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Big Beer

Inside Baltimore’s burgeoning craft beer scene, worts and all

Photo: J.M. Giordano, License: N/A, Created: 2013:10:15 10:23:08

J.M. Giordano

Joe Gold has been throwing parties since high school.

When asked to recount them over a beer in Federal Hill, he enthuses: “I have thrown some legendary parties. Oh, there’s thousands! There are literally thousands.” He’s thrown parties everywhere, from his teenage home (“I had a door guy,” he volunteers) to the penthouse suite of the Sheraton Waikiki. A bona fide fixture of the city’s beer scene, he once threw a party with 10 cases of 750-milliliter bottles of Chimay he got for free from a rep when a beer convention came to Baltimore. (Disclosure: I used to work with Gold and others mentioned in this article at Heavy Seas Beer, where Gold is the sales manager.)

For Gold, Baltimore Beer Week feels like a mammoth party he throws for the city and its beer drinkers: He co-founded and still organizes the 10-day-long celebration with friend Dominic Cantalupo.

For those well-versed in the city’s increasingly rich craft beer scene today, Gold’s reason for creating beer week sounds curious. “I started Baltimore Beer Week because of the apathy I saw in this town for beer.” This was back in 2008, a decade after the bottoming-out of the late-’90s craft-beer boomlet. Brewer’s Art, Heavy Seas, DuClaw, and Oliver had survived that shakeout and were still chugging along; others—Baltimore Brewing Company, Oxford Brewing Company, Brimstone Brewery—hadn’t. Even though great breweries remained, Gold recalls, “nobody was paying any attention, in my opinion. I mean, the distributors were selling and the breweries were making, but there was no excitement or no buzz about it.”

In 2013, that narrative doesn’t ring true. Beer week is bigger than ever, and so is the city’s brewing scene. With two new production breweries opened in 2012 and with the city’s existing breweries undergoing major expansions, Baltimore’s beer culture seems to be gearing up for growth. “It’s just more part of the community than it’s ever been since Prohibition,” Gold says.

But can Baltimore’s beer industry, which already experienced that earlier leveling-off, support a more concentrated beer scene?

If anything, the intensifying brewing scene gives Gold hope for a shift in the Baltimore beer-drinkers’ tastes, which, as he perceives them, tend toward volume and high alcohol content rather than brand or location loyalty—something unusual when compared to, say, Pacific Northwest beer drinkers. “I’m very hopeful that the newest breweries in Baltimore and the surrounding area will prove that our beer-drinking community deserve to support them.” And as all the breweries in town attest, they can’t make enough beer to keep up with demand.

The “craft beer bubble,” then, is far from at hand. “It’s not a novelty,” Joe Gold says. “It doesn’t go away because it’s in the lexicon of the consumer. Where is the high-water mark? I don’t know, but it’s not going away.”

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