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New Baltimore brewing company, Monument City, to launch in October

Monument City Brewing Company
Monument City Brewing Company

Baltimore was once a mecca of brewing: German breweries and beer gardens lined North Avenue and names like Gunther, Brehms, Wiessner, Globe, and National were synonymous with beer in the city. Since then we've seen the industry become prohibited, consolidated, watered down, and finally resurrected. With local brewers like Heavy Seas, The Brewer's Art, Stillwater, Union, Raven, Flying Dog, Public Works, and Full Tilt raising the craft-brew flag in the city, it's a good time to be a Baltimore beer lover. And starting in October you can add Monument City Brewing Company to the fold.

Based out of Peabody Heights Brewery, a location whose focus is on incubating new brewers who don’t have the capital to build their own, Monument City (one of the Baltimore's lesser-known nicknames) was started by brothers Matt and Ken Praay after spending 8 years honing their craft by home brewing in their kitchens and garages. Their first beer, 51 Rye, will be a 6.5-percent IPA made with 51 percent of the spicy grain (an homage to the percentage of rye required to be considered rye whiskey), and is set to be released as early as Oct. 10—just in time for the start of Baltimore Beer Week.

We sat down recently with the brothers, who explained that after spending years working at desk jobs—Ken in marketing and Matt in IT—they decided they wanted to focus on something tangible that they could produce and share with the city as a family. With Matt's job taking him over to Afghanistan, the two worked for years on a business plan over Skype calls that sometimes included, as Ken described, "bomb-shelter interruptions" before finally deciding to take the jump. Asked what finally pushed them over the edge, Ken admitted that his brother's time overseas solidified the need for them to do something that kept them closer together and creating something they loved.

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After initially planning on opening a full-fledged brewing facility, they eventually decided to use the Peabody facility because of the opportunity it allowed them to fund the project independently and without any outside investors or influences—something Matt said was important in order to make the beers they wanted and to keep it a family affair.

They'll start with a manageable capacity of 75 barrel batches, and have already planned out a tentative schedule of releases for the next 12 months. The 51 Rye will be released in October, which in addition to the rye spiciness will be dry-hopped—a process that adds even more hops after the beer is done fermenting to allow for stronger hop aroma and flavor—with 100 percent citra hops (despite warnings from others of it being too expensive). They'll follow that with a 6 percent American brown ale in November, a 7 percent American IPA in the spring, and, if things go as planned, a hefty Imperial Stout for the winter months.

Asked how they hope to fit into the already-thriving local brewing scene, the brothers were quick to say that they already love what the brewers are doing in the city and just hope to become a solid addition to that community. As Ken said, "We think it's naive for people to fool themselves into thinking that their beer will be the only one people will drink. We just hope that when a friend comes into town and asks what good local beers are around town, we'll be in the top five."

Becoming a part of that community, Matt and Ken said, is almost as important for the company as their beers. "There are lots of makers in this city," Ken said. "It's honest people, and an honest city that lets you know when you're not doing well, and we appreciate that and think that these beers are worthy of the city and its people."

To start immersing themselves into that community, they've enlisted a slew of local businesses to help in the production and marketing of their beer. Their taps handles, made with wood from 100-year-old mash tanks from Baltimore's old Melville Distillery, are being produced by Highlandtown's Mark Supik & Co.; the labeling for the taps is being handled by Baltimore Print Studios; and their marketing and branding design is being handled by Orange Element of Fell's Point.

"People in this city don't brag about stuff, they just produce good stuff, and we wanted to be a part of that," Ken said. "At the end of the day it's the city that's going to determine if we're successful. We're not in it to become a huge brewery; we're looking to be a Baltimore brewery."

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