For more than half of a century, I have lived here in northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland (with some time elsewhere).
One morning, about a decade ago, in October 2006, I was driving to work just outside of Baltimore, and I passed by a sad scene of destruction. A demolition crew was ripping the once mighty kettle of the former Carling/National Brewing Company out of its housing; the building itself was next to be razed.
I had been engaged in the 'craft' brewing industry for over fifteen years, but I had been far from diligent in photographing it. My blogging of it, and before that, my pen-and-paper chronicling of it, likewise had been insignificant. Why, I thought, why had I never taken photos of that impressive brewhouse, whose whirlpool I had once seen in operation, ten years earlier, awed by its volume and force? Why, when I had had numerous opportunities, why had I never taken pictures of the brewery's monumental outdoor fermenters, by that day long ago sold for scrap?
Things changed for me that day.
I opened a Flickr account, at which I have now stored nearly thirty-thousand images, most of which are of beer, and its people, places, and things. This blog, which I had begun in 2002, had been only a dalliance. Since then, however, I have written more than two-thousand times of beer (and, yes, occasionally of other things).
I became, shall I say, an honest 'song and dance man' for good beer. I observed —and contributed in small measure to— the exponential growth in the production, availability, and acceptance of good beer here in the mid-Atlantic area. And beer has been good to me. I have been enriched, emotionally and monetarily, even though for me and for many of us in the beer business, the latter has not been "the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice" but of providing sufficient scratch to pay the bills and to save a bit.
I began brewing at home well before that day, in the late 1980s —dared to do so by my younger brother ("Put up or shut up," he challenged me.), taught by Charlie Papazian's Joy of Homebrewing, and patiently assisted by a good friend ("Clean up that mess in the kitchen when you're finished!").
In 1992, I entered a batch of porter in the Spirit of Free Beer, a contest organized by the whimsically named B.U.R.P. (Brewers United for Real Potables), a Washington, D.C.-area home brew club. The recipe was not complex —especially as contrasted with today's so-called 'extreme' beers of high alcoholic strength and exotic ingredients— but, at 5.5% alcohol by volume, the porter was flavorful enough to garner a silver medal.
I went on to study at the Siebel Institute of Technology and then brew professionally for a decade. Later, as a beer salesmen, I would never refer to myself as an 'ex-brewer.' The yearning to brew remained too intimate and too strong. Rather, I regarded myself as 'brewer without portfolio.' Good brewing insinuates itself into one's soul.
Beer may be my vocation, but cask-conditioned 'real ale' —beer served at its glorious freshest— has been my calling and advocacy. Ah, for a pint of properly-cared-for bitter! I can only hope that American cask-ale producers' recent dalliance with their corn-hole toss of silly ingredients and murky beer will be only a passing whimsy.
Although I am a beer judge, only upon occasion have I posted reviews of beers at the blog. After all, anyone can write a review, and so many do. Rather than that, I have attempted to write the story of my search for the 'best' beer, my favorite beer. In the process, I have tasted many contenders, but not yet the one sine qua non. (And if I were to discover that, why continue?)
More than that, much more, I have tried to sculpt this blog into a historical snapshot of good local beer, to make for posterity a small record of our brewers, breweries, and beer folk and things.
I can only hope that that my time here with 'craft' beer provided others with entertainment and refreshment (after all, that is what beer should be), and helped to provide those bringing us beer with the recognition and livelihood they were due.
Or, it may have been all a self-indulgence. No matter.
Thirty-two years ago, in 1983, there were only two breweries in this area: Anheuser-Busch in Williamsbrug, Virginia, and that Carling-National plant in Halethorpe, Maryland. Then this happened ...
- In 1984, our first area post-Prohibition 'craft' brewery would open: Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company, aka Chesbay, a production brewery in Virginia Beach, Virginia. (Closed: 1988.)
- In 1987, Virginia's first brewpub would open: Blue Ridge Brewing Company, in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was, indeed, the first brewpub in all of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. (Closed: 1999.)
- In 1988, Maryland's first 'craft' production brewery since Prohibition would open: British Brewing Company in Glen Burnie — later moved and re-named Oxford Brewing, for whom I was privileged to brew. (Closed: 1998.)
- In 1989, Maryland's first brewpub opened: Sisson's, in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. (Closed: 2002.)
- In 1990, Virginia's second 'craft' production brewery opened: Old Dominion Brewing, located in Ashburn, and thus the first in northern Virginia. (Moved to Delaware: 2009)
- In 1992, Capitol City Brewing (with its amusingly misspelled name), opened in Washington, D.C., becoming the city's first brewpub, and, de facto, its first brewery since 1956. (Still open!)
- In 1993, Richmond, Virginia's first brewpub, Richbrau, would open. (Closed: 2010.)
- In 1994, northern Virginia would get its first brewpub: Bardo Rodeo, in Arlington. (Closed: 1998. Re-opened as Bardo Brewpub, in Washington, D.C.: 2014.)
- In 1994, Richmond, Virginia's first 'craft' production brewery would open: Legend Brewing. (Still open!)
- In 1996, the Carling/National/G. Heilemann/Strohs brewery closed in Halethorpe, Maryland.
- In 2011, Washington, D.C. finally would get its first production brewery in decades: DC Brau. (Open!)
Today, as 'craft' brewery buy-outs and mergers proliferate, gee-whiz innocence might be lost, but we can be proud that there is a brewery within ten miles of every American citizen. Here, in 2015, in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, after thirty-three years, where once there had been not one 'craft' brewery, there are now more than one-hundred-and-sixty. Benighted jurisdictions helped: DC, Maryland, and Virginia recently gave winery parity to breweries, allowing direct-to-consumer sales in their taprooms, spurring brewery number growth. But, more than that, it was the benighted endeavors of the entrepreneurs ...
How better could I comment but by exclaiming, "wow!"
Or, how better could I comment than by saying to all of you —you area brewers, past and present, you beer entrepreneurs, publicans, purveyors, wholesalers, retailers, bartenders, raconteurs, partisans, writers, bloggers, homebrewers, consumers, businesspersons, bold pioneers, and rogues and demiurges alike—
— by saying to all of you beer (and wine) folk in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area of the past three decades, too many to personally recount (and please forgive me if I haven't): thank you!
Yes, it may not always have been just good beer and skittles. There have been some wretched beers and several alcoholic ass-hats. (Hey, we're all dealing with the extracted products of rotted grains and fruits; it ain't no rocket science. Get over your little selves.) But, so much more of it has been good times, good beers, and good folk.
You may recognize some of those people above; some not. But they and many others were and are part of the local history of our good beer revival. Their stories and that larger story remain to be told.
Today —now with a goatee instead of a full beard; now with hair 'extra-blond' (others might say gray); and now a beer-guy-with-a-tie rather than a brewer-in-boots— I say ...
This has been an amazing trip, and I may have played a small role in it, but now is your time and I'm only a hitchhiker in your galaxy. This blog may continue, but the time is overdue for its author to embark on a new adventure. Today, after more than half of a lifetime, I exit, stage left, leaving northern Virginia, and my previous homes of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.
So long, and thanks for all the beers.
Yours for good fermentables,