Diamondback Brewing Co. would like to reintroduce itself.
In the fall of 2014, when three recent college graduates — Colin Marshall, Francis Smith and Tom Foster — launched their Baltimore beer company, they figured getting a flagship product into the market quickly was most important, so the friends rushed their 3:30 Amber Ale to local bars and stores.
"We were 23 when we did it. You're an entrepreneur. You have no clue what you're doing, but 'I'm going to go with my gut and I'm going to go forward in the market,'" Marshall said of their mindset at the time. "It was about making those mistakes early and learning from them, and making sure you're not making them again."
Since then, Diamondback Brewing Co. has grown up in a big way, evidenced by the company's new 6,800-square-foot brewery and 50-seat taproom in Locust Point that opened the first weekend in November. Throw in new styles of beer, an updated logo and an overall new approach, and it's easy to see why Diamondback hopes you'll allow it to make a second impression.
"Some people are like, 'What are you?'" Marshall said, standing inside the taproom last week. "[We] try and really define it as, 'Look, we're not an entirely new company, but we're creating a new face for ourselves here.'"
Smith and Foster began homebrewing in their spare time as University of Maryland, College Park students, and Marshall eventually came on board. (He attended Saint Michael's College in Vermont.) In summer 2013, not long after graduating, the friends — who became close while attending Loyola Blakefield prep school — were eating lunch at Washington Street Pub in Easton, contemplating a single question.
"We just turned to each other like, 'Why don't we give it a shot?'" Marshall said.
For a year, the trio saved their money to fund Diamondback's contract brewing at Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels. In November 2014, they entered the local market, sending their first keg of 3:30 Amber Ale to the Rowhouse Grille in Federal Hill.
They accomplished what they set out to do: Introduce a new brand. But when the opportunity came to sign a seven-year lease at the Banner Building in Locust Point's McHenry Row this year, Diamondback's owners realized their first brick-and-mortar brewery could mean more than just no more contract brewing.
"The one thing we're really proud of and I'm super excited about building is the new brand," said Marshall, who is 25 and lives in Federal Hill. (Foster and Smith, also 25, live in Towson.)
That meant trading their colorful turtle-shell logo for a refined, black-and-white branding — thanks to local studio Gilah Press — that can be seen on glassware throughout the taproom. It also meant discontinuing the beer that got them to this point.
"It's not a bad beer, but it's not what people want to drink," Marshall said of the 3:30 Amber Ale. "It's not what the market wants, and it's not what we want to brew either."
Instead of having a flagship beer, Diamondback is pushing three "core beers" that can be found in the taproom: Azacca Blonde Ale, Green Machine IPA and Omar's O.P.A. (oat pale ale; a nod to Omar Little of "The Wire"). Having tried the Green Machine and the O.P.A. — two crisp and bright brews with enough hops to satisfy as cold weather arrives — it's clear Diamondback has made strides since the 3:30 Amber Ale.
To date this year, Diamondback has produced a modest 800-1,000 barrels of beer, and plans to double that figure next year, Marshall said.
With the limitations of contract-brewing now in the past, Marshall is excited about experimenting with the 81/2-barrel, two-vessel stainless-steel brewing system they imported from British Columbia, Canada.
"We took our blonde ale and we added cherries to it," Marshall said. "We could never do that with a contract brewer. Here, you can personalize it and really make your beer unique."
This month, the taproom will be open on weekends and will show football on its two flat-screen TVs. Diamondback doesn't serve food but plans to bring in a rotating cast of caterers to set up outside the entrance. Pending approval from the liquor board, the owners hope to eventually open seven days a week.
Diamondback is focused on becoming "a community staple" in Locust Point and re-establishing itself in the Baltimore market with its new core beers, Marshall said. Diamondback products are only available in Maryland, but he hopes to enter the Washington and Virginia markets late next year.
Marshall said he and the co-owners are trying to appreciate what they've accomplished in such a short time, but they're focused on the future. Arguably most important to Marshall is Diamondback's new, more thoughtful approach to execution. The days of rushing products to shelves and bars, he said, are over.
"With the rebirth of us, we're not just jumping on things to get it out there," Marshall said. "We want to do it correct the first time."