesapeake Bay’s favorite mollusk and built a partnership with a food stand in the Mount Vernon Marketplace.

“Local Oyster Stout is a beer,” she explained, with a unique and rare taste. “We have Local Oyster bring us their shells and some oysters, and they go into the kettle at the start of the beer-making process. 

O’Keefe’s Peabody Heights Brewery, sits on site of Orioles Park No. 5, where the team played from 1916-1944. Naturally, it gave him the name for one of his beers.

“Old Oriole Park is probably our flagship beer,” he said. And they capitalize on their location as well.

“On Saturdays we host a 20-30 minute brewery baseball tour. So, half the tour is talking about the history of Baltimore baseball and Orioles baseball that existed where we stand in the taproom.”

Yasmin Karimian, at the Suspended Brewing Company on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown, says craft breweries can even bring people back to the neighborhoods they grew up in.

“I had two men who made me stand there while they called all of their neighborhood friends from when they grew up here,” she recounted, saying they told the friends, ‘You will not believe it. There is a brewery in Pigtown.’”

She calls the craft breweries one of the charms of Charm City.

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