In early March, Yasmin Karimian and Josey Schwartz opened Suspended Brewing Co. in Pigtown. (Jay Reed / Baltimore Sun video)
On a recent Friday afternoon, the owners of Pigtown’s only brewery took a break from brewing and cleaning — preparations for a busy weekend. Soon after, a couple wandered in, unaware the facility wasn’t open.
During a handful of visits to Suspended Brewing Co. during off-hours, I’ve witnessed this exact scene: Intrigued passersby knock on the window, or find a way inside, only to learn they’ll have to come back another time. It’s a reflection of Pigtown’s thirst for a craft-beer hangout, and the reality that, for now, the brewery is only open to the public 14 hours per week, split between Saturdays and Sundays.
Before first opening, “that’s what kept us going, the number of neighbors that would stop by,” said co-owner Yasmin Karimian. “We’re definitely going to expand our days into a few weeknights. … We just want to make sure we’re doing everything right.”
Karimian and co-owner and brewer Josey Schwartz aim to play the slow game now in hopes of greater benefits later. Despite limited hours, Suspended has been off to a strong start since opening in early March — with crowds coming to the modest facility for events, before Orioles games and just to sip on beers like a sour cherry Hefeweizen and a Double India Pale Ale called Electric Ocean.
With an abundance of reclaimed wood used throughout the 3,000-square-foot space, Suspended’s taproom looks contemporary, and operates that way, too. They use eco-friendly sanitation products for cleaning, and donate brewing byproducts to local pig farms for feed and the community garden Pigtown Food for Thought for compost, according to Karimian.
But the space is low on frills, too, according to the preference of the staff (which also includes Karimian’s brother, Amir Karimian). They say they’re trying to foster a space built on conversation and personal connections — a throwback to a time before everyone was glued to glowing screens.
“The coolest comment that we’ve gotten from three different people is that we feel like old-school Baltimore,” Karimian said.
A brewery happy to set its own pace, Suspended began its journey in 2012, not long after Schwartz graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. A friend soon introduced him to St. Bernardus Abt 12, a complex abbey ale from Belgium that was a far cry from the domestic light beer he knew.
“I remember holding the glass, and I started smelling it,” said Schwartz, 29. “I went wild for it. I didn’t know beer could be like this.”
The discovery led to home brewing, with Karimian assisting Schwartz. Having dated each other since their days as UMBC students, they began their pursuit of craft-beer careers in a more practical manner.
“It was a way to spend time together,” said Karimian, 28. “Every time we would travel, wherever we were, we would stop at a brewery. Then I really just fell in love with the taproom culture.”
Toward the end of the 2016 summer, the couple’s love of beer turned more serious, when they signed a five-year lease to build a taproom at 912 Washington Blvd. They handled the bulk of the build-out themselves to save money, Karimian said, which took the project longer to complete. On March 3, Suspended finally opened.
While Suspended is only open from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Schwartz spends his other days brewing the beer to be released the following week. Until recently, when Suspended hired Sean Palmateer as lead brewer, the responsibility to make beers lay solely with Schwartz. (Schwartz handles Suspended’s overall brewing operations, while Palmateer executes the day-to-day brewing. Karimian still works full-time as an Amazon compliance manager.)
When Schwartz cut his hand recently and couldn’t brew before an expected busy weekend — the Yankees were in town — they worried if they’d have enough product to get through the weekend.
“We were slammed, and the beer was getting low,” Karimian said. “That’s how small of an operation we are. If one of us is out, it’s really challenging.”
Though they only brew on a five-barrel system, Suspended has managed to release nearly 35 different beers, many of which buck some current craft-beer trends. They brew low-alcohol, or “sessionable,” beers under 4 percent alcohol by volume that still deliver bold flavors, such as a Hefeweizen called Little Love Song. The beer includes key lime puree, and the welcomed result was mellowing rather than cloying.
For Suspended, approachability matters, especially for beer novices who might want a drink that’s more sweet than bitter. So they keep fruit purees behind the bar, and add them to beers they believe complement the flavors.
“We try to keep a diverse menu for the sake of being able to satisfy the most amount of people,” Schwartz said, “but we always do it in a way where we’re excited about it.”
Truthfully, though, the owners say the actual beer isn’t the point of Suspended — an admission that would cause most brewers to chafe. In fact, before settling on beer, they first considered opening a coffee shop. (The name Suspended comes from a pay-it-forward tradition from Italy that translates to “suspended coffee,” where a customer buys two cups, one for herself and one for someone who could use it.)
“We’re not really selling beer as much as we’re selling a set of ideals about how people should be treated, about how a product should be made, how a business should be run,” Schwartz said. “That, for us, is the idea: Treat people well, make a good product.”
Working in a largely white industry (Schwartz is half-Filipino and half-Italian, while Karimian is Iranian), the Woodberry-based couple loves that Suspended adds some diversity to a scene that could use it.
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Earlier this summer, Suspended hosted a Pride event called Tap Into Love that benefited the LGBTQ advocacy organization FreeState Justice and featured works by artist Sabrina Yelverton. Celebratory, rainbow-designed merchandise created for the weekend lined the walls.
“We’re only going to keep growing from it,” Karimian said of hosting the party. “You want to make sure that we put ourselves out there as a values-driven business.”
Aside from eventually expanding the taproom’s hours, including Friday night by the end of the summer, Suspended’s owners said the immediate future will focus on hosting more events and brewing more beer, including, Schwartz said, new collaborations with other local businesses.
While most breweries shift their attention to wider distribution, Suspended’s main goal is to bring more visitors to their facility, and Pigtown in general. They love the neighborhood, and want to convert others to feel the same.
“I travel a lot for work, and I’m getting really tired of hearing people say [bad] things about Baltimore. Pigtown has been nothing but family for us,” Karimian said. “There’s just so many cool things happening right now, so we’re just excited to keep digging into that.”