With the craft-beer industry continuing to grow, plenty of aspiring brewers have fantasies of becoming the next upstart brand to take a big bite out of the market.
The four friends behind Suspended Brewing Company, a new business that signed a lease at 912 Washington Blvd. in Pigtown two weeks ago, have a more modest vision. They want to create a business known for treating people well — not just customers but employees, too — and minimizing its impact on the environment. They are unabashedly driven by their ideals.
President Yasmin Karimian, a Baltimore native currently living in Washington, said other craft-beer companies with similar attitudes inspired Suspended.
"What we're wondering, and what we've seen in the craft-brewery world, is, can we not focus on the bottom line and instead focus on these values, and still do well as a company?" Karimian said on the phone Tuesday.
They will find out in Pigtown, where Suspended — which also includes brewer Josey Schwartz ("my sweetie," Kariman said), Yasmin's brother Amir Karimian, and Stevo Karolenko — just signed a five-year lease, Karimian said.
Even the brewery's name reflects their community-building approach to business. While thinking of names for the company, Karimian came across an NPR article about a long-standing Italian tradition called caffe sospeso, or "suspended coffee." It's a pay-it-forward move where a customer buys a cup of coffee in advance for someone who can't afford it. The hope is that a similar warmth will permeate into everything Suspended does.
"We're hoping when people come in, they have an amazing experience, and we can have conversations, that we can be a community place for people to come in," Karimian said.
She declined to provide an estimate of when Suspended hopes to open, but said they are working with a local architect in designing how to transform the approximately 3,000 square-foot space. Right now, it still looks like its last tenant — a church that includes a theater room with a small stage.
"Originally, we wanted a warehouse space, like a lot of breweries," she said. "But when we saw this space, we thought we could do something really unique with it."
The goal is to get the brewery up and running "as soon as possible," Karimian said, but Suspended still has to go through the permitting process with the city.
While it will be some time before Suspended's brewery and taproom are open, attendees of this weekend's 50th anniversary for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will be able to taste Suspended's first beer produced for the public, Grits & Greatness: An Honor Ale. (All four members of Suspended's team are recent UMBC alumni.)
Schwartz, a Germantown resident, brewed the beer at Rockville's 7 Locks Brewery, though they aren't technically contract brewing there, Karimian said.
Suspended won't brew beer again until the Pigtown facility is up and running, she said, but the company has already mapped out its first releases. There will be a New England-style IPA called Dirty Wishes, an American IPA called Uncommon Sense, an imperial stout called Imperial Surprise, and Sour Persian, an American sour-mashed ale with fruit added.
Suspended will only produce 20 kegs at a time, and aims to produce approximately 500 barrels of beer next year, Karimian said. Keeping production small will allow Suspended to try "funkier" styles of beer. (Expect IPAs and sours that aren't afraid to challenge drinkers.) If the beers don't work out, Suspended won't feel as bad moving on from a failed experiment.
"If the beer is bad, we're not going to serve it. We're not brewing at massive levels so we're able to dump a beer," she said.