Arnold, a former high school English teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools, mentions that while Nepenthe's relatively new brew-on-premises option has attracted only a handful of greenhorn brewers and one experienced brewer, the store's customer database holds some 800 names. For Baltimore Beer Week, four in-store events are taking place, including an introduction to brewing with Arnold and a question-and-answer session with brewers from Union Craft Brewing on what it takes to become a professional brewer.
"Our customer base was already here-it was waiting," he says.
It's a point backed up by Ryan Detter, the 34-year-old co-founder of homebrew group Baltibrew, started in 2009. "Homebrewing has kind of exploded in the past three or four years," he says. "All this DIY aesthetic is back now. People are more interested in where their stuff comes from now."
That's certainly part of it, as is the feeling of unlimited creativity that helps make homebrewing an alluring activity. Compared to such cities as Philadelphia, Baltimore is very much up-and-coming in its craft beer scene. But if you like craft beer, and are unable to find a specific flavor or style, just make your own. The Nutcastle ale I'll bottle just before Baltimore Beer Week begins has a hint of chocolate, the effect of the pale chocolate grains that comprised a piece of the overall grain mixture I steeped at the beginning of the beer-making process.
"The market just popped here, and everyone grabbed onto it," says Kurt Krol, a professional brewer at the DuClaw Brewing Company who started off making homebrews.
Homebrewing, however, has been legal, and tax-exempt, since the late 1970s, and the Baltimore region has several homebrewing stores. Maryland Homebrew in Columbia is a nearly 7,000-square-foot warehouse stockpiled with supplies. There's the Thirsty Brewer in Baldwin. Homebrew clubs abound, including the Cheseapeake Real Ale Brewers Society (CRABS), Lady Brew Baltimore (for the ladies, natch), the Cross Street Irregulars (founded in 1989), and Boddy and Detter's Baltibrew with about 70 members.
If anything, the recent proliferation of homebrewers and the clubs that bring them together shows that brewing beer today, at least with respect to the equipment and space needed, is easier than it ever has been.
"It's an easy thing to pick up and do at the house. You don't have to be investing a lot of money in the specialties," Krol says. And, at least for Krol, that initial investment in homebrewing equipment and supplies happened with some friends a couple years after he made his first homebrew in 2003.
Indeed, if the essence of homebrewing is lifting and sanitizing, its draw-the thing that makes Antos so sure I'll return to Nepenthe to not only bottle my Nutcastle beer, but also pay the money to make another batch-is the feeling of community that comes with it.
"It's a great way to meet people in the city," says 29-year-old Amy Huntington. Granted, Huntington is a recent transplant. A homebrewer for almost two years, she moved to Baltimore in January, and was at Nepenthe's doors as soon as it opened in February.
Although, by the time I'm pouring my homebrew into its bucket, she's at Nepenthe, along with Antos, Arnold, Boddy, his wife, and a handful of other folks. We're taking sips of Boddy's gruit wort, and I'm passing around a small sample of my Nutcastle wort.
Drinking beer is generally a guarantee of a good time. But drinking a homebrew? That's satisfying. As Arnold says, "When you make a really good beer, you don't want to drink it all-you want to share it with people."
Brew it yourself
Nepenthe Homebrew is at 3600 Clipper Mill Road. 443-438-4846 or nepenthehomebrew.com.