Writer and photographer Alexander D. Mitchell, the Baltimore columnist for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, recounts the origins of Baltimore Beer Week.
It was October 2008, and I was pouring a Pennsylvania-made hard cider at the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival. Cities like Philadelphia and San Diego had started registering on the consciousness of the American craft beer drinkers by starting Beer Weeks, often centered around a major beer festival. I spotted Joe Gold, a man who had done much to help instigate the high quality of craft beer in the Baltimore region. As I offered him a glass of the cider, I button-holed him: “So, where's Baltimore Beer Week? Why aren't we doing one, but letting Philly have all the glory?"
Gold thought for a moment and replied in a manner I found totally inconsistent with his typically aggressive salesmanship, "I don't think we 'got it,' so to speak. I don't think Baltimore has quite the beer scene to make that happen."
I was incredulous. "How can you say that?" I replied. "Look at the quality of what we have. We have a British-style brewpub. A Belgian-style brewpub, the first one of its kind in the States. A thoroughly American-style brewery. Yeah, we lost the German-style brewpub, but we have another one in the suburbs! We got a bar that has 72 taps, and hundreds of bottles, and a rapid turnover. We have neighborhood corner bars with terrific craft beer selections if you know where to look. We have liquor stores with as vast a selection as you're likely to find anywhere in the United States. We have enough microbreweries to have a festival the size of what we have at Timonium, and America's only official branch of a British cask-ale appreciation society, and a cask ale festival, which we're here drinking at! Now, you, of all people, one of the reasons we have a British-style brewpub, are going to tell me that we don't have enough of a beer culture to sustain a week's worth of events?"
He and I continued to debate. I told him, "Look, we already have the Maryland Brewers Oktoberfest in October and the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival a week after that! Just hold a Baltimore Beer Week between those two bookends!" We agreed, diplomatically, to disagree for the time being, and parted to sample other cask ale offerings.
About two hours later, after talking with a few other folks at the festival (including the Baltimore Sun's unofficial craft beer champion, Rob Kasper, Gold returned to me, stood before me, and said "OK. We're doing it! I'm not sure how, or when, but I'm calling on you!"
I replied, "Name it! Time and place, I'm there, we're doing it!"
Several months later, Gold sent out an email to a number of parties, and they convened in a meeting room at Max's Taphouse. Among the folks: Brewpub and microbrewery owners and brewers (including pioneering microbrewer Hugh Sisson, founder of Maryland's first brewpub), homebrew club representatives, several beer distributor and importer representatives, a couple of beer club officers, a couple of bar owners, and Joe Gold, Rob Kasper and yours truly. Unlike many, or most, other Beer Weeks in the nation, Baltimore's first Beer Week, in 2009, was started and organized by beer enthusiasts, not by beer industry folks looking to make more money.