Due to the somewhat foreseen events of early October, I will finish the Your Brewer Hates the Beer You Love series with next month’s column. This month, I’m addressing a recent seismic shift in Frederick County’s craft beer scene.
Barley and Hops, one of the county’s original big three — B&H, Brewer’s Alley, and Frederick Brewing Company — has shut its doors for good. It’s the second brewery in Frederick County, along with House Cat, to close this year.
I would caution that these closings are not a sign of the craft beer bubble bursting. There are so many other factors at play with both those breweries that have nothing to do with Frederick being a saturated market. I won’t dwell on the poor management choices that led to both of these breweries closing, choices that would have closed any service-industry business. Instead, I intend to honor Barley and Hops’ 20 years as part of the local beer scene. To that end, I have gathered a bunch of B&H’s past brewers together for something of a eulogy.
If nothing else, the brewery was at times an incubator for brewing talent. At other times, it was a stopping point for first-time head brewers who may have cut their teeth elsewhere as assistants. The brewery was a nexus point for Maryland craft brewers. Its brewing traditions and influences can be traced back to Growler’s of Gaithersburg, Flying Dog, and even the Flying Barrel, and reached not only across Maryland, but across the country.
Without further ado, some of the brewers who once boiled on B&H’s copper kettle...
Former Barley and Hops brewer Larry Pomerantz (c. 2010-2015) wanted to talk about the people — the customers and staff that made the place special — but there was too much to say. Instead, he focused on the brewery’s impact.
“That place was a training ground for so many in the business these days,” Pomerantz said. “Of course we all know how brewers there went on to form Austin Beerworks and Vanish, but it also was the first exposure to brewing for two brewers at Monocacy — Garrett Smith and Steve Brockwell both got their starts there. Garrett waited tables and bar tended, and Steve volunteered in the brewery before getting full time work at Flying Dog. Dan Wingard of Upper Stem Brewery, [who is opening a farm brewery] in Washington County, was a long time assistant brewer under Will [Golden] and myself. Additionally, I had student interns who did their hands on work with me that are now brewers at Service Brewing in Georgia, and Intuition Aleworks in Florida.”
For Will Golden (c. 2007-2010), the people are also a big part of what made the place special. But it was also about personal milestones.
“Barley and Hops, despite its many flaws and the terrible location, was a wonderful place to work and create beers,” he said. “I crossed so many milestones in my life while employed by Gary Brooks at Barley and Hops: I got engaged, married, and bought my first house all while working [there]; I feel like it’s where I really cut my teeth on recipe development of my own concepts; this is also the place where ... my business partners, Adam DeBower, and I started talking about starting our own little brewery in Austin Texas.”
Golden remembered the community the brew pub provided.
“Some of my fondest times were spent outside of the brewhouse with the regulars or with my co-workers, who are too numerous to mention,” he said. “Having friends and memories that will last a lifetime is a true gift that Barley and Hops gave me. Some of my true joys in life were being in my fishbowl — the glass-enclosed brewhouse — and watching the teenage drama unfold between the servers. Some of my fondest memories were after-hours bowling, good ol’ fashioned buffoonery at [the now closed] Guido’s, and riding a sled with a keg on it from my house on Seventh Street down Market to [then assistant brewer] John Burroughs’ house on Third Street during a snowstorm. I will miss this place ... every time I return for the holidays.”
The aforementioned Burroughs, now a gypsy brewer working with breweries around the state, started at Barley and Hops in August 2014, hired to be Pomerantz’s assistant brewer. As Burroughs tells it, Pomerantz told him, “the job pays [poorly], I’m going to yell and you might cry.”
Burroughs said that Pomerantz, “was right on two counts; I didn’t cry. Larry is one of my best friends and learning under him was phenomenal. When Larry was leaving to help open Vanish in Leesburg, he started showing more and more about the system. I paused one day and said, ‘wait, you’re leaving? So you’re like the Dread Pirate Roberts and I’m Westley?’
“’Pretty much,’ was his response.”
Burroughs said, “I didn’t want the helm. I told him to find another captain and he hired Eric Gleason. Eric and I continued to work together for four more years and I continued to learn under him and he learned a lot about that [brewing] system from me. We made award-winning beers and friendships [there], and regardless of how it ended, and I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything. I miss working with Larry and Eric, but we can always brew a collaboration beer together again at one of our respective breweries.”
The latest of the former brewers, Eric Gleason (c. 2015-2019), came in at a time of transition. Ownership was shifting from the original owner, the aforementioned Gary Brooks, and Gleason was given a more liberal hand in determining the direction of the brewery. Gleason implemented a plan to shift the brewery from having a majority of core beers on tap to having a wider variety of offerings including specials, seasonals, and one-offs.
“I had estimated it would take six months to achieve. We did it in just three,” Gleason said.
That year’s Comptroller’s Cup competition was an affirmation that Gleason’s changes were good ones. In the wake of the changes, ”we won the Comptroller’s Cup, two Best of Category Beers and a slew of other medals — 21 in all out of 20 entries [including the Cup] ... Along with this came an ... art program for each beer. [The changes were] a radical transformation for a place that had remained basically unchanged since it opened 17 years earlier.”
Pomerantz stressed that while there were certainly problems at Barley and Hops, the brewery will always be an integral piece of craft beer history in both Frederick County and Maryland.
“Important meetings to create the Class 8 Farm Brewery Bill and Frederick Beer Week were held there,” he said. “The place had its trials, but each of us persevered and grew. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ... without old skool predecessors like B&H, the brewing culture in Frederick wouldn’t exist. Give them their due credit. Give them the respect they deserve. Know their place in history.”
Until next month, raise a glass of your favorite Frederick brew to the dearly departed, be well, have a great Thanksgiving, and drink good beer.