The city of Baltimore, Maryland was considered one of the up-and-coming beer Meccas in America, not too long ago, but that school of thought is quickly diminishing. Why? In the past few years, the five brewpubs once within the Baltimore city limits have dwindled to two, with one of the remaining pair seriously considering a move to the suburbs, where space is cheap and plentiful.
According to a piece which ran last week in the Baltimore Sun, bars which brew their own are becoming increasingly rare in cities all along the East Coast. Squeezed by rising rents, brewers & bar owners have repeatedly turned their bulky brewing areas into space for more customers or closed up shop altogether. The Sun reported,
“It’s kind of depressing.” said Volker Stewart, the founder of Brewer’s Art in Mount Vernon, which could become the city’s last brewpub if the Wharf Rat near Camden Yards follows through on its plans to move. “Seven or eight years ago, people said Baltimore is one of the great brewing towns in North America.”
Last month Capital City Brewing, a popular regional chain (think Boston Beer Works) closed its Baltimore doors. Explaining that, while sales were fine, rent in Baltimore’s hip Inner Harbor was just too demanding. Elsewhere in the region, Capitol City’s downtown branch in Washington D.C. remains open, but it has removed its vats in favor of more table space, and it now imports its brews from the branch in Arlington, Va. The Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, home to the Fordham Brewing Co., is also considering removing its equipment to make more room for concert audiences, which it has found to be more lucrative.
Said Dominic Cantalupo, a 46-year-old Catonsville, MD resident and president of the Chesapeake Bay branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (a society which promotes beer brewed with traditional methods),
“It’s sort of like the melting of the ice caps… The majority of consumers don’t get it. For us beer geeks, I think it’s sad.”
Always optimistic, Paul Gatza, director of the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, told The Sun that he feels the disappearance of Baltimore brewpubs is strictly a regional occurrence. Although disheartening for current Baltimore residents, Gatza predicts that it won’t be long before more brew pubs will spring up to replace the closed bars. The number of breweries nationwide–which includes brewpubs–has increased by a full 1% in the past year and a half. Gatza explains,
“Like anything else, it’s an ebb and a flow… you’re going to find times when you’re going to find more brewpubs.”
Let’s hope he’s right, for Baltimore’s (and fresh beer’s) sake.