Published: October 16, 2013
Head brewer Stephen Jones will have to exercise some muscles he hasn’t used for a while when the 20-year-old basement brewhouse at Oliver Breweries (situated in Pratt Street Ale House) is put to rest for a new full-sized production facility in Clifton Park in 2014. This past year, the floor in the basement was excavated, adding about another foot of headroom to its markedly low ceilings. “When they dug that out—it sounds ridiculous but it’s absolutely true—that I had the worst backache after they finished that, because all of a sudden we could stand up. I’m not even kidding. For like a week I had the worst backache ever,” Jones says.
The new place is “just going to be bigger, better, cleaner, nicer. And we can stand up straight all the time.” They’ll also have a 20-barrel brewhouse with the option of double- and triple-brewing (making 40 or 60 barrels of wort per brew) that will allow the brewery to keep pace with demand for Oliver Ales.
A good deal of that mushrooming demand stems from Columbia, where Pratt Street’s owners Justin Dvorkin and Don Kelly opened up another bar, the Ale House Columbia. “Columbia’s a really good sort of craft beer area,” Jones says, noting that the number of brews he makes every week has risen since the new place opened last December. “We can’t really make enough beer.” Jones says Columbia’s consistent business offsets the slow points at the Inner Harbor location. “In our dead time, it’s great for us. In our busy time, we’re stretched to the max.”
The bigger location will also mean some changes in what they brew. “It’s gonna change a bit when we move to a new place, because, at the moment, we’ve got like 18 different beers.” The number of one-offs and core brands (beers on tap at all times) will have to shrink once they graduate from the 7-barrel brewhouse in Pratt Street’s basement. “We’re gonna have to be a little more structured. You’re brewing 20 barrels of beer, you know, that’s a reasonably substantial amount of beer.”
Jones, a transplant from the U.K. who came to Baltimore in 1999, was initially attracted to American brewing because of the experimentation and creativity here, or the “gung-ho attitude,” as he puts it.
He, too, witnessed the various brewery closings in the late ’90s but thinks that the situation will be different this time. “I think there’s some very good, very solid breweries opening in Baltimore,” citing Union and Peabody Heights. He identifies people with misplaced motivations as the reason for that shakeout. “The one thing about successful craft breweries is the passion of the people that own and run them,” he says. “The brewers, the owners, they’re doing it for a reason and that reason is not just money.”
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