From left, Steve Bashore, director of historic trades at Mt. Vernon, volunteer Dean Leister and John Boag, master wheelwright at Williamsburg, work on getting the millstone in place before putting the Shriver Grist Mill into operation at Union Mills Homestead on Wednesday, August 21. Barley was ground through the histortic mill to be used by local brewers for a beer for the microbrewery festival at the end of September.
From left, Steve Bashore, director of historic trades at Mt. Vernon, volunteer Dean Leister and John Boag, master wheelwright at Williamsburg, work on getting the millstone in place before putting the Shriver Grist Mill into operation at Union Mills Homestead on Wednesday, August 21. Barley was ground through the histortic mill to be used by local brewers for a beer for the microbrewery festival at the end of September. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

It was starting to get a little stuffy in the Union Mills Homestead mill building by late Wednesday morning, as the sun beat down outside, but the men working on the mill floor were more focused on the 2,400-pound millstone they were maneuvering, using a wooden crane, than the temperature. The plan was to seat the doughnut-shaped stone against another set in the wooden deck, let loose the water from Big Pipe Creek to turn the mills water mill, its gears, the stone and grind some barely malt.

But after 20 minutes of pounding and adjusting and tweaking, threading the stone up and down the massive iron screw controlling the elevation of the crane, the suspended stone just wouldn’t line up with the stone in the floor.

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That’s when the loud “snap” sound shot through the air, and straight to the adrenal glands of everyone present.

“That’ll stop your heart,” said John Boag, a former miller and now the wheelwright at Colonial Williamsburg, where he makes everything from wheelbarrows to carriages.

The snap was just a slight shifting in the iron and wood equipment, and a necessary one, as the stones were soon set together, and with the exception a few other alignment difficulties involving a grain hopper and shoe, made ready to grind some barley.

“Always when there’s an audience,” said Steve Bashore, also a miller and the director of historical trades at Mount Vernon. “The problem’s today we’re just getting some stuff calibrated,” he said, noting even Boag hadn’t run the mill at Union Mills in many years and they needed to relearn its idiosyncrasies.

“Just like you would maybe if you got in a car that you didn’t know and everything’s different," Bashore said. "Or if you’re driving on the other side of the road in England.”

Bashore was there because of Boag and Boag was there because the Union Mills Homestead Foundation had asked him to come up, in part to consider rejoining the homestead as it’s new miller.

“John was a our first miller here at Union Mills. He was here two years and has been at Colonial Williamsburg ever since,” said Sam Riley, president of the foundation. “He’s going to be retiring from Williamsburg and coming back to the area.”

But Boag was also there for a specific task: To grind malted barley to go into a special beer, a collaboration between brewers George Humbert of Pub Dog and Jay Lampert, of Johanssons Dining House, to be released during Carroll County Beer week and poured at the Maryland Microbrewery Festival at the homestead in late September.

“When I was here originally, we did corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat. The microbrew, homebrew phenomenon really hadn’t started yet, so this is all new to me,” Boag said. “That’s why I’m bringing Steve in, because at Mount Vernon they have a distillery, so he grinds a lot of malts for his whiskey distilling. But he also is doing a lot of work with beer as well.”

“We are using this little run today for this product for beer week as an opportunity to start afresh and compare with what we do to what Mount Vernon does,” Riley added. “This has collaboration all over it and the beer itself is a collaboration.”

Pretty soon the mill is clacking, the water rushing, the stone grinding and the smell of heated grain fills the air.

“I love the smell of barley,” Bashore said. “Barley is my favorite grain.”

The fifth annual Carroll County Beer Week will kick off Monday, Sept. 23, and run through Saturday, Sept. 28, when the 14th annual Maryland Microbrewery Festival comes to Union Mills. For each of the five years beer week has been around, Humbert and Lampart have been brewing a special beer.

“We collaborate on a beer that is brewed at Johanssons and we try to brew a different beer each year and we try to showcase local ingredients,” Humbert said. “This year we came up with doing a hazy style, actually a New England style IPA. We got some local hops from Big Truck Farms, which is up in Parkton, Maryland. And then we also got some local malt from Dark Cloud malting,” from Cooksville, in Howard County.

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Unfortunately, Humbert said, the barley ground at the homestead on Wednesday will not make it into beer they are brewing for beer week — due to the timing of the events, they had to start brewing that beer on Monday, unbeknownst to the millers at the time.

“However, I’m going to be using that Dark Cloud malt in a local malt and hop IPA that I’m brewing here at Pub Dog,” he said. “It’s 50/50 if it will be available for Carroll Beer Week or not. It’s just a timing thing. It typically takes about four weeks to produce a batch of beer.”

The beer week beer will be unveiled twice.

“The first will be at the opening, the kick off event, which will be at Maggie’s on Monday night. We will be doing a cask conditioned version, which is the way they serve beer in England; naturally carbonated in a small cask,” Humbert said. “Then the draft version will be tapped at Johanssons the following night.”

Both beers will use local hops, and so beer fans may have an additional week of limited run local beers to taste, with the Pub Dog brew having that tie-in to a historic stone mill.

And while both Bashore and Humbert noted there is no appreciable advantage in the brewing process for historic stone ground malts, there is a certain romanticism.

“What’s neat here is to tie the present, this resurgence in brewing and distilling, right to the past because people in the distilling industry forget the mills today,” Bashore said. “I think it provides the story of the past while you’re the drinking beer of the future right here in the present.”

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