Brewery Trip Is Heady Experience


When you hop on a bus loaded with beer drinkers you may not know your exact destination, but you usually have a pretty good idea of where you will end up. Namely, at a spigot dispensing freshly brewed beer. That is what happened to me recently when I joined about 40 other thirsty pilgrims aboard a chartered bus traveling from downtown Baltimore to Victory Brewing Co., a new brewery and restaurant in Downingtown, Pa.

I took the trip to improve my understanding of local geography, and to drink a little beer. Maps show me that Downingtown is somewhere northeast of the Susquehanna River. I am still not sure how we got there. I know we were in Harford County for a while. We crossed over some bridges, then switched from Interstate 95 to Route 1, then ended up on roads with either two or three numerals in their names. It took about two hours.

Other people told me they took the bus trip to drink good beer and to congratulate Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, who hold the title of co-brewers at Victory. Both fellows used to brew beer at the Baltimore Brewing Co. located near Little Italy. Most of the bus riders either knew these two brewers when they brewed in Baltimore, or knew their work. According to Brad Plymale, a bartender and unofficial tour director of Baltimore Brewing, the trip grew out of a casual discussion among the pub's regular customers who wanted to visit their old friends and the new brewery. Everybody wanted to go but nobody wanted to drive. So a bus and a professional, nonimbibing, driver were hired.

It was a varied crew that filled the bus. There were beer professionals, brewers from two other area craft breweries, Bill Boar of Oxford Brewing Co. in Linthicum, and Jerry Bailey, Rob Mullen and Scott Zetterstrom from Old Dominion Brewing in Northern Virginia, and Theo DeGroen of Baltimore Brewing. There were also plenty of "semi-pros," who appreciate good beer enough to take a day off work and who came up with $45 to cover the cost of the trip.

When we arrived at the brewery, hearty hellos were exchanged, darts were thrown, pool balls were knocked around, and beer taps were flowing. Five beers, a Brandywine Valley lager, a Victory Festbier, a Hopdevil India Pale Ale, Prima Pils and Milltown Mild, were served. All were made in the building.

I loved the Festbier, which was similar to Baltimore Brewing Marzen. The Pils, or Pilsener, got rave reviews, not only from me but also from Lothar Weber, a fellow bus rider. Lothar works with his father-in-law, Egon Binkert, making sausages that contain "everything but the squeak of the pig," at Binkert's Meats, on Old Philadelphia Road in eastern Baltimore County.

Lothar told me the secrets to enjoying life, or at least the morning-afters of life, were to drink finely filtered Pilseners and to swallow a zinc tablet two hours before imbibing. Correctly filtering a Pilsener, the way German brewers do, Lothar said, eliminates the components of beer that can give you a headache. Taking a zinc tablet, he said, has a similar effect.

When the visiting brewers toured Victory Brewing they eyed the technical niceties, such as the hopback, a custom-made strainer that removed the hop flowers after they have flavored the beer. The rest of us stuck our heads in kettles, nodded, then worked our way back to the restaurant to eat pizza.

Leaving the brewery took a while, but after a couple of false starts, the bus door slammed and we were headed back to Maryland. We settled into our seats and watched a tape of "Dr. Strangelove," shown on the videocassette system in the bus. This is the vintage Peter Sellers comedy about a nutty Air Force general who, in an effort to save his "precious bodily fluids" from Commie attack, starts a nuclear war. I thought the film was a good choice. After spending a day sampling the products of a brewery, you tend to become concerned about "your precious bodily fluids."

Shortly after the movie ended the bus turned off I-95 and headed down Eastern Avenue through East Baltimore toward Little Italy. That was when Dave Donovan, a reference librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, walked to the front of the bus and announced that the bus was going the wrong way. The bus driver paid him no heed. The rest of the passengers made a pact. If Dave lunged for the steering wheel, we were going to grab him. He continued to complain but made no menacing moves. Soon the bus unloaded the passengers in front of the Baltimore Brewing Co.

In an interview conducted several days after the bus trip, Dave explained that his objection to the route was based on geopolitical grounds. The route the bus took, he said, was the one "out-of-towners" use. When he and and other natives of East Baltimore want to drive toward Little Italy they take O'Donnell Street, and then cut through Fells Point on Boston and Fleet streets. The Eastern Avenue route is scenic, but too slow-moving for the natives, he said.

I told him I was glad he cleared that up. The next time the beer drinkers take a bus trip, we might let Dave plot the politically correct route. But we won't let him near the steering wheel.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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