Microbrewing in Annapolis


What's all that noisy work going on at Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis? The birth pangs of the state capital's first microbrewery, of course.

If everything goes as scheduled, a three-ton copper brewhouse will be lifted by a crane sometime this spring. The first batch of suds ought to be ready to be tasted by mid-summer.

"Initially, we want to find out what the consumer wants. We'll do that formula-tweaking for a year or two," says Allen Young, the brewmaster.

He is a good example of what's going on in the world of beers. Originally from Annapolis, Brewmaster Young has ridden the crest of the microbrewery revolution, which is changing America's beer drinking habits more than anything since the days of Prohibition.

After decades of ownership concentration and brand consolidation which threatened to leave the nation with just a handful of giant labels, microbreweries are growing so fast a new one is opening every 10 days. They account for only 1 percent of beer consumption, but because they are pricey, they often are extremely profitable.

No wonder such beer conglomerates as Coors, Miller's (Philip Morris) and Anheuser-Busch now also are moving into high-priced boutique beers (and masking their own identification, so as not to frighten off the more discriminating beer drinker.)

"The consumer is after more full-flavored beers," says Mr. Young, who came back to Annapolis from Columbus, Ohio, which has six microbreweries, all struggling to keep up with heavy demand.

When the Ram's Head Tavern annex is opened, passers-by on West Street will be able to see the gleaming copper vats through a window. To provide a similar view for patrons inside, a wall will be removed as part of an expansion that will add 110 seats and a new kitchen to the watering hole.

The completed Ram's Head Tavern should be a showplace. A German firm, Beraplan Hart GMBH, will use it as a working exhibit to demonstrate to potential owners of microbreweries its state-of-the-art equipment. The brewhouse it is building for the Annapolis tavern will be shipped first to the National Microbrewery Show in Austin, Texas, in April.

We're not in the business of promoting beer-drinking. However, the microbrewery revolution has some potent economic implications. Because it will provide jobs, cash flow and some "return to basics" ambience, the Annapolis brewery should be good for the capital city.

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