As new concepts and fresh approaches continually emerge within Baltimore's bar scene, it's natural for our impatience to grow. If it's new and potentially exciting, we want it now — no, yesterday — fully formed.
High-level execution takes time, though, as I was reminded on a recent Friday evening when I walked into newcomer Brew House No. 16. The Mount Vernon brewpub opened in October, a year later than owners Ian Hummel and his father, Harry Hummel, expected. (Refurbishing took longer than anticipated, Ian Hummel said.)
There is so much to like about Brew House No. 16 that its delay now feels meaningless. From its lively atmosphere and clever design to approachable homemade beers and cocktails, this welcome neighborhood addition makes an immediate impression.
Most notably, its strengths coalesced to create a wholly satisfying experience. At one point, I surveyed the scene before leaning into my group of friends to confirm, "This is pretty great, huh?"
Aesthetically, Brew House is a knockout. The location once housed the actual No. 16 firehouse, and original details like tiled walls maintain the space's historic charm. Edison bulbs hang from the tall ceiling, while exposed ductwork and shiny brewing equipment like fermenters and tanks add a modern industrial touch. An open kitchen operates near the bar, so there's the added theater of watching cooks and bartenders work together — or at least try and stay out of each other's way.
The only issue with the layout was the lack of space to maneuver by patrons in the dining room to get to the bar in the back. Brew House is smartly maximizing profit potential by having as many seats as possible in the front, but this was overkill. I felt like I was climbing over intimate parties and there was no other option.
If the atmosphere is worth a visit, then the bar program will convince you to return. Ian Hummel — a 26-year-old from Glen Rock, Pa., looking to move to Baltimore in the future — brews beer for the pub onsite. In 2013, he studied beer making in Berlin, Germany, and now expects to produce about 11,000 gallons of beer in his first year, he said. Ian Hummel currently brews during non-operating hours.
There are six taps, with three designated for Brew House beers. On my visit, I found all three options ($5.50 each) easily drinkable, with enough flavor and body to appease craft lovers. The Brew House No. 16 Autumn Amber has a rich red color, and finishes on a pleasant sweet note, while the mellow Wheat Whit seemed suited as a fine anytime beer. My favorite was the dark Espresso Porter, which had a rich coffee flavor that didn't linger longer than necessary.
The cocktails were the night's biggest surprise. If I could only choose one drink from Brew House again — beer included — it would be the Gimme a Beet ($10), which Ian Hummel said is already a neighborhood favorite. Its ingredient list (Barr Hill gin, beet juice, ginger beer, ginger syrup and lemon) screams summer but it was so light and delicious that it can work at all times of the year. And this is coming from a guy who does not normally enjoy beets. (Just ask my mom; she has stories.)
I expected the Orange Mustache ($9) to be toothache sweet given its components (Bulliet bourbon, orange liqueur, sour, clove, egg whites, orange bitters and burnt orange zest). But no, it tasted like a relative of the Manhattan family — soothing and meant to be enjoyed unhurried. The best sips came as the ice melted and the citrus became slightly muted.
The lone misstep was a cocktail called Bear Attack ($8), which is made with merlot, brandy, orange and lemon zest, honey, clove, anise, cardamom and ginger syrup. It came steaming hot in a coffee mug, and tasted like microwaved wine and little else. Among four of us, no one was interested in finishing it.
Judging the night as a whole, the Bear Attack truly felt like a hiccup — a minor lapse that was quickly forgotten. Our two bartenders were in constant motion, but never failed to check in on us or to supply us with a detail about the place or product. They were amiable and made sure our glasses never sat empty for long, if ever.
I've heard from friends and co-workers that Brew House has been consistently packed since it opened, and Ian Hummel said recently that Mount Vernon has responded positively. He has noticed repeat customers coming in multiple times a week, and they often bring new friends who've yet to see it.
I understood the feeling completely, and imagined I would do the same soon.