Plans for microbrewery in full swing


A 6,000-pound beer brewing machine lurched and swayed in midair for more than an hour yesterday before finally coming to rest inside what will become the state capital's first microbrewery.

Workers raised and lowered the large copper brewing kettles three times before finding the right fit through a hole in the roof of the Ram's Head Tavern's microbrewery, now under construction on West Street in Annapolis.

"I don't want to be under that thing if it falls," said John Jennings, a Ram's Head cook, as he ran into the street and out of the range of the large contraption known as a brewhouse.

But some beer lovers couldn't get close enough. Allen D. Young, an Annapolis native who will be the city's first modern brewmaster, didn't even cower at the thought of death by beer vat.

"There could be worse ways to go," he said as he eyed the German-made apparatus hovering 30 feet over his head.

The Ram's Head, which plans to open its microbrewery in an annex next door to the restaurant by mid-August, is the latest tavern to try to capitalize on the microbrewery craze. In Baltimore alone, Sisson's, Baltimore Brewing Co., Brimstone Brewing Co. and the Wharf Rat draw regular crowds with their homemade brews.

Microbreweries contend that their beers are fresher and more full-bodied than the big-name brands. But with 53 different kinds microbrews already for sale at the Ram's Head alone, competition is fierce.

Ram's Head claims that its brewery will be more high-tech than any other in Maryland.

The brewing equipment is fully computerized, processing exactly the same amount of each ingredient -- be it mash or boiled wort -- at precise intervals. The machinery's valves, pumps and gauges have names like "pneumatic actuator," "psi valve" and "bar meter," whose function is a lot more complicated than its name might suggest.

Mr. Young, the brewer, took lessons on the German system from a Czech engineer at an Austrian brewery earlier this spring. On June 22, a German brewmaster and welder will come to Annapolis to put the system together.

Once it is assembled, at a cost of nearly $1 million for the machinery alone, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms must inspect the operation and consider whether to grant the Ram's Head a brewing license.

The beer will be named Fordham lager, for Benjamin Fordham, who ran the city's first brewery in 1703.

"It's kind of neat, to say the least," said R. David Fordham, 51, an eighth-generation relative who watched yesterday's event. The Arnold lawyer drinks beer only occasionally, but said he's proud the local brew will bear his family name.

While Mr. Fordham watched from the sidelines, more than 20 people performed the delicate maneuver of lowering the brewhouse with a crane. There was only one slightly touch-and-go moment. The highly sensitive machinery hovered just above the ground when a worker called out: "Anybody got a crowbar?"

Workers converged on a wooden guardrail standing in the way of the machinery and pulled it apart with power tools and brute force. Soon, the brewhouse was cleared for landing.

"Keep your legs and fingers clear," ironworker Daren "J. R." Davis shouted through the hole that had been cut in the roof while various Ram's Head staffers scurried from the equipment's underbelly. "Coming down. Swing it. Swing it here . . . "

The machine landed gracefully, without so much as a bang or even a thud.

By 10 a.m., the copper kettles were in place and the crowd was ready to celebrate. As champagne was sipped, ebullient staffer Wayne "Corky" Fertitta gave the bubbly the highest praise he could find.

"This," he said, "tastes like beer."

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