Bar hops into making its own beer

April 17, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

It will take sophisticated instruments, an underground tunnel and several German engineers to make it happen, but by this summer the state capital should boast its own microbrewery.

Work crews are preparing for the arrival of high-tech equipment that will launch the $1 million operation at the Ram's Head Tavern on West Street in Annapolis. The result will be a place that looks like a cross between a pub and a chemistry lab.

"This is going to be a state-of-the art brewery, not some pot-and-pan operation," said Allen D. Young, an Annapolis native who will serve as the city's first modern brewmaster. "It'll be just like a big brewery, but all shrunk down."

Microbreweries are small-scale beer factories that market higher-priced beers with the promise that the brews will be fresh and full-flavored. The owners of the Ram's Head, where the brewery will operate in full view of restaurant patrons, plans to start pouring the hometown lager by July or August.

Customers can watch the brewing operation from the beginning, when beer is little more than barley malt, to the end, when the golden liquid pours from a fermenting vat into a storage tank. Also visible will be the steps in between, when the liquid turns from malt to mash to something called fermented wort.

The burnt copper vats will sit in the storefront window on West Street, and the rest of the microbrewery will be in an annex to the existing restaurant, prominently displayed behind a low bar or a clear glass window. Customers will be able to eat dinner at tables next to the pumping machines.

At the moment, however, the brewery looks like a lot of dirt and gravel. Last week, workers were digging holes in the annex area to accommodate two rooms for copper vats, stainless steel tanks and a tangle of tubes, valves, pipes and pumps. Work crews also are digging an underground tunnel where beer and brewers will run between the microbrewery and the restaurant.

A brewmaster and welder from the Munich-based company Beraplan Harter GMBH are to arrive Thursday in Annapolis to oversee the project for several weeks while chilling units and conducting pipes are installed. By mid-May, workers will lower a 3 1/2 -ton copper brewing vat, known as a brewhouse, through a hole in the roof of the annex.

"This is going to be theater," said Mr. Young, 37, who left home 20 years ago to learn the brewing trade in Columbus, Ohio, and returned late last year to run the Ram's Head venture.

Eventually, Ram's Head owner Bill L. Muehlhauser plans to market the brew far beyond his local tavern.

The beer will be named Fordham lager, after Benjamin Fordham, who established the first brewery in Annapolis in 1703. The beer's taste will differ from week to week for the first six months during taste tests on the brew's "hoppiness," maltiness, fruitiness, foaminess and even bouquet.

The Ram's Head has hired the local advertising firm Crosby Communications to market the beer and has established its own distribution company to ship the lager to local restaurants and eventually out of state, Mr. Muehlhauser said.

But competition is fierce in this trendy industry. The Ram's Head already sells 53 different brands of American microbrews. In the Baltimore area, Sisson's, Baltimore Brewing Co. and the Old Time Tavern already draw regular crowds to their microbreweries, and even the big-name beer companies are marketing their own line of designer brews.

Nevertheless, Mr. Muehlhauser believes there is such a thirst in Annapolis for a local brew pub, the new business will pay off the $500,000 brewing equipment in the first year.

The success of the venture rests in large part on whether people will come to watch their beer as well as drink it, he said.

"In most places you don't see the valves turning and the storage tanks and the kegging and the bottling," Mr. Muehlhauser said. "You'll be able to see it all happening."

Even if the brewing experiment hits a snag, that's part of the atmosphere, Mr. Young said. The brewmaster, who is considering donning a white jumpsuit while he tends the machines, understands that he, too, will be part of the display.

"Always smile and look like you know what's going on," Mr. Young said. "And if stuff starts shooting out of the top of one of the vats, just say, 'Oh yeah, it's supposed to do that.' "

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