Stars and suds: Milkhouse Brewery and Westminster Astronomical Society to host star party with beer

Stars and suds: Milkhouse Brewery and Westminster Astronomical Society to host star party with beer
Douglas Howard of the Westminster Astronomical Society scans the sky through a pair of binoculars looking for comet Pan-STARRS in 2013. The society is hosting a happy hour viewing party at Milkhouse Brewery in Mount Airy on March 15. (DYLAN SLAGLE/Carroll County Times)

Stars and suds is the unofficial theme of an upcoming Westminster Astronomical Society Happy Hour Star Party, because outer space has a tendency to pop up in conversations over a beer or two, according to club founder Curtis Roelle.

“The mind starts to wander and contemplate things,” he said.


From 5 to 9 p.m., on March 15, Roelle along with other club members and a number of telescopes will be on hand at Milkhouse Brewery, at 8253 Dollyhyde Road, Mount Airy. The viewing is free, though the beers are not.

“The idea is just to kind of have a place where people can go for happy hour,” Roelle said. “The merging of two interests people may have on a Friday night, which is going out to relax at a happy hour and while they’re there, take a look at what’s up in the sky.”

It’s the latest in almost two years of typically monthly star parties at the brewery, Maryland’s first farm brewery, according to owner Tom Barse.

“We opened the tasting room in June of 2013, so we are celebrating our sixth year this year,” Barse said. “We grow our own hops on the farm and other ingredients.”

Milkhouse beers are made with almost entirely Maryland ingredients, allowing local tasting while perusing the great beyond a the star party.

“We have a full tasting room so you can get a flight of tasters or you can have a pint of beer and we often have a food truck,” Barse said.

The star parties have been a big success in the past, according to Barse, sometimes drawing as many as 100 people to the farm and brewery.

“These amateur astronomers bring these huge telescopes out, and it’s actually really, very cool. They like to tell about it and we never know what they are going to focus on till they get here,” he said. “Depending on the time of the month and the month and what constellations might be cool, or stars or planets or whatever. Sometimes they just focus on the moon.”

The event on March 15 may focus on the constellation Cassiopeia, but Roelle said the club will also improvise based on the best viewing on a given evening and as the night progresses.

“We always try to get there when we think the moon is at its best visibility because of the features visible on it,” he said. “Other times we often look at our planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars. And once it gets darker, then we go into the more hardcore objects including star clusters, galaxies and nebulae.”

In the summertime, when the sun doesn’t fully set until later, Roelle said the club will place special filters on their scopes for observing the sun.

But given March 15 will be just on the other side of daylight savings time, that event should feature mostly non-solar objects, aided by the brewery’s relatively dark location.

“When you’re, it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re 20 minutes from Frederick, 15 minutes from Mount Airy, 20 minutes to Westminster,” Barse said. “Plus, we’re up on a hill and we turn the outside lights off for them.”

That hill, however, can be breezy, Roelle notes, and those hoping to take in the stars along with their suds should dress appropriately.


“What I find is checking the temperature and deciding what coat I should wear, I usually need to add one more layer,” he said. “If I think I can wear a light jacket, I should probably wear Heavier jacket. If I think I should wear a heavy jacket, maybe I should wear a parka. So one up.”