For brewers like Steve Jones, the next 10 days will be like the week before Christmas.
Baltimore Beer Week is officially in session, with 65-odd local bars and breweries hosting some 300 events revolving around beer culture. There will be beer breakfasts, beer luncheons, beer classes -- even chilibrews.
Now in its second year, Beer Week has grown in scope and ambition. Organizers expect it to draw more than the estimated 5,000 who came last year. With so many events, the weeklong confab sounds as if it sprang from a desperate 21-year-old's imagination. But as beer weeks have popped up in other cities with less brewing history than Baltimore, organizers see the event as a way to raise the national profile of the area's burgeoning craft industry. It's also a sales boost locally and, for casual beer drinkers, an entree to the world of microbrews.
"There are lot of thirsty drinkers out there," said Jones, who brews Oliver Ales at the Pratt Street Ale House. "We want to make it interesting for customers."
The liquor stores, restaurants, breweries and bars that will host these events just see it as a way to spotlight their best products. "Ace of Cakes" chef Duff Goldman planned to kick off the week Thursday by tapping a fresh cask from local brewery Heavy Seas at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
When a group of beer enthusiasts, including a reporter and two real estate analysts, created Beer Week last year, they originally conceived it as a catch-up. Other cities that lack Baltimore's brewing history -- like Portland and San Francisco -- already had beer weeks of their own, founder Dominick Cantalupo pointed out. But instead of competing with established events, Baltimore Beer Week organizers turned to increasing sales of local brews to residents.
Microbrews, though popular, are still not the norm with the casual drinker. Jones said that's because the sheer number in styles and flavors is intimidating. Beer Week, Cantalupo said, functions as an introduction for what they call "macro-minded" drinkers.
"It's similar to Restaurant Week," he said. "We're trying to get those Budweiser drinkers that are on the fence."
Over the series of events, there will be points of entry for beer drinkers at every level, from sophisticated experts like Jones to those with just a beginner's palate. Little Havana will even host a fundraiser called Lagunitas Pints for Pets.
"It's not just the ABCs of beer," Jones said. "Everything you can imagine seems to be out there somewhere."
Just on Friday, the lineup included a three-course, four-beer breakfast at Metropolitan Cafe in Federal Hill, a homebrew and homemade chili competition at 2640 in Charles Village and a daylong cask ale tasting at the Wharf Rat.
Later in the week, Bertha's will host a three-part beer history luncheon, and the Timonium Fairgrounds will throw its Oktoberfest. On the last day of Beer Week, organizers team up with sponsors to launch the inaugural Baltimore Beer Festival at Canton's Waterfront Park.
In a move straight out of the sleep-deprived college student's handbook, you can even drink beer during class. On Oct. 14, Howard County Community College will offer its beer history and appreciation class for $55. During the regular school year, the school also has a class called "Rebirth of Barrel-Aged Beers." Though it's not necessarily cheaper than attending beer tastings throughout the year, several liquor stores will offer free samples during Beer Week.
Baltimore Beer Week is still smaller than Philly Week, which counts thousands of events. But it's growing. While last year's opening party was at the Constellation, this year it will be held at the more spacious Baltimore Museum of Industry. There were 64 sponsors in 2009, compared with this year's 84. And the $50,000 operating budget is twice as large as last year's. (Beer Week is organized by a not-for-profit committee composed of volunteers. The committee uses sponsorship money to pay for the opening tap party and its website.)
For brewers, Beer Week is "a high holy day," Cantalupo said. Some are getting first-time drinkers to try rare brews, like Belgian sours or cask ales. On Thursday, Jones unveiled an in-the-works collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal Ales that combines English and Belgian-style brewing techniques.
In all, 27 local breweries are participating in the week's events, including Brewer's Art, Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, DuClaw Brewing Co. and Stillwater Artisanal Ales.
The craft beer industry is still a niche one, but events like this one are nudging it towards the mainstream, Cantalupo said. Already, he added, it's growing business faster than established breweries.
"I think people want something that challenges them a bit," he said.
If you go
Baltimore Beer Week runs through Oct. 17 at various locations. Go to bbweek.com.