On 3/20/14 we made the short drive across northern Maryland to downtown Baltimore, where we spent much of the afternoon at the beautiful George Peabody Library prior to making the short half mile shuffle to The Brewer’s Art, one of Maryland’s first brewpubs which opened for business on Friday September 13, 1996. The Brewer’s Art is integrated into a beautiful space with ornate woodwork and decorative accents the likes not seen in many modern structures. The building was erected at the turn of the previous century and served as the private residence of an investment banker – a man who did not want to lose everything to a fire like the one which had just destroyed downtown Baltimore in 1905, and therefore built one of the first fire-proof structures in area. This was great for protecting his family and belongings but thick steel and concrete proved quite the obstacle in trying to convert the space into the brewpub that it is today. This afternoon, one of the brewpubs original owners, Volker Stewart, agreed to meet with us, tell us The Brewer’s Art story, and show us around his unique facility.
The Brewer’s Art’s standard beers consist of the Ozzy Belgian Strong Ale utilizing the Belgian La Chouff yeast strain, Resurrection Abbey Brown Ale fermented with a traditional Westmalle strain, and the Bird House Pale Ale which is hopped with Citra. Several additional beers are available on tap at the bar and restaurant, though the seasonals are driven by customer demand and they rotate through several dozen Belgian inspired ales throughout the year. Some of the brews are made available at the brewery and other accounts in 750mL bottles with cork and cage. Examples include the Green Peppercorn Tripel, St. Festivus brown winter ale, La Petroleuse Biere de Garde, and Le Canard Belgian Strong Ale. The popular Charm City Sour Cherry was tapped the day following our visit and is not likely to remain in stock for long. You can also check out their website for a list of beers currently on tap. After more than a decade of the beer’s existence, the brewery is currently working on re-marketing their Ozzy flagship beer following receipt of a Cease and Desist from Ozzy Osbourne’s lawyers. Interestingly, they had long ago received a signed photo from Ozzy after his son visited the brewery and noticed the iconic beer on tap but they are thankful to have received a period of time to complete the branding change.
The brewhouse is a 10 hectiliter, steam jacketed two vessel system which was a show piece purchased from the Austin Trade Show in 1995. Upon purchase, the brewhouse was measured and determined that it would be able to fit into the building. However, while moving the apparatus, they realized that it wouldn’t fit into the room where it is currently housed. With the detailed wood work done in the historic building, they couldn’t very well knock out the walls so opted for disassembling the equipment and reassembling everything with a welder when in place. Needless to say, it isn’t coming back out without significant effort, so they are in this business for the long haul.
Like many breweries located in the city, they are prohibited from utilizing external silos and are forced to mill grains by individual bags. Since their mill room is located on the third floor then augured down one level through a courtyard to the brewhouse, it is fortunate that they have a garage with a loading dock behind the restaurant where they can move pallets of grain bags up the elevator rather than having to unload them and carry them upstairs by hand. This garage area also has a space to store beer for distribution. This distribution option was enabled by a quadrupling of fermentation capacity back in 2002. The brewery has been maxed out at a production of approximately 1,900 bbl for the previous several years, the limiting factor being tank space in this historic building. In 2007, the Brewer’s Art started contracting with Sly Fox Brewing Co. in Pennsylvania and these days distributes canned 6 packs of their most popular beers, Ozzy and Resurrection. Birdhouse is currently awaiting label approval and may be available in cans within the coming month. Between their in house production and the Sly Fox contract, their beers can be found throughout the Baltimore area, Washington D.C., South Eastern Pennsylvania, and, most recently, Southern New Jersey.
The brewers are hard at work throughout the week but try to complete their duties prior to open dining room hours so as to not make for a distracting and noisy dining experience. However, curious patrons may attend brewery tours which are offered on Saturdays at 3pm. House beers, guest beers, and house cocktails can be enjoyed until 1:45am at the fully stocked upstairs and downstairs bars, which offer a completely different atmosphere, and cask aged beers are tapped every second Wednesday of the month at 4pm. The restaurant is open for dinner at 5pm and The Brewer’s Art is conveniently located with easy metro access in downtown near local universities and popular Baltimore destinations like the opera, symphony, theaters, and museums. We definitely encourage a visit to this Baltimore staple for an upscale dining and beer tasting experience accompanied by one of a kind ambiance. We cannot thank Volker enough for meeting with us at the brewery as well as inviting us to attend that evening’s premier of local independent film, Brewmore, where we received a more complete understanding of brewing history in Baltimore and had a great time at the reception. An additional thank you to brewer, Victor, and bartender, Barri, for speaking with us and sharing insight into the local area.
Author: Brandon Wurtz