After months of anticipation, Taneytown’s Brewery Fire taproom opened its doors Friday afternoon, and the new pub in the corner of the bowling alley building promptly filled with patrons ready to sample a pint and take in the sci-fi- and fantasy-inspired artwork on the walls.
By 4 p.m., the line to the bar had backed people’s backsides against the glass front doors, more than 40 people filled the space inside, and owners Dave Palmer and Jesse Johnson were too swamped to talk as they worked the taps and took orders.
“Not a good time,” they said cheerfully and in unison.
Brewery Fire is the latest in what had been a slow swell of craft breweries and pubs to open in Carroll County, from the pioneering “microbrewery” at Johannsson’s Dining House in Westminster that dates back to the 1990s, to the more recent additions of Pub Dog, also in Westminster, and the Ruhlman Brewing Co. farm brewery in Hampstead. But that swell is now cresting, with three other new breweries planning to open taproom locations in the next few months, from 1623 Brewing Company, which now plans to open in Eldersburg by late October, to Flood Zone in Union Bridge and Pipe the Side in Hampstead, both of which could be open by year’s end.
As local businesses, the brew pubs thrill Mike McMullin, president of the of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s good for tourism, for business, for the community. A great place to gather — the chamber loves supporting local businesses,” he said, though admitting extra pleasure at the Brewery Fire opening. “They were our Carroll Biz Challenge winner in 2018.”
It was a hard road from Biz Challenge to opening, Johnson expressed in an interview in late August, but his excitement was building ahead of the 13th.
“It’s like, holy cow, this is actually happening,” he said.
On Friday it really was happening, with customers tasting through the menu filled with brews inspired by sci-fi and fantasy, to match the decor — Palmer and Johnson are self-described “nerds” — like the Fool of a Took imperial stout, Executor IPA and Episode One Doesn’t Count pale ale. Those outside at the picnic tables out back could gaze at a massive wall mural that includes nods to “Dune,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Terminator.”
“We’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes calling stuff out,” said Alexis Mueller of Westminster. “It’s a nice conversational piece to get people talking.”
Mueller had been waiting for Brewery Fire to open, she said, and so Friday seemed like a good opportunity to check it out with some of her co-workers. It’s the type of place she said can appeal to younger professionals like herself in Carroll County.
“I think it’s something that gives the young generation, new generation, our generation, something to go to,” she said. “That’s what we are: We’re not an Applebee’s bar type of people.”
That being said, it wasn’t just young professionals who came out for Brewery Fire’s first afternoon.
“There are 444 houses in Carroll Vista. We were the first ones in the door, that’s how these old people are,” said Carol Palmer, a resident of the 55-plus Carroll Vista community who sat inside with table full of other residents. “We need this. You know Flick’s is the only game in town to get a beer.”
That’s the idea, Johnson said.
“Our goal is really to have a place where the working person can come in and hopefully have a good beer and a good experience in a cool place,” he said. “Something for people to look forward to.”
Flood Zone Brewery in Union Bridge will be a slightly different type of project, a brewery and tap room paired with a marketplace inside of a former hardware store, according to Beth Stambaugh, who owns the project along with her husband Jerry.
“It’s a brewery on one side, and we’re calling it a marketplace on the other side. It’s hard to describe, but when you come in for a visit you will see and understand how we are able to do this,” she said, noting there are already vendors lined up for the marketplace side. “Like Lucy’s little red wagon. She has been selling produce out in the parking lot all summer long. She will be inside and expanding her produce wagon to have other things.”
The Stambaughs are coming at the brewery business from a different angle as well, following more of a vision for repurposing the property they bought in fall 2018 than a dream of converting a homebrewing hobby into a community business — Jerry’s niece’s husband has been hired to handle the brewing.
“We always thought, gosh, wouldn’t that place make a nice large marketplace of some sort?” Beth said. “We bought the building in September and we started the demo work in November.”
Jerry has been doing much of the work on the building himself, according to Beth, and they are both exhausted, but have been encouraged by the support of the community.
“The townspeople, the mayor, everybody is so excited about this,” she said. “We have not gotten one negative anything. And the inspectors in Carroll County, they’re so helpful.”
At this point, Beth said, the plan is to move in brewery equipment by sometime in October and start brewing, and then open both the brewery and marketplace soon after.
“Maybe, maybe December, for an opening,” she said. “This is what we’re hoping for.”
Pipe the Side
Pipe the Side Brewing Company and taproom, which is coming to Hampstead, takes its name from the last line of the poem, “The Watch,” by William Whiting: “Boatswain...Standby to pipe the side...Shipmate’s going Ashore!”
Pipe the Side was born out of owners Tim Eckles Sr. and Carol Gorsuch’s love of craft beer, but also tragedy: On Aug. 21, 2017, Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Eckels Jr.'s ship, the destroyer USS John S. McCain, collided with a merchant vessel near Singapore. The 23-year-old died in the crash.
The tragedy put things in perspective for Eckles Sr. and Gorsuch, and left them determined to make of it something positive.
“You never really know how long you have really to do something you want to do with the rest of your life,” Eckles Sr. said, noting that the taproom itself will feature things Eckles Jr. loved, such as skateboarding and music.
That spirit of tribute will carry over to the beer menu.
“The flagship is going to be a throwback to Timmy. We’re going to call it The Swim Call, which is an exercise they do in the Navy where they literally jump off the side of a destroyer into the ocean,” Eckles Sr. said. “A basic West Coast-style pale ale.”
The taproom, planned for 721 Hanover Pike, will also feature a wide array of other beers, from the Speaking with the Ghost rye ale to the milkshake IPA, I Ate My Glue Stick.
“We also like to do the research on the historic beer styles, some of the pre-Prohibition beer styles, because we think there is a market for that; there is a beer style called the Kentucky common, which is a brown cream ale,” Eckles Sr. said. “The history is something we try to embrace and we’re constantly reading on the topic.”
Still working on obtaining all their necessary licenses, Pipe the Side isn’t selling beer yet, but Eckles Sr. and Gorsuch have been giving samples away at the Hampstead and Sykesville farmer’s market.
And although they have not started construction yet, “We think late this year is probably still doable because the space isn’t that big,” Eckle Sr. said. “But you know we’re probably talking late November, early December.”
If that’s the case, he said, they will probably hold a series of soft opens on weekends late in the year and hold a grand opening early in 2020.
Back to the ‘Fire’
Brewery Fire, for that matter, hasn’t had its grand opening yet either: That will be on Sept. 27.
But with so many new breweries set to open in the county, is the competition getting too thick? How many brewpubs can a county support anyway?
“There is a point of market saturation, but Carroll County, at this point, is probably years from that,” Brewery Fire’s Johnson said, noting that all the brewery people know and hang out with one another, and support their successes.
Latest Carroll County News
“It’s one of those industries where kind of everybody is fighting ‘Big Beer,’ so to speak. In our minds, fighting the man.”