ARNOLD — Nishan Topjian left Saudi Arabia with his hobby and his arms intact.
The Lebanese-born, Arnold resident is a home brewer, a hobby he picked up as a businessman in the Middle East, but one that could havegotten his arms chopped off by Islamic authorities, who prohibit such home activities.
But Topjian says the beer was well worth the risk. "It's a very different culture. We learned to be careful," Topjian said.
He kepthis hobby strictly to himself until coming to the Annapolis area 12 years ago and opening the first -- and still only -- home brewing shop in the county.
It wasn't always so difficult to find the "Beer &Wine Hobby Shoppe," now operated out of the Topjian's waterfront home on Dividing Creek Road in Arnold.
Downtown Annapolis shoppers may remember the "Beer & Wine Hobby Shoppe" that Nishan Topjian and wife Mania operated in the Market Space Mall in the late 1970s and mid-1980s until his landlord yanked his lease in favor of The Gap ClothingCo.
"It was September of about five years ago at the height of wine-making season when we were displaced by The Gap," he said.
"Allthe winemakers that we supplied from as far away as the Eastern Shore and Virginia still needed their equipment so we invited them to ourhouse. The parking was easier so we just stayed," he said.
NishanTopjian recalls his migration five years later standing between his Saab and a wall of beer-making equipment that ranges in value from 10-cent custom bottle labels to a $100 pressurized beer keg that allowsyou to brew and serve beer from the same vessel.
The shop is openjust three hours a day, five days a week as he and his wife have taken other jobs.
Despite the underground look of his business, Topjian, who works during the day as a land developer, insists that the hobby has gained a good deal of respectability and boasts that he has neurosurgeons and scientists among his regular clients. "They are fascinated by the exact nature and cleanliness necessary to make good beer."
He continued, "Most make it because they like the taste of quality ingredients and the pride of making something that's their own. It's like fancy cooking; you can control what goes in and make it to taste."
Since home brewers don't have to pay to advertise, ship and handle their product, they can afford exotic premium hops, yeasts and malts and barleys and still pay less than they would for bottom-line, store-bought varieties.
Home brewers pay between $9 and $18 for a batch that makes 10 six-packs. Start-up kits range between $28 and $100.
Brewing is as easy as following an elaborate recipe, but learning the fine points means consulting the masters.