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Union Craft Brewing expects to be in business by Spring; first release to be an APA

Union Craft Brewing, one of Maryland's five new breweries, expects to be in business by next Spring, owner Jon Zerivitz said.

The brewery's first product will be a hoppy pale ale that, like all of their beers, will be distributed in cans. About 1,000 barrels of beer are planned for the first year.

Of all the obstacles the new brewery has to overcome before it comes online, Zerivitz feels audience interest is the least of their worries.

Union Brewing is the product of a generational shift. Zerivitz, a 32-year-old Timonium resident, and his partners are among the first to have grown up while there was mass awareness of craft.

When he went to the University of Massachusetts in 1997, craft beer was undergoing its first proper boom. "My experience wasn't about an overconsumption of macro-produced light lagers," he said. "Instead it was Berkshire Brewing Beer and Pete's Wicked and all these new microbrews. When I went to a keg party, it was a keg of all this really good beer."

He saw that enthusiasm first-hand at the first Baltimore Beer Week, where he said most attendees were in his age group.

"There was a whole new culture of craft beer drinkers who were coming and learning about variety, imported and from different states," he said.

Zerivitiz said it was that interest among Baltimoreans that made him think there was room for a brand new player in town among established businesses like Heavy Seas and Brewer's Art.

Though he had been toying with getting into the business somehow, the idea solidified at that first beer week three years ago after he ran into a high school friend who had the same hunch. The two had a mutual friend who was a brewer at an established Maryland brewery - Zerivitz declines to say which - who had also been eager to start his own business. Zerivitz said his two partners weren't available to talk because it would jeopardize their current jobs, which they haven't left yet.

The partners started studying the market, interviewing brewers and distributors and looking for a space. In September, they signed a lease on a 7,200-square-foot warehouse in Woodberry, big enough to accomodate a microbrewery. He and his two partners have signed a lease and will break ground in late November.

He also said the brewhouse's equipment has already been ordered.

It was important to the owners to be in Baltimore. "We didn't want to be pushed into the outskirts. We wanted this neighborhood feel and authenticity of being based in the city," Zerivitz said.

As for funding, an obstacle for any upstart business, the owners have set a modest goal - an $800,000 start-up capital for the first year.

That sets them apart from the start-up brewers from the 90s, who were much more capitalized than those who are attempting to build microbreweries now. Zerivitz said the fundraising is on track with contributions so far mainly from a large network of family and friends.

Next up are some logistical issues: obtaining state and federal licenses to brew and locking in a distributor. Though no contracts have been signed, "We know there’s been a lot of interest from bars and restaurants, and we feel positive about that prospect," Zerivits said.

Already, they have a handful of recipes for their first line, which is designed to be "approachable," Zerivitz said. The partners want to ease customers into beers with more complex flavors.

For their first, they're brewing an American pale ale that Zerivitz describes as having "some citrus and grassy notes."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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