A 64-ounce "growler" of beer, left, costs $17 and… (Photo by Karen Jackson )
Graphic designer Jon Zerivitz was tired of being stuck at a computer for up to 12 hours a day as a contractor forT. Rowe Price.
"I needed a hobby," Zerivitz said.
Indulging a longtime passion for beer, he went to the Maryland Homebrew store in Columbia in 2010 and bought everything he needed to brew beer.
"The first batch was really good," he recalled. "The second batch was really bad. I kept at it."
Two years later, Zerivitz, 32, was brewing beer again Aug. 3, but on a larger scale, as co-owner of the new Union Craft Brewing Co., on the border of Hampden and Woodberry.
The brewery opened June 6 in Clipper Mill Industrial Park, 1700 Union Ave., near the Woodberry light rail station. It is North Baltimore's only brewery currently operating, although another isn't far behind. Peabody Heights Brewery, formerly Charm City Brewing Co., is planned in an old Canada Dry bottling plant, at 401 E. 30th St., in Abell, as reported in the Messenger last December.
"We're planning our first brew around the first week of September," said Stephen Demczuk, the co-owner of Peabody Heights and owner of Ravens Beer.
Zerivitz, of Lutherville, and business partner Kevin Blodger, of Towson, held a grand opening party and tasting for invited guests July 28, featuring their Balt Altbier and Duckpin Pale Ale. A third beer, Old Pro, is coming soon.
Their first public tastings were Saturday, Aug. 4, with 64-ounce, refillable "growler" jugs on sale for $17 and refills for $10.
Zerivitz was so taken with home-brewed beer in 2010 that he began looking for space in the city in which to build a brewery.
A mutual friend told Zerivitz about Blodger, a brewer who worked in Chicago for the Gordon Biersch chain of brewery-restaurants. As it happened, Blodger, who had family in northern Virginia, felt creatively stifled after five years at Gordon Biersch.
"I wanted to branch out and do my own thing," Blodger said.
"I called him. We hit it off," Zerivitz said.
Blodger transferred to the Rockville location of Gordon Biersch, and the two began looking for space in Baltimore City.
"We really wanted to build a brewery in the city that would be embraced by Baltimore," Zerivitz said.
But city zoning restrictions hampered the search until they found Suite D of the industrial park, whose main building — once a 19th-century annex of Clipper Mill — also houses a theater service and supply company, among other businesses.
"Two and a half years later, here we are," he said.
They raised $800,000 to open the 7,200-square-foot brewery and tasting room in a former sign company. In the long, narrow tasting room, Balt and Duckpin beers are on tap and T-shirts for sale hang on a wall, including a onesie for babies.
A tasting bar (no chairs) centers the room. A pinball machine sits in a back corner, near a small table with a vase of flowers.
Grist for the mill
In the warehouse next door sit large bags of malt that are ground into grist and then augured or piped into a mash kettle, part of a 20-barrel "brew house" process.
The industrial-sized kettle is filled with 1,500 pounds of dry grist and boiling water, and the mixture is then piped into a "lauter tun," which separates the sugars. The sugary liquid is piped back into the kettle, to be boiled with hops.
The remaining wet grain is shoveled out and picked up at least once a week by a farmer, who feeds it to his cattle in Pennsylvania.
The hot liquid for beer is boiled for about 90 minutes, goes into a heat exchanger for cooling and is fed into a fermenting tank with yeast for 17 days, on average, before going into a "brite" tank.
"That is clean beer that's ready to go," Zerivitz said.
Kegs are hand-filled with beer and stored in a walk-in refrigerator, eight shrink-wrapped kegs to a pallet, for pickup by Legends Ltd., a distributor in Rosedale.
The brewery already has 40 to 50 accounts, including the restaurants Woodberry Kitchen, the Golden West Cafe in Hampden and the Belvedere Square wine bar Grand Cru, Zerivitz said.
Blodger and Zerivitz have modest ambitions for now.
With an estimated $100,000 a year in overhead costs, Zerivitz noted, "I don't think we'll be profitable for a couple of years."
There's been at least one unforeseen cost.
"In the first month I went through two pair of shoes," Zerivitz said, wearing rubber boots as he walked in puddles of water on the concrete floor.
He said they hope to brew 1,500 barrels the first year and to double that in 2013. They also plan to market cans of beer, and the Wine Source in Hampden has already agreed to sell them, he said.
Blodger and Zerivitz said they're not concerned with making the best beer in Baltimore, but what Blodger called "approachable beer, that people can drink."
"There are a lot great beers," Blodger said. "We want to be a neighborhood brewery. I don't think it's about being better. We want to make great beer and be part of the brewing community."
And they have no plans to add a restaurant.
"We are not a brew pub," Zerivitz declared.
The tasting room is the public face of the Union Craft Brewing Co. The front door opens into the room, and as customers come in for growlers and refills, "we'll know their names," Zerivitz said.