Union Craft Brewing
Published: October 16, 2013
Of the city’s breweries, perhaps none has cultivated a community the way Union has. A crowd of regulars from Hampden and Woodberry—many, close friends of owners Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger, and Jon Zerivitz—show up to shoot the shit on Saturday tours and for special events, like the brewery’s outdoor summer movie series or its first-anniversary party this July.
Upon the recent change of pint laws in Maryland, the brewery taproom started opening for happy hours on Thursdays and Fridays, so those regulars can congregate more often. But so can the rest of the neighborhood, and the city. “It’s a reason for people to come here, just to introduce them to our beer,” Benesch says. “And connect to our brand,” Blodger adds.
“Brand” sounds stiff, far too formal for Union, but what Blodger is getting at is simple: “One of our big goals is to kind of show Baltimore how proud we are of [it], and hopefully Baltimore becomes just as proud of us.” The three Baltimore-area natives, with Blodger in the brewhouse, have already earned a Great American Beer Festival win for their Balt Altbier. They give to city charities like Believe in Music, a Living Classrooms program, to bolster their community involvement.
They’ve also put out a number of beers—Hampden on Rye, Royal Farmhouse, Balt, and Duckpin Pale Ale—paying tribute to the city in name. (Though a significantly lesser honor than a GABF award, BuzzFeed listed Duckpin as one of 50 beers nationally with local pride.) The diversity Union cultivates in its catalog, somewhat unusual for a production brewery (an establishment which produces beer exclusively), allows locals to try a greater number of new styles while still drinking a Baltimore-brewed product. Part of that mentality derives from Blodger’s previous brewing experience at a Gordon Biersch outpost in Chicago.
“I come from brewpubs, where you do a lot of one-offs, you do a lot of seasonals,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to throw different things out there and see what sticks and what doesn’t stick.” Blodger focuses heavily on seasonality: Union’s summer beers included a gose and barleyweisse, both tart, light, and low-ABV beers suitable for cooling off; this upcoming winter’s offerings will likely include a barleywine or stout, typically warming, high-ABV styles.
With a canning line installed in March, a third year-round can in the works, and two new full-time employees in addition to six part-timers, Union is growing at a fair clip. When Benesch and Blodger think about the future of their industry, it’s not a lack of interested consumers that gives them pause.
“As far as drinkers, craft beer drinkers, I still think it’s relatively untapped,” Benesch says. Craft beer is “still 7 percent of the [national] market” of beer consumed in the U.S., he continues.
“I think that there’s going to be a shortage,” Blodger predicts, “a demand for hops, a demand for malt, so that may be a limiting factor. But I think that the sky’s the limit.”
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