A behind the scenes look at Hysteria Brewing Company, based in Columbia, MD. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun video)
Jordan Baney, one of the owners of Hysteria Brewing Company, knows the reputation he wants his new beer company to build:
“Avant-garde,” he said last week, seated inside the Columbia taproom and production facility.
But given the evolving tastes of the craft-beer world, Baney remained open-minded when it comes to specifics.
“I wouldn’t have been able to tell you five years ago that we would be making sours, but apparently that’s popular now,” Baney said with a chuckle. “Who knows where it’s going to go? But we’re going to stay on the forefront of that. We’re going to take chances.”
Opened consistently since Labor Day weekend, Hysteria prioritizes creating bold-flavored beers — the type of brews that will impress craft-beer fanatics and brewers, Baney and co-owner Geoff Lopes said. (A third owner, Richard Gue, the homebrewer, was “the one that got us started on this project,” Baney said.) To sell their beers inside the inviting taproom is as good as it gets, according to Baney.
“I don’t want people to come in here just to get drunk,” he said. “I want people to enjoy this thing that we’ve created.”
The road to their own brewery began in late 2011 with the Vapor’s Knoll, a company that manufactures the liquid for electronic cigarettes that the three friends began in Gue’s garage. That company’s eventual financial success — it now has nearly 50 employees, an online shop and a brick-and-mortar store in Pasadena — made Hysteria possible. It also gave them the confidence Hysteria could deliver what customers wanted, they said.
The Columbia beer-drinking community responded enthusiastically — more so than owners expected. Initially opened to the public July 1, the brewery welcomed three times the number of visitors expected. With a depleted inventory, Hysteria closed for two months.
“We got cleaned out that very first weekend,” Lopes said. “It was like, ‘OK, let’s wait and do it right.’ ”
Since reopening in early September, things have gone more smoothly. While Hysteria is still figuring out ways to draw crowds on weekdays (they’ll likely start trivia and game nights, Lopes said), the taproom — which can fit up to 125 people — is typically crowded on weekends, according to owners.
Naturally, they credit the beers.
On this visit, eight Hysteria brews were on tap. Lopes first poured a sample of his current favorite, 10/6, a triple India Pale Ale named after its 10.6 percent alcohol content. The rich, hop-forward beer was full-bodied, but also smooth — and ultimately dangerous. It was not hard to imagine the deceiving alcoholic punch creeping up on customers after a few. Proceed, but with caution.
Another impressive offering was a recent fall addition: Red Rye of Ra, an imperial red ale that converted Lopes from rye-hater to believer. With a striking russet hue, the 8 percent beer wasn’t too dry or bready, and the flavor rounded out nicely. I didn’t get a chance to try the most popular beer, Yellow Sudmarine, but Lopes said the American wheat ale would be back on tap this week.
“That one is just flying,” Lopes said. “It probably appeals to a broader audience than simply the craft-beer drinkers.”
Aside from the beers, Lopes and Baney believe the taproom — a space they designed to promote socializing and community-building — deserves credit for the brewery’s fast start.
Aiming to avoid a sports-bar feel, ownership has created a cozy space next to the 20-barrel fermenters, bright tanks and other production equipment. The picnic-table-style seating was a deliberate attempt to “try and push people together” who might not already know one another. It’s not surprising they host monthly yoga sessions here.
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With a vinyl record player and a take-a-book-leave-a-book library with titles by Agatha Christie and John Steinbeck, the area feels more coffee shop than taproom, which is fine by Baney. Years ago, he spent too much time in loud downtown Baltimore bars that never fit his style.
“It was not my scene,” he said. “I just wanted to have some beers, and chill with my friends. I hope that we’ve created that place.”
With the taproom and facility in full swing, Hysteria is focused on expanding its reach. Drafts of the partners’ beer are already served in approximately 50 bars and restaurants around the area, and they hope to soon sign a distribution deal that will take Hysteria all over Maryland. Next year, they aim to begin selling cans (they currently offer take-home growlers), Lopes said.
Beyond canning, Hysteria is keeping its options open. Even as it expands, the owners said serving the Columbia community matters most. They plan to get feedback from visitors on what’s working and what’s not, and adjust from there.
“That’s always been our philosophy, even with vaping,” Baney said.“Our intent is not to create a product and invest a lot of money into marketing to make people like it. It’s to find out what people like, and give it to them.”