Mike Condax and his girlfriend, Shannon Fouty, patronized Independent Brewing Co., Bel Air's first microbrewery, Friday evening, and they eagerly returned Saturday for food from local food trucks and caterers, games, friendly staff and "great beer."
"You can't say 'great beer' enough," Condax said.
Condax, who lives in Bel Air, and Fouty, who lives in Anne Arundel County, obtained sandwiches and French fries from the Old Line Grill operators.
Old Line Grill, based in Kingsville and White Marsh, was set up outside the North Main Street brewery, along with a WOLO food truck. Patrons could get goodies such as tacos and sandwiches from the bright red food truck.
"It's a good addition to Bel Air," Condax said of Independent Brewing. "New opportunities [attracts] new business to Bel Air, and of course, [they have] great beer."
Independent Brewing Co., founded by Fallston resident Phillip Rhudy, held its official opening Friday after the Harford County Liquor Control Board approved a liquor license for the company earlier in the week.
Rhudy, who is also the brewmaster, said previously that he wanted to have a regular rotation of food trucks to provide various eats while the brewery's tap room is open.
Fouty said she has visited other breweries in Anne Arundel, but she has not found a brewery with a setup similar to Independent in her area.
"Not where they have a food truck set up, and they serve beer inside, not that I've found anyway," she said.
Patrons crowded the 72-seat tap room Saturday afternoon, which was thick with the aroma of craft beer that had been brewed on-site, with locally-grown ingredients, in the former auto shop.
Artwork created by local artists covered the tap room walls.
Rhudy's main business partner, Harry O'Neill, worked the taps along with Independent employees, filling beer glasses and growlers.
"I'm really proud to bring it to Bel Air," O'Neill said of the brewery.
O'Neill is also founder and president of Beacon Environmental Services Inc. in Forest Hill.
Gary and Susan Kenner, of Bel Air, who are friends of Rhudy, shared a table in the tap room Saturday with George Handlin, of Fallston, who helped Rhudy and his partners build the brewery.
"It's amazing," Handlin said of Rhudy. "He's been working on this for two-and-a-half years, and his vision is finally coming into play."
The Kenners attended a "soft opening" for the brewery held in late October.
"This is our community stomping ground now," Susan Kenner said.
She and her husband have lived in Bel Air for 23 years, and she said Independent Brewing is "the first spot where we felt like it a was community, where we could relax and meet friends and feel like we were part of downtown Bel Air."
Kenner said people visit other establishments in downtown Bel Air "to party and get drunk and listen to loud music."
"This just feels more in touch, where you can gather and talk and just be part of the community," she said of the Independent tap room.
Fouty and Condax said Independent's Calibration IPA was their favorite beer of several being served during the opening weekend.
Rhudy said Calibration is a "dial-the-system-in beer" to ensure the brewing equipment works properly.
"It was basically a test batch to see how everything worked, and it ended up being one of our best beers," he said. "It's very well received by the community."
Rhudy said Calibration is light on the hops, so "it's palatable for people who say they don't like IPAs."
Independent was also serving Trail Ryeder, a pale ale with rye named for the nearby Ma & Pa Trail, and Blue-Eyed Blonde, a citrusy Belgian-style blonde ale.
Blue-Eyed Blonde is named for Julie Fabula, of Bel Air, who died of bone cancer in May and was recently honored with a bench in her name on the Ma & Pa Trail.
Rhudy, who is friends with Fabula's husband, George, said a portion of the proceeds from sales of the current batch of Blue-Eyed Blonde will be donated to Cancer LifeNet, a program of the Kaufman Cancer Center at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.
Rhudy, 51, said he is trying to attract patrons between the ages of 35 and 55, which was the principal demographic he saw during the opening weekend – families were in a room adjacent to the tap room, and the children were playing the various games available.
He said he wants Independent Brewing to be "a cool place to go and hang out."
"The last couple of nights, it's been a lot of interaction, people just sitting down, talking," Rhudy said.
Andrew McCord and his fiance, Angel Bettleyon, both of White Marsh, have been following Independent Brewing's progress on social media.
"We've been following their progress for a while," McCord said. "We're just big fans of local craft beer, and we're just excited to see a new brewery open up in our area. It's always good to have local beers to try and tell people about."
Bettleyon described Independent's beer as "great," and she said she is eager to sample additional brews as they are crafted.
"It's a really great space, too," she said of the tap room.