Trendy shops let customers create drink BOPs: Brew-on-premises stores, which originated in Canada as a way to avoid high excise taxes, give beer and wine lovers a taste of the brewing process.

August 30, 1998|By TaNOAH MORGAN | TaNOAH MORGAN,SUN STAFF

Art Somers just discovered he's one heck of a brewer.

Two weeks after weighing, grinding, boiling and stirring to get the recipe for Puddington Creek Alt Ale just right, he takes a swig of his personal beer and declares it a winner.

"It's what we were looking for," Somers said with a proud, satisfied smile. "Would you like to try some?"

Somers is among dozens in the Annapolis area who are tasting lagers, ales, Pilseners, chardonnays and root beers with

ingredients no other drinks offer: their own muscle, sweat and effort put in at brew-on-premises beer and wine shops.

Brew-on-premises, or BOP, shops are trendy, do-it-yourself offshoots of the brewing industry that commercialize home brewing. Instead of buying equipment and doing all the work in their basement or kitchen, customers pick out a recipe and get to brewing.

Maryland has two -- Chesapeake U-Brew in the Festival at Riva Mall shopping center in Annapolis and the Flying Barrel in Frederick.

At the Annapolis store, customers can watch a ballgame or listen to rock and jazz, play pool or darts, surf the Internet or design a personal label in the down times during the two-hour brewing process.

In Frederick, customers stroll through South Carroll Street antique shops, carrying brewing timers with them.

A few weeks later, customers return to fill dark glass bottles with their brews and slap on personalized labels. Examples: bare-bottom profiles for "Brew'd Nude" or painted lips and the presidential seal for "Lewinsky Lager."

"We take novice brewers and within a couple hours make them comfortable with the brewing process," said J. Matthew Barry, owner of Chesapeake U-Brew.

The brew-on-premises concept began in 1986 in Canada as a popular way to avoid high excise taxes. Customers can brew their own for roughly half the price of beer bought in package stores, said Diana Shellenberger, associate editor of The New Brewer magazine.

According to Don Wolan, president of the Brew on Premises Association of Ontario, there are about 750 BOPs in Ontario and British Columbia, the two provinces where BOPs are legal.

Australia has a handful of BOPs, and beer lovers in Japan and the United Kingdom want their own, Shellenberger said.

Hamilton Gregg Brewworks opened the first in the United States five years ago. Another 50 have opened, Shellenberger said.

Customers choose from more than 100 recipes -- some created to produce beers similar to commercial products -- with dozens of varieties of hops and English, Belgian and German malted barley.

Belgian beers, stouts and lagers are among the most popular brewed in Frederick, where store owner Bob Frank said he gets about 20 visitors a month. Brown ales and lagers are popular in Annapolis, Barry said.

Brewers begin by gathering and measuring grains into a TTC container, grinding them to crack the shells and stuffing them into a cheesecloth sack for dipping.

The ingredients are set on a table before a row of huge metal kettles, where customers will spend an hour mixing, dipping, boiling and cooking wort -- a kind of tea produced by steeping cracked, malted barley in hot water. Wort becomes beer with the addition of yeast.

For the next hour, brewers add malt extract and pelletized hops for bitterness, aroma and flavor while the wort simmers.

This is where the pool, darts, tours and other diversions come in.

When the wort has finished boiling, it must be cooled. In Annapolis, it's run through a cooling machine and poured into a plastic keg. Frederick customers do it the old-fashioned way -- running cold water through a stack of coiled metal that sits inside the bucket of brew.

The customer adds the yeast next, caps the keg and rolls the huge bottle on the floor with a partner to mix the brew. The shop takes care of the rest, transferring the keg from one refrigerated room to a colder one during the next two weeks, measuring, filtering and carbonating the brew until the customer returns to bottle and label what they've paid for -- cases of fresh, cold, personalized beer.

A first-time brewer could spend close to $200 in Annapolis for five cases of beer, but recyclers who come back for a second or third batch with used bottles spend less than $1 per beer on brews with the flavor of imports.

Frederick customers can brew in 5-gallon increments -- about two cases -- for $40 to $96. Bottles and yeast are extra.

A batch of wine -- enough for 20 to 24 bottles -- costs $90 to $130 in both shops, but it takes longer to ferment.

"I thought that it tasted very good," Somers said, adding that he and his son Tony were trying to duplicate a beer brewed by the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis. "It came out very similar to what we were looking for."

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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