Big Year Ahead for Craft Brewing and Distilling in South Baltimore

| January 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

The craft brewing and distilling industry continues to expand around the country, including in South Baltimore which saw its own significant growth in this area in 2016. As a result of this growth, many new beverages, tastings, and tours will be available in the area in 2017. Diamondback Brewing Company opened a production facility in late 2016, and Sagamore Spirit, Suspended Brewing Company, and Checkerspot are set to do the same in 2017.

Map of the production facility locations, screenshot courtesy of Google Maps

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These four production facilities are the first in the South Baltimore neighborhoods since Heavy Seas got its start as Sisson’s at 36 E. Cross St. in Federal Hill, the current home of Ryleigh’s Oyster, when it became Maryland’s first brewpub in 1989. Ryleigh’s took over in 2002, and Heavy Seas now has a brewery in south Baltimore County.

Federal Hill is also the first location of Pub Dog which opened in 2001 and later opened another location in Columbia. Production of its more than 12 beers takes place at its brewery in Westmisnter.

Dating back even further, Globe Brewing was a brewpub at 1325 Key Hwy. in Federal Hill next door to Little Havana. It closed at the turn of the century and the former property was recently demolished. South Baltimore was also once the home of a Pabst Brewing Co. bottling plant at 1834 S. Charles St. The castle-like building is now the home of technology company ZeroFox after a recent renovation. Sagamore Development and the design team from Ayers Saint Gross also discovered when designing Sagamore Spirit in Port Covington that the site was a distillery in the 1800s.

While South Baltimore has a history with brewing and distilling, the area is certainly set for unprecedented growth in 2017. The first to announce a facility in South Baltimore was Sagamore Spirit, which announced plans for a four-building distillery at 301. E. Cromwell St. along the waterfront in Port Covington in March 2015. Co-Founder Kevin Plank owns Sagamore Farm, a thoroughbred horse farm which first opened in Glyndon in 1925 and features a natural spring that is filtered by limestone and used by the farm’s horses for water. Plank and Co-Founder Bill McDermond discovered this water would also be perfect for distilling rye whiskey. In 2011, they began the process of launching Sagamore Spirit.

Through extensive research Sagamore discovered that before World War II, Maryland produced more than 14 million gallons of rye whiskey annually and local brands attracted national acclaim. However, distilleries were repurposed as ethanol plants to support the war effort and cheaper Kentucky bourbons became commonplace.

The new Port Covington distillery includes a 27,000 sq. ft. distillery building, a 22,000 sq. ft. processing building, a 13,000 sq. ft. restaurant run by Chef Andrew Carmellin with an event space, and a 2,000 sq. ft. support building, all of which will surround a green courtyard space. There will also be a 120-foot water tower which will hold water from the Sagamore Farm’s limestone spring, which was the inspiration for Sagamore Spirit. The distillery will be surrounded by Sagamore Development’s East Waterfront Park.

Sagamore Spirit will be a centerpiece in Sagamore Development’s East Waterfront district, part of a 266-acre Master Plan for Port Covington. Visibility, location, and tradition were big factors in Sagamore Spirit picking its location.

“The waterfront revitalization of South Baltimore is unprecedented,” said Brian Treacy of Sagamore Spirit. “At Sagamore Spirit, we are committed to being good stewards of Baltimore’s front porch and welcoming visitors from up and down I-95. We are proud to put Maryland back on the map as the premier distiller of rye whiskey.”

Construction began in August 2015 and it is expected to open in early 2017 to the public for tours, meals, and activities. Sagamore Spirit currently has a space at City Garage in Port Covington.

Rendering courtesy of Sagamore Development

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Photo courtesy of Matt Ryb Pictures

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The next to pick South Baltimore was Diamondback Brewing Company, which found a 6,800 sq. ft. space at mixed-used development McHenry Row in Locust Point. Diamondback previously contract brewed its beers in Virginia and North Baltimore and had a storage facility and office in the Curtis Bay area of South Baltimore.

Diamondback is owned by Loyola Blakefield graduates Tom Foster, Colin Marshall, and Francis Smith. The company’s name is a nod to the University of Maryland where Foster and Smith attended. The team also includes Head Brewer Tim Heath and Associate Brewer David Hooper.

“We gravitated to the Locust Point area. It features the young and growing demographic that support local entrepreneurs and we intend to capitalize on the strong craft beer brewing movement,” said Marshall. The team also noted that access to I-95 and parking gives them the ability to attract visitors not only from the neighborhood but from all over.

The new facility opened in November and has an outdoor patio and a 2,000 sq. ft. tap room which features a concrete bar centered around the original smoke stack from the building’s original use as a Coca-Cola factory. Patrons can order beers, flights, and half pours, as well as six packs and growlers to-go. It is open Wednesday through Sunday.

The 4,800 sq. ft. brewery includes an 8.5 barrel system from Canadian company Ripley Stainless. This will allow them to produce up to 8,000 barrels of beer each year.

Diamondback recently partnered with fellow South Baltimore business Order & Chaos Coffee on the Order & Chaos Cold Brew Coffee Stout which uses beans from Locust Point’s Pfforkorn.

Diamondback does not serve food, but will partner with the under-construction Share Kitchen next door on meals for their patrons. It also brings in food trucks on the weekends.

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In September, Suspended Brewing Company found a 3,000 sq. ft. space at 912 Washington Blvd. in Pigtown at a former church. Suspended is run by Josey Schwartz, Yasmin Karimian, Amir Karimian, and Stevo Karolenko. The Karimians grew up in Baltimore and the Suspended team all attended UMBC for undergrad.

They originally leased a space in Rockville in Montgomery County where they hoped to set up a brewery, but were unable to get the licensing needed to operate from the City of Rockville authorities. The team looked to return to Baltimore, specifically neighborhoods in District 40, which permits for a Class 7 brewery license that allows virtually unlimited on-site sales and self-distribution.

“We are excited to be in this area and around all the new businesses in Pigtown. Not only are we surrounded by other creative businesses, we also have found the community to be exceptionally receptive and inviting of their new neighbors,” Schwartz told SouthBMore.com. “We hope to bring a great community space to Pigtown.”

Suspended has five fermentation tanks for its brewing system, which was made in Michigan and is capable of producing up to 20 kegs of beer at a time. Schwartz told SouthBMore.com the goal is to produce 500 barrels of beer in its first year and noted they have significant room to grow in the space.

Most of Suspended’s products will be consumed at the Pigtown brewery’s tap room which will be open daily. At the tap room the team will have control of the pour, cleanliness of draft lines, and glassware, and will be able to educate consumers firsthand on their brews. Beers will be available to-go in growlers and crowlers. Suspended will selectively distribute beers to bars and restaurants that share its same philosophy for beer. “Any beer we send out is strategic,” said Schwartz. He also told SouthBMore.com that they will put their beer in cans when it “makes sense.”

Suspended will not produce its own food and snacks, but looks forward to partnering with local businesses such as Milk & Honey Market, which will open a couple doors down.

Work is currently underway at Suspended and they are hoping to open as soon as possible. Suspended hopes to open additional tap rooms around Baltimore in the future with production continuing in Pigtown.

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Last week, Checkerspot Brewing Company announced it is opening a 10,000 sq. ft. brewery and tap room at 175 W. Ostend St. adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, the South Baltimore Neighborhood, and Sharp-Leadenhall. Checkerspot is taking over a vacant suite at the 65,000 sq. ft. office building owned by Himmelrich Associates.

Checkerspot, named after the official Maryland butterfly, is the creation of husband and wife Rob and Judy Neff, as well as their business partner Steve Marsh. Judy Neff, who has a PhD in microbiology form Johns Hopkins University, has been a home brewer for the past 12 years; Marsh started the cask program at Heavy Seas and has been a consultant with breweries in the area; and Rob Neff has a background in construction rehabs. Judy Neff joked to SouthBMore.com that it was time to take the leap and go pro.

Judy Neff told SouthBMore.com the team looked for a brewing space in East and South Baltimore, but were sold when they found this location. “We’re right by the South Baltimore neighborhoods and right by the stadiums so people can just walk right over, plus there’s easy access to I-95 and it’s an easy walk to Downtown. We’re pretty excited about the neighborhood and really could not ask for a better location,” said Judy Neff.

Checkerspot will have a two-floor tap room looking into the 15-barrel brewery built by startup Craft Kettle out of New Orleans. Checkerspot will be open every day for lunch and dinner and will serve a wide variety of housemade beers and casual food incorporating flavors from its beers. Judy Neff noted its not a restaurant, but will have more extensive food options than most tap rooms.

Checkerspot will first focus on running the tap room and then will look to distribute its beers soon after. The team hopes to start construction early next year. They are shooting for an August opening date and are currently moving through the state and federal licensing process.

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Photo courtesy of the Checkerspot Brewing Company Facebook page

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Though not based in South Baltimore, two additional breweries have South Baltimore roots. Charm City Meadworks (CCMW) is co-owned by Federal Hill resident James Boicourt. Outgrowing its current space in the Fairfield Industrial Area, CCMW has moved its production into a 6,500 sq. ft. warehouse suite at 407 B E. Preston St. in Johnston Square, just a couple miles northeast of South Baltimore. They plan to open a tap room and beer garden in the near future.

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Key Brewing, which has a brewery and tap room in Dundalk, is owned by South Baltimore residents Spike Owen and Mike McDonald. Key originally eyed the Pabst building in South Baltimore, as well as an additional building in Port Covington, before landing in Baltimore County. Individuals can find Boicourt, Owen, and McDonald around the neighborhood promoting their beers, which are available at many bars and liquor stores in the area.

Heavy Seas, Key Brewing, and Charm City Meadworks at SouthBMore’s Best Bash. Photo courtesy of Matthew Pasley.

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As the brewing and distilling industry grows in Baltimore, it will be interesting to see if any new or expanding craft beer, wine, or liquor companies also come to South Baltimore. SouthBMore.com has spoken with several landlords in the area who have marketed their spaces for breweries and distilleries, and there are certainly many large industrial properties in Carroll-Camden Industrial area near M&T Bank Stadium which could be ideal for a large brewery or distillery in the future.

Diamondback’s Francis Smith sees this growth as a great benefit to the area, “I think it is unbelievable and going to be great for tourism. We certainly expect to see people traveling to come visit Sagamore and having the opportunity to visit multiple breweries in the area is a great benefit, creating a little alcohol tourism haven in the area.”

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About the Author:

Creator of SouthBmore.com and resident of SoBo. Graduate of Towson University and owner of Incept Multimedia, a full service video production company. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, beach volleyball enthusiast, dog lover and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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