By Mary K. Tilghman
9:39 PM EDT, March 26, 2013
The founders of Brewtherville Labs — both live in Lutherville — were being funny when they named their beer brewing club. But they were quite serious about their focus on home brewing.
The members of the club gather in a friendly atmosphere, beer in hand of course, but the mood becomes almost studious as they discuss extract vs. all-grain brewing, bottling vs. kegging and things like gravity and carbonation.
Not bad for a group that only started meeting officially in January. Nearly 40 people have paid dues. Most come from Lutherville and the surrounding communities, though there are members from Canton, Annapolis and Hamilton.
Meagan Blank, of Timonium, joined as soon as she moved to town — even though she'd never brewed beer.
Gibbs Burke, of Lutherville, brought his father, Chris Burke.
Members are scientists, a graphic designer, an accountant, an engineer and a rabbi. Ages range from barely of legal drinking age to retired.
"We're not a beer drinking club, we're a beer brewing club — but we do drink beer together," said Michael Heitt, who along with Stephen "Stewie" Kinsey formed the club.
Although some members have been brewing their own beers for years, others have just made their first batch or are only considering making it.
"I don't know how it happened," Heitt said before the March 19 meeting at the Mt. Washington Tavern, now their official meeting place. "We got lucky."
Loves 'science behind' brewing
Brewtherville Labs got its start, unofficially, last Fourth of July. Heitt and Kinsey, both of Lutherville, were invited to brew beer for a mutual friend's holiday bash. They had never met until they brought their beer, Kinsey's IPA and Desolation Irish red ale and Heitt's take on a Kansas City wheat beer from Boulevard, to Shep Brown's party.
Heitt was impressed by Kinsey's Irish ale and got accolades for his own beer that was infused with orange zest and juice. "It was a real hit," he said.
The two home brewers got to chatting and Kinsey talked about an earlier attempt to start a brew club. The small group met a few times until interest fizzled — except for Kinsey's.
"My interest just shot through the roof," said Kinsey, who has brewed his own beer for 15 years. He got his start from a home brewing kit he and his wife, Susan, got as a wedding gift.
"The thing I love about this is the science behind it," he added.
Heitt, too, had brewed his own beer from extract kits since 1990, started while he was studying for his master's degree in clinical psychology at Loyola University Maryland. Once he discovered all-grain brewing, he was seriously hooked.
"The difference is comparable to baking a cake from scratch versus a Betty Crocker mix," he said.
Their meeting led to a couple of informal gatherings of like-minded home brewers last September at Grand Cru in Belvedere Square. Kinsey and Heitt picked the club's name because of their science backgrounds — Kinsey is a molecular biologist and Heitt is a psychologist — and because their children have attended Lutherville Lab School.
By December, it was clear the club had attracted enough interest to need a constitution, dues and a website. Now too big for Grand Cru, they were invited to bring their monthly meetings to Mt. Washington Tavern.
But the club is more than monthly meetings.
On March 16, the club had its first group brew — dubbed "Big Brew Day" — March 16 at Union Craft Brewing in Hampden. Novices were paired with experienced brewers who worked together from choosing a recipe to buying ingredients to going through all the steps to produce beer.
Fourteen brewers, along with a few observers, brought all their equipment, set it up inside the craft brewery and made beer. They made seven batches of beer, including two 10-gallon batches, according to Kinsey.
They tasted Union's craft beers and offered samples of their home brews to visitors to Union's Tasting Room, as well.
It was such a success, the group plans to have another.
"That's the way to get your feet wet," Jonathan Thoupos, of Lutherville, said at the March meeting.
He and his friend, Andy Back, also of Lutherville, have been making beer for about six months. Already they've produced seven batches — pretty good, since it take a month for a beer to brew.
A growing hobby
Home brewing clubs are nothing new. In fact, more than a dozen belong to the Freestate Home Brew Club Guild. In addition to regular meetings, brew clubs gather to show off their best ales and lagers in competitions throughout the year.
Maryland clubs, including Brewtherville Lab's, plan to show off their home brews together in June at the American Homebrewers Association's already sold-out national conference in Philadelphia.
Brian Arnold and Jill Antos, of Roland Park, homebrewers themselves, recently opened Nepenthe in Woodberry, Baltimore City's first homebrew supply store.
The couple decided to open their store after looking at data from the American Homebrewers Association.
"It has grown pretty significantly in the last couple of years," he said. "Craft brewing is becoming so popular. It seems like a lot of people are coming to home brewing."
Nepenthe sells everything from homebrewing kits to 46 types of malted grain and 51 kinds of hops. A brew-on-premises facility will open there later this spring for those interested in making beer without buying all the equipment, Arnold said.
"It seems like the homebrewing community is happy to have us," said Arnold. He met a number of Brewtherville members who stopped by for supplies on their brew day at Union.
Meetings are more than social gatherings. Ordering a beer may be the first order of business, with a break for a refill later in the meeting, but the agenda is packed with reports, explanations of new club benefits, a beer tasting led by the Brewfessor, Gibbs Burke, of Lutherville, followed by feedback from fellow brewers and ending with announcements of upcoming events.
"You don't have to brew beer," Kinsey said. Interest in beer is enough. But there are benefits to belonging to a club like this: discounts at home brew stores, club events and support with home brewing whether you are a beginning or well into your 10th or 20th batch.
The club also plans to participate in Brew Days with other clubs and tour local craft breweries.