Co-owners of Brewery Fire, Biz Challenge finalist, want to provide positive force in Carroll

Dave Palmer and Jesse Johnson are Brewery Fire. Here they talk about their New England IPA and how it's made.

Upon entering the tasting room visitors would cross an acid-washed concrete floor and see Edison bulbs hanging from the ceilings, casting a warm, dim glow.

Guests enjoying brews named The Executor, Speaker for the Red or Penitent Pils Shall Pass will sit around large spools of electric wire converted into tables — smoothed, stained and lacquered, “so you could see yourself,” said one half of the Brewery Fire team, Jesse Johnson, this week.


Others would sit at a bar with a thick, wooden top and aluminum or tin siding, he said.

Johnson and fellow home-brewer Dave Palmer painted the vision they have for their microbrewery while preparing a batch of their New England IPA in mid-July behind Palmer’s Westminster home. The two described their process and their dream over the purr of machinery and whir of a fan that offered mild respite from the summer heat.


“When you walk through the doors of Brewery Fire, we want you to go: ‘Ahhh, this is comfortable. This is a place I want to be,’ ” Palmer said.

Brewery Fire is one of the five finalists of the 2018 Carroll Biz Challenge, sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

The challenge is an annual tradition in Carroll County, and offers local entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their new business ideas, make connections, get publicity, and compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars worth of additional prizes and services.

Johnson used to play the popular video game World of Warcraft with Palmer’s wife Holly, before meeting Palmer himself.

The idea to join forces and strengthen their home-brewing skills came when Johnson, whose father, Doug, is the pastor at Harvest Church in Hampstead, decided to reach out to his fellow congregation members to start a men’s brewing group.

Palmer’s wife replied stating that her husband is a brewer and would love to join.

And the two have more than brewing beer in common.

Brewery Fire’s beers are named after various fantasy and science-fiction books, with a heavy emphasis on J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis references. Johnson has tattooed a sleeve on his left arm with artwork from Lewis’ books, and said the New England IPA they were brewing that afternoon was going to be named Eagle and Child — after the bar where their two favorite writers met.

The county’s zoning code now includes a roadmap to aid farm alcohol producers, including breweries, wineries and distilleries. Starting 45 days after the Board of County Commissioners approved the changes,  sometime in mid-June,  the zoning code will for the first time give farm alcohol producer..

“[Eagle and Child] is a pub near Oxford University where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien hung out,” Johnson said. “They swapped stories back and forth after World War II, and Tolkien converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity.

“We pull on that reference pretty heavily,” he said. “I think it was pretty formative for both of us.”

If the duo approves of the recipe, it will become one of its six year-round offerings when Brewery Fire’s tasting room opens.

Other staples include their Stone Table Stout, a nitro milk stout, referencing Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series — specifically the scene where the main character, Aslan, the Great Lion, is sacrificed on a stone table.


Before brewing the stout, Palmer said they were just having fun and seeing what they could experiment with. Once he brewed the stout, his perspective on their hobby began to change.

This Saturday sees the return of the return of smoke and suds to downtown Westminster, with third annual BBQ Stroll scheduled to bring at least eight barbecue vendors, a dozen breweries and wineries and distilleries out taste people on their wares.

“That’s the beer that gave me the confidence to say I knew what I was doing,” he said. “I’d only brewed hoppy beers until I made the milk stout, and when I made a milk stout I was like, ‘Okay, it’s not just that hops are tasty. I actually know what I'm doing.’ ”

Brewery Fire’s beers also reference “Lord of the Rings,” “Ender’s Game,” “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” and can be found with their flavor profiles on http://untappd.com or through the Untappd app.

But aside from being the only brewery in the challenge — and one that uses only science-fiction and fantasy references when naming their products — Palmer and Johnson are also unique in the sense that they do not have their business off the ground yet.

Because of alcohol regulations in Maryland, they are unable to sell their product until they get proper federal and state licensing, and therefore unable to make money to create more.

The only way Brewery Fire can profit from their craft beer is through Brewer’s Association of Maryland. Palmer and Johnson joined so they can benefit from the organization’s startup assistance services — one of which is the ability to sell beer at BAM events.

According to BAM, brewers must have local planning and zoning approval for their brewing site, a Federal Brewery Permit and State of Maryland Manufacturing license to be able to legally sell their products on their own.

Planning and zoning approval for their Carroll County brewery, however, is not as easy as it sounds.

Johnson and Palmer started planning their business in January of 2017, and said they had no idea then that the hardest part of the process would be finding a suitable location for their tap room — as breweries in Carroll must be in areas zoned industrial, not in commercial downtown areas.

“The county zoning is very limited on where you can put a brewery,” said Palmer. “It’s probably the smallest percentage of the county is zoned for brewing, and most of those place are like, heavy industry. It’s the kind of place where you might see a junkyard.

The county is currently performing a comprehensive rezoning update to its codes, and Zoning Administrator Jay Voight said brewery zoning regulations are one topic the county is working on changing — but that could take up to two years.

An update to Carroll’s zoning code that now gives farm alcohol producers a designation for exactly what they do and makes clear what the county requires of them opens the door for more agri-tourism businesses like farm breweries, wineries and distilleries to take root in Carroll County.

Brewery Fire is currently checking out locations in Westminster and Taneytown, in areas where a microbrewery is allowed, with hopes to win the $5,000 Biz Challenge prize and unveil their proposed location in September.

Palmer and Johnson have also started talking with local agricultural businesses about future partnerships.

“Agriculture is such a huge part of Carroll County, and really, at the heart of brewing is agriculture,’ Palmer said, “because you need farmers to make grain, you need wheat and barley.”

Candi Durham of Clayton Farms in Hampstead said the idea of partnering with local brewers like Palmer and Johnson and breweries opens up exciting possibilities.

“I think it could really be a great partnership,” she said. “I know for us as organic farmers, I know there are a growing variety of organic beers with hops that's haven't been treated with anything, so it’s a great possible partnership. Perhaps we could start growing the hops that would supply some of the breweries.”

Palmer and Johnson said they’ve also discussed purchasing produce from local farm brewer Henry Ruhlman, and coffee from local roasters — so they could use their coffee for certain brews and provide nitro coffee in return.


“We want other businesses to do well,” said Johnson. “And we want everything to be symbiotic. We learned — it’s very general — but the rising tide raises all ships.”


Brewery Fire can be found on their self-titled Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun