Long before the establishment of cheap, readily available beer, many Carroll families brewed their own ales in the home, generally led by housewives while their husbands were away at work, according to Melinda Byrd, of the Midnight Homebrewers' League, a Carroll County-based group of homebrewers.
Saturday, these early brewers, and those who have followed their lead in the years since, will be celebrated at the Historical Society of Carroll County's Hops in History event which will feature historic brewing techniques, beer tastings, a lecture from "Brewing in Baltimore" author Maureen O'Prey and a screening of "Brewmore Baltimore," a documentary on beer culture in Maryland.
Fred Teeter, executive director of the Historical Society, said the event was developed as a way to encourage people who might not otherwise make it out to the Historical Society to check out their collection of items and learn about county history.
"It's designed to be an educational program with a lot of fun mixed in, unlike Oktoberfest or other microbrew festivals which are more about trying out the different beers," Teeter said. "Our main focus is to provide folks with a fun, educational experience, with presentations about early beer brewing in the mid-Atlantic and the history of brewing from the early 1800s to the modern day."
Teeter said the event will focus on the history of brewing in Carroll County, with a walking tour of the location of Westminster's first brew house, just a few blocks from the Historical Society building. Teeter said Carroll is just one part of a larger resurgence of interest in brewing.
"All across America, homebrewing has taken off as a neat entrepreneurial enterprise that nearly anyone can do," Teeter said. "Maryland has turned into a neat homebrew state."
Byrd, who began homebrewing more than 20 years ago, said the hobby used to be less pronounced in the popular culture.
"I became interested in a time when all of the really good microbrews were coming out," Byrd said. "I found I was buying them and not drinking any of the more traditional lagers. Since they were so expensive, I decided to try my hand at it. A homebrewer can take any recipe and make any style and ad lib to make something new."
The Midnight Homebrewers' League is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Byrd said she was there from the very beginning.
"I was at the former Pennsylvania Dutch Market, and there was a booth of a man who sold homebrews," Byrd said. "Every time I'd go in, he'd introduce me to someone else. There were very few people brewing in those days. Eventually about six of us got together to taste and brew together and talk about beer and people across all interests and walks of life."
In the intervening 20 years, the league has grown from those six to nearly 100 members.
"It's real refreshing to have that camaraderie that formed around beer, but there was more to it than that," Byrd said. "When you're holding a glass in your hand, it leads you to more interesting and bigger and better conversations about life. It's not just about drinking, it's about the friendship that develops."
Fred Squires, who will be demonstrating beer making at the event, said he began brewing with a Mr. Beer set nearly 10 years ago. He said people seem to just have a fascination with beer-making.
"People find the process interesting. It's a cool way to make what you like," Squires said. "You just follow your own tastes. I started out really liking Dogfish Head and trying to capture that. Since then, I've branched out into making anything and everything. I've even used the blackberries in my backyard."
Byrd said one of the most interesting things about Carroll homebrewers is the sense of experimentation that runs throughout the group.
"I think what's most special is the diversity of the beer here," Byrd said. "If you go to a tasting, there are 30 different styles of beer with everyone trying something different. People like to make things that nobody's tried before."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or email@example.com.
If You Go
Hops in History
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Historical Society Campus, 210 East Main Street, Westminster
Cost: $38 per person
For more information: Visit http://www.hsccmd.org or call 410-848-6494.