Year of good news highlights Baltimore's rich beer history

Baltimoreans like their beer, and so far it's been a good year.

My colleague Erik Maza, who keeps his eye on the local brew scene, has been the bearer of malty good news.

He has written about the Heavy Seas Alehouse, which opened earlier this year — the first new bar of 2012 — and the glasses of Heavy Seas Beer, Peg Leg Imperial Stout and Pale Ale that flow from its taps.

Several weeks ago, he reported that the Peabody Heights Brewery set to open in Waverly will be the city's first large-scale brewery operation to get under way in more than three decades.

While sentimentalists have applauded the return of National Bohemian from the beer graveyard, they now patiently await for the triumphal return of fabled National Premium — the upscale sister beer to Natty Boh that was also brewed by the National Brewing Co. — rumored to be making its debut this month.

Late last year, Maureen O'Prey, who teaches history at the Community College of Baltimore County, published her book, "Brewing in Baltimore."

And now, it was been joined by a second entertaining and informative sudsy history of the Baltimore brewing scene, "Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing," which resulted from a collaboration of two former Baltimore Sun staffers, columnist Rob Kasper and photographer Jim Burger, and was published several weeks ago.

While both histories cover essentially the same ground, there are differences.

Kasper and Burger were joined in their efforts by Joseph C. Trabert Jr., known as "Turkey Joe," who had been the proprietor of Turkey Joe's, a popular watering hole in the 700 block of S. Broadway from the early 1970s to 1980. Turkey Joe is a serious collector of what is call breweriana —specifically related to Baltimore and Maryland.

Famed Oriole slugger Boog Powell, the Camden Yards barbecue king, in a charmingly written introduction admits right away that he knows "a little something about beer."

It's no surprise that Baltimore's first manufacturing industry was a brewery, and that honor goes to John Leonard Barnitz, a German immigrant who established his brewery at Hanover and Baltimore streets, not far from the Jones Falls, in 1748.

Two hundred and sixty-four years later, and the industry is as healthy as ever, largely due to the craft beer movement that is firmly rooted in the city and environs, and filled the vacuum after the old-line brewers closed up or saw their beers sold to out-of-town brewers who eventually stopped producing them.

I'll never forgive Theo DeGroen for closing his Baltimore Brewing Co. at Albemarle and Lombard streets. In 2005, he packed off for Germany and took away the chilled brown growlers of the best Marzen seen this side of the Rhine.

Kasper, who knows a thing or two about beer as a home brewer and an enthusiastic consumer, said in an interview the other day that he learned a great deal about the history of brewing in Baltimore.

"Beer is a touchstone of Baltimore's character," he said. "I discovered researching the book how deep the German roots were — I sort of knew it — but I learned how brewers such as the Baurenschmidts and the Wiessners had intermarried, and the role of the Zion Lutheran Church, the brewers' church, and how strong the culture was that it produced.

"And the beer gardens such as Darley Park — writer H.L. Mencken's favorite — were part of the family culture. That was very striking to me," he said. "Also, they were committed and connected to the community. They gave money to hospitals, for instance. They just didn't come in to use the community, they were a part of it."

Kasper also said that Baltimoreans were reflective of "product loyalty."

"It's a sense of place and loyalty to a particular beer. There is also another thread between the new brewers of today and the old, that they are all family-based," he said. "And there is continuity of beer making ... in the city."

Because I'm a fan of vintage advertising, I particularly drank in the chapter, "Advertising: It's All in the Jingle."

Burger's color photographs of beer advertising and the colorful outdoor beer lights that hung over the doorways of corner taverns and saloons are simply stunning.

Kasper told me that beer was always marketed to the male side of the population, and on page 98 is a sultry picture of a beer maiden.

It was enjoyable reading about how ad genius Herb Fried, of W.B. Doner, and Brod Doner came to settle on the "Land of Pleasant Living" slogan in the 1950s. Once a beer ad, it has become a slogan that describes life in Maryland.

Fried told Kasper that the National Brewing Co. ad account brought in $3 million to $4 million a year.

"Beer campaigns made this agency," he said.

Those of you who are interested in collecting Baltimore breweriana will especially find Turkey Joe's guide and suggestions useful.

I also enjoyed the beer and food chapter, which resurrected recipes that can be made with Baltimore brews.

And as Mencken wrote, beer goes with everything, and that's why he liked it.

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