Scott Laczkowski is not a home-brewer himself, he said. But his passion for craft beer allowed him to come up with an award-winning idea for a beer which will be sold in local restaurants soon.
Laczkowski's Good Hop/Bad Hop Interrogation Ale was created for the 10th anniversary of College Square Liquors in Westminster. He took his idea to George Humbert, the brewmaster and owner of the local DOG Brewing Company. Humbert brought the beer from concept to actuality under DOG Brewing Company's label.
The cedar black IPA the two created won the Brewer's Association of Maryland's annual Governor's Cup for specialty and experimental beer, and also for best in show.
Humbert submitted the beer at the last minute, he said. DOG had finished bottling the beer, so Humbert called Laczkowski to ask if he would mind. DOG Brewing Company won eight awards, between the gold, silver and bronze awards for each of the 13 categories. Humbert said for the past few years, eight awards has been pretty typical.
"We were up against Flying Dog, which probably does 25 times the output Pub DOG does," Laczkowski said.
The 45 cases DOG Brewing Company sold exclusively at College Square Liquors sold out in two months, Laczkowski said. Now DOG Brewing Company is releasing another 100 cases to be sold at College Square Liquors and select restaurants and bars around town. Rafael's Restaurant in Westminster will be carrying the beer, Humbert said.
When coming up with the idea for a cedar black IPA, Laczkowski said he looked to two of his favorite beers, the Yakima Glory, a hoppy beer made by Victory Brewing Company in Downington, Pa., and Jai Alai IPA, a cedar-aged beer from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Fla.
"I didn't want to do one just for the sake of doing one," Laczkowski said. "I wanted to do something kind of over the top and a little unique."
The result? Slight hoppy bitterness, with a little bit of smokiness and cedar spice. The tastes all blend together without overwhelming each other, Laczkowski said. The second batch has been dry hopped twice, Laczkowski said, which is something he's particularly excited about.
Though he belongs to a beer club, Laczkowski's passion for beer does not include home-brewing. That doesn't really affect how he is able to come up with combinations though, he said.
"It's kind of like movie critics who have never done any acting or sports analysts who have never even played a sport," Laczkowski said.
Since creating Good Hop/Bad Hop Interrogation Ale, Laczkowski and Humbert are collaborating with some other ideas Laczkowski has. Next on their list is a sweet potato rye wine, aged in rye whiskey barrels, Laczkowski said.
"We wanted it to be sort of decadent and flavorful and playful," Laczkowski said, while explaining his next beer experiment. "It could just be God awful and we'll have to do something else."
From 2010 until 2011, retail sales of craft beers have gone up 15 percent, according to the Brewer's Association, a trade association that represents independent and small brewers. In an August press release, the Brewer's Association said the first six months of 2012 have seen 14 percent increase in dollar sales.
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"Generally, most craft brewers are continuing to see strong growth in production, sales, brewing capacity and employment, which is to be celebrated during challenged times for many of today's small businesses," said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewer's Association in a release.
Laczowski can attest the popularity of craft beers at College Square Liquors. When he started his job six years ago at the store, the wall which is now lined with ales and IPAs was where they used to put cases of Samuel Adams, Laczowski said.
Humbert agreed the upward trend is toward craft beers. The shop local movement that has hit Main Streets of cities like Westminster has also affected the beer market, Humbert said. People want to try something local and unique. Specialty stores have been popping up for everything from cheeses to cupcakes, and beer has gotten in on the trend.
"Beer is the new wine," Laczowski said.
In 2011, craft brewers represented 9.1 percent of retail sales in the U.S. beer market, according to the Brewer's Association. Laczowski said he enjoys pairing different kinds of beers with different types of food to bring out flavors. Big brands such as MillerCoors created craft beers such as Blue Moon to remain competitive, he said.
Laczowski said he has a list filled with ideas of possible beer combinations, and Humbert is receptive to them. He's more of an idea person, so he said working with Humbert, who is more action oriented, has been a fun local collaboration.
"I was a philosophy major at Towson and everybody asks, 'What do you do with a philosophy major?'" Laczowski said. "Apparently this is it."