Once we got into Baltimore, MD on Thursday, 3/20/14, we spent most of the day at the George Peabody Library working on our website, made a trip to The Brewer’s Art, and then drove over to Union Craft Brewing. The brewery is located on Union Avenue in a historically industrial and craft-focused area along the river, so the name was pulled from that location in combination with the fact that the brewery is the union of founders Adam Benesch, Jon Zerivitz, and Kevin Blodger and beer is the union of water, barley, hops, and yeast. Baltimore has a strong German brewing history and pre-prohibition there were over 30 breweries scattered throughout town, but Union Craft is the first production brewery making beer for distribution in Baltimore City in over 30 years.
While we were there, we spoke with Adam who told us that he founded the company with Jon and Kevin in 2011 and they started brewing there in June of 2012; all three of them are Baltimore-born. Kevin is the head brewer who has brewed professionally for about 10 years, working at places like Frederick Brewing (where Flying Dog is now) and, more recently, Gordon Biersch in Chicago. Union Craft has made around 20 different beers in this first year and a half and, although they started only in Baltimore, their beer can be found in most of Maryland as well as DC. Adam made it pretty clear that they are excited to be making beer for their home city of Baltimore and, even though they had to go through a lot of red tape and higher costs to be where they are, they felt it was important to be located in the city.
Duckpin Pale Ale and Balt Altbier were their first two beers and both of them are now distributed in 12 oz cans. Duckpin got its name from duckpin bowling, which is kind of an unofficial state sport in Maryland. It is a form of bowling that is different than regular 10-pin bowling because you get three balls instead of two and the pins are much smaller. For the most part, the game is only played in and around Baltimore in bowling alleys that are BYOB. Balt Altbier won a gold medal at GABF last year and they just added a third beer to their canned offerings the week before we visited – Blackwing Lager Schwartzbier – which is a dark lager, but is really the lightest beer they make coming in at 4.8%. Those are the three core, year-round beers, but they have many more up their sleeve including collaborations like Hard Times Smoked Saison with Stillwater Artisanal Ales, seasonals like Snow Pants Oatmeal Stout, and small batches like Rye Baby IPA and Double Duckpin. They also have a cask every Thursday since they love experimenting with new flavors and ingredients.
Union Craft uses a 20 bbl brewhouse, started with four 40 bbl fermenters and a 40 bbl brite, added two 60 bbl fermenters and a 60 bbl brite last April along with their canning line, and about two months ago they completed their second expansion when they added three more 60 bbl fermenters. They brewed about 800 bbl in 2012 since they started mid-year, then were able to brew 2,700 bbl in the first full year of 2013. They are now on track to make around 5,500 bbl this year, so clearly the people of Baltimore have been thirsty for some local craft beer! To keep up with the continuing growth, Union Craft just signed a lease for the 3,000 sq ft unit next door, while the current space is 7,200 sq ft. With the new space, they plan to move the dry storage like empty cans and kegs over and expand their tasting room, which will allow them to have more room for tanks in the current space.
Last year they threw an anniversary party in July hosted by a popular local DJ, Scott Mullins, who broadcasted the party live on-air, and they plan to celebrate again this year in some way. They also participated in the Charm City Bluegrass Festival last year and will be doing it again this year on April 26. For that festival, they will be brewing a hoppy wheat ale called Resonator, which is named after Jerry Douglas, a well-known musician in the bluegrass world who uses a resonator guitar. We also got to try their beer called Anthem, which was released the day after our visit to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner being written in Baltimore; apparently, it might end up being the next canned beer. Big thanks to Adam for talking to us while we were there, and for stepping aside at the premiere of Brewmore to get a photo with us!
Author: Michael Roberts