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Step inside the converted warehouse space tucked inside the Calvert County Industrial Park in Prince Frederick, where the upstart Mully’s Brewery soon will begin brewing original blends of craft beer for sale across Southern Maryland, and it won’t take long to spot the head brewer.
There is no mistaking that beard.
Sporting a magnificent growth that can only signal “pirate” or “brewer,” Jason Mullikin certainly has the look to go along with his newly chosen profession.
After spending 15 years in the corporate world, Mullikin and his wife, Cindy, plan to open Mully’s Brewery within the next month. The La Plata couple expect to have their beer on retail shelves as soon as mid-October, and on tap at local bars and restaurants soon thereafter.
Up the road 15 minutes in an Owings industrial park, Brian Daley of Huntingtown is starting up his own small-scale, one-barrel microbrewery. Unlike Mully’s, Scorpion Brewing will be strictly a brew-and-retail operation, with no distribution to outside sellers.
The two startups will triple the region’s brewery count and, alongside the Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grill in Solomons, ensure that Calvert serves as brew central for locals in search of new potent potables.
Meanwhile, across the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge, Great Mills buddies David Jones and David Mahoney are hoping to bring St. Mary’s County its first microbrewery by year’s end.
They’ve found a home for SOMD Brewing — a deserted warehouse off Great Mills Road in Lexington Park — but are awaiting a needed change in local regulations reflecting state legislation, which this year added St. Mary’s County to the list of jurisdictions that can issue microbrewery licenses, as requested by the county commissioners.
“This is an underserved market here, so we figured that would be our in,” Mahoney said.
Not that it’s too difficult to find original concoctions in Southern Maryland, as long as you know where to look.
Danny Julian began home brewing in 1990, shortly after moving to the region as a member of the U.S. Navy.
His roommate at the time had a coworker who operated his own home brew shop. Julian picked up the hobby, and by 1996 had opened “Danny’s Homebrew,” a converted spare room in his Leonardtown home lined with shelves of malt extract, hundreds of specialty grains, base malt, bottles and caps, all ordered from wholesalers in Atlanta and Newport, Mass.
Originally, Julian had enough orders to justify a couple of shipments each year. Now, with roughly 200 regular customers, he sends out truck shipments every quarter.
About five years ago, some of Julian’s customers suggested starting up a home brew club. Before long, the Hollywood Hop Heads were meeting monthly in Julian’s garage.
“We all got beer envy. ‘I want what Danny has,’” said Tom Spidel of Hollywood, who occasionally hosts Hop Heads meetings when Julian’s work as a defense systems analyst takes him out of town.
“We are just a group of people about hanging out, having fun, brewing beer and drinking beer,” he said.
There is only one rule Julian could think of that the Hop Heads have set — don’t share your bad batches.
“We share our good stuff,” he said. “As long as you keep your equipment nice and clean, you’re going to get a good batch of beer. That, and keep fresh yeast.”
Though he has insisted on a lax atmosphere with no parliamentary procedure, Julian nonetheless serves as the club’s spiritual leader, if not its elected president.
And much like Yoda living in squalor on Dagobah, Julian’s home brew setup — two water coolers and a standard ice chest — appears rudimentary compared to some of the shiny rigs boasted by his fellow Hop Heads. But his apprentices don’t question the powers of their Jedi brewmaster.
Julian typically makes batches of 5 or 10 gallons, 5 being enough for 2½ cases of beer at a cost of about $20 in supplies, he said.
At an early September meeting of the Hop Heads, everyone was working on their seasonal batches of pumpkin beer.
Spidel has been home brewing since the club first got together, and like most of the Hop Heads, he’s a big fan of IPAs, short for India Pale Ales, so-called because its extra hops helped preserve it during 18th-century voyages from England to British troops stationed in India.
Standing over a boiling keg of pumpkin brew, Spidel recalled how last year he tried to make the batch as a lager rather than an ale. Each requires a different type of yeast, and lagers brew at cooler temperatures, while ales boil.
“I tried to lager it last year, and it was awful,” he said. “Lagers are much more complicated and easy to screw up. Ales are easier.”
Bob Purdy of Mechanicsville has been home brewing for 20 years, since learning the craft from a German friend while living in Minnesota.
A microbiologist, Purdy said it was the science of making beer that attracted him to brewing.
“It’s engineering, microbiology and organic chemistry all rolled into one. That’s why I love brewing,” he said.
When he moved to St. Mary’s County five years ago, Purdy didn’t know where to get the ingredients needed to feed his hobby. Then he found Julian, who invited Purdy to the Hop Heads’ first meeting. He’s been a regular attendee ever since.
“It’s not really about drinking beer and getting drunk,” Purdy said. “It’s about the art of it, and also the camaraderie and having fun. And also the occasional cigar.”
Four months ago, Purdy started putting together a two-tiered, three-keg rig made of 12-gauge steel.
“I prefer [calling it] ‘brew sculpture,’” he cracked. “After a while, you want to do it the way you want to do it. This is really the beginnings of a nanobrewery.”
Purdy has had a finished batch of Russian imperial stout — a strong, dark beer with a high alcoholic content — stored for about five months in preparation for a Ruddy Duck competition that Daley also is entering.
He also likes to make a Belgian white beer, a Czech pilsner and a clone of the Sam Adams Oktoberfest beer.
“I like hoppy beers,” Purdy said.
It started with a kit
Ask homebrewers how they got started, and you’ll get variations of the same story.
First off, they loved beer. Second, most of them started out with some kind of beginner’s kit.
Jones started out with malt extract kits, a method preferred by many beginners because it skips several steps in the brewing process.
But Jones had a different reason for giving the kits a try in high school. “We couldn’t buy beer, but we could buy the kits,” he said mischievously.
Jones showed enough brewing promise for his friends to take note. “Every time we’d come over it was, ‘Man, this is good beer. You have a good product here,’” Mahoney said. “One day, we said, ‘you should brew for real.’”
Offering 12 different beers, SOMD Brewing will start with a small 3- to 3½-barrel operation, but “once we get that going, we can upgrade easily to a 20-, 50-barrel system,” Jones said.
Formerly an engineer at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Jones plans to design and patent green brewing technology that can either be licensed to or built for other breweries.
The brewhouse also will be green, with composts of spent ingredients and outdoor parking canopies used to grow hops and potentially shelter a beer garden for customers.
Jones also wants to incorporate historical artwork and landmarks into SOMD Brewing’s logos and beer labels, put local fun facts on the back of its bottles, and offer dinner cruises pairing meals with craft beer, “led by Capt. Davy Jones.”
While Jones brews, Mahoney, who works at Pax River in logistics, will handle the business side of SOMD Brewing. “I’ll also do product testing,” he assured.
Many brewers received their beginners’ kits as a gift. More often than not, it was one of the Mr. Beer kits that are easy to find on the shelves of major retailers.
“That’s how it all started,” said Waldorf resident Eric Myers, who two Christmases ago received a beer kit from his wife, Joanna.
A military vehicle mechanic from Long Island, Myers now has a four-keg setup along a wall in his garage, labeled the “Myers Brew Rig.” The first keg, set highest of the bunch, is the mash tun, where malted grain soaks in water, rendering a sugary mixture called wort. The sugars are what eventually feed the yeast that ferments the beer.
The wort then filters through a false bottom — a metal filter that catches the grain — and is carried by gravity down to the next keg, the boil kettle, where hops are added to the wort in a netted basket.
Within seven minutes, the hops will have given the wort some aroma, Myers said. Wait another 13 minutes, and they’ll begin to add flavor. After an hour, the hops will start to bitter the beer.
From the boil kettle, the brew travels into the cooling keg, which can cool 12 gallons of steaming beer in 10 minutes, Myers said.
The batch takes at least a week to ferment before being finished. Generally, more hoppy or alcoholic beers need to ferment longer.
Myers started growing hops along the side of his house last fall, and this summer the crop produced its first yield. In two more years, the crop will be at full strength.
Inside the Myers home you’ll find “Eric’s Brew Room,” a pantry so crammed with glassware that it could double as storage for “Breaking Bad” chemist Walter White’s lab.
The room also contains 50-pound sacks of 2-row barley, a base grain that typically makes up 90 percent of the malt; small quantities of specialty grains, which get added to the 2-row for flavors like honey, chocolate and coffee; and hulls of rice, which can be added to the mash mixture to aid the filtering process. There’s also 60 pounds of honey, which Myers uses to make mead, his latest batch of which tastes like hard cider mixed with rocket fuel.
Currently on tap inside his dining room kegerator — a converted chest freezer with a temperature probe, digital controls and four Cornelius kegs containing his latest brews — are a lighter beer, a white wine prepared by Joanna, and two brews of the same batch of brown pale ale, one aged at room temperature for a month and the other for two months.
In addition to the brown pale ale, Myers has brewed blonde ales, an Irish red ale, Extra Special Bitters and IPAs. He’s yearning to brew a Russian imperial stout and a hefeweizen.
With a home, garage and yard full of brewing supplies, it’s safe to say that Joanna didn’t realize what she was getting into when she placed that beer kit under the Christmas tree, but she doesn’t seem to mind the obsession her gift created.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” she said.
Cindy Mullikin undoubtedly feels the same way.
“It started with a Mr. Beer kit” six Christmases ago, her husband said.
“By New Year’s, we had an elaborate home brew setup,” she said. “It’s something we fell in love with immediately. We realized, oh wow, this is better than what we’d been trying.”
Before long, the Mullikins were trying out new varieties of beer from local liquor stores.
“And that really opened our eyes to craft beer. We called it market research,” Jason said.
After two years of experimenting with different recipes, the Mullikins were winning home brew competitions, making them wonder if they could turn their passion into a business.
A graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology, the nation’s oldest brewing school, Jason will serve as head brewer while Cindy, who has a background in sales and marketing, handles the brewery’s business operations.
Their brewhouse is capable of producing batches of 15 barrels at a time — the equivalent of 450 gallons, or 220 cases of beer. Beside the brewhouse is a 30-ton fermenter, and a row of three smaller fermentation tanks.
Guests will be able to sample beer in Mully’s tasting room and even directly order a case of elixir.
Mully’s will feature five brews — a pale ale and a blonde that will be constantly available, and an IPA, stout and hefeweizen that will be sprinkled in as fermentation tanks open.
Cindy prefers the hefeweizen — a half-wheat, half-barley German beer that often produces banana, clove and vanilla flavors — which she said doubles as a good “gateway” brew for those uninitiated with the wonders of craft beers. Jason heads first for the bitter IPA, but “I’m a fan of everything,” he said.
In addition to the five staple brews, two of which they debuted for the first time at the Southern Maryland Blues Festival this month, the Mullikins plan to periodically mix in seasonal or specialty beers.
Having signed on with a local distributor to sell their brews at 25 liquor stores in Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties — a contract with a St. Mary’s distributor is in the works — the Mullikins hope business soon will allow them to add a legitimate bottling and canning machine, which will dramatically increase production.
Within a couple years, they’d like to have between 12 and 15 employees and double their fermentation capacity. Currently able to produce six batches a month, Jason would like to see that eventually increase to 10 batches a week.
“The outpouring has been overwhelming,” Cindy said. “We get people stopping by here every single day, asking when we’re opening.”
Growing up with an uncle and grandfather who used to brew beer with fresh water from a New Jersey spring, Daley has brewing in his blood. He’s been making beer at home for a dozen years, gaining confidence from the positive feedback his brews received during tastings at a Prince Frederick liquor store.
After visiting England at 17 and discovering Guinness and hard cider, Daley said, he has never been able to really enjoy light beers. “Which really ruined college for me, because I didn’t like cheap beer,” he said.
He got an even deeper crash course in quality booze while spending a year earning his MBA at a Belgian business school. “Belgium is beer, chocolate, waffles and fries,” he said.
Daley plans to quit his job as a defense contractor at the end of the year in order to run Scorpion Brewing full time. He incorporated in February 2012 and a month later rented warehouse space, which sits beneath a karate academy. “It’s good because I have a built-in security system upstairs,” he joked.
Daley intended to open that July — he even worked the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla into the company logo as a marketing tie-in with the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
But a slew of delays has pushed Daley’s target opening back to sometime in October, though he’s reticent to select a date. He recently received an order of 1,000 glasses and 600 64-ounce growlers.
“I feel very good about it. The industry is taking off,” he said.
The overall market for beer is down — an August Gallup poll showed a steady decline in people who prefer beer over wine or liquor — but craft beer has never been bigger.
While the domestic beer market grew by 1 percent in 2012, craft brewers saw sales grow 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by value, grossing an estimated $10.2 billion in retail, up from $8.7 billion in 2011, according to March data released by the Brewers Association, a trade group representing small and independent American brewers. Craft beer’s share of the U.S. beer market grew from 5.7 percent in 2011 to 6.5 percent last year.
Daley hopes to offer six beers at any given time, a few mainstays and a few rotating seasonal or special brews. Among his selections will be a lighter beer to help ease in those new to craft beer, as well as a half-hefeweizen, half-cider concoction Daley calls Apple Wheat. Being from upstate New York, “I’m a cider snob,” he said.
Daley also is embracing the concept of buying local. He plans to get grain from Swann Farms in Owings, barley from a grower in Huntingtown and hops from a Hollywood farmer. He got his 8-foot-by-10-foot walk-in cooler from a Shady Side grocery, and is searching for someone close by to malt his grain.
“I’ve had a lot of a really great support from the community,” he said. “I do think it’s exciting to go walk through the field that’s growing your grain, or go see your hops as they’re growing.”
During summer months, Daley said, IPAs are his favorite type of beer. That preference switches to strong Belgian ales in the fall.
Taking the lead
In the wake of the state’s 1999 tobacco buyout, Calvert County has encouraged the opening of wineries as a means to preserve its agricultural heritage and transition local farmers off their signature cash crop.
The county has since established a wine trail featuring its five wineries — three of which used to be farms — and the county’s new brewers would like to join the party.
Daley said he has been working with the local tourism office to set up a beer tour with stops at Scorpion Brewing, Mully’s Brewery and the Ruddy Duck.
The Mullikins have been in contact with local wineries regarding opportunities to collaborate. Jason Mullikin mentioned the possibility of using wine barrels to age their specialty brews.
Meanwhile, both breweries intend to do whatever they can to help one another along.
Because the craft beer industry is relatively small, and craft beer drinkers tend to try different varieties rather than stick with one brand, brewers typically support each other in hopes that they’ll collaboratively drive each other’s business.
“Craft breweries are much more of a brotherhood,” Mullikin said. “Craft brewers look out for each other. It’s not competition among ourselves.”
“It’s a great industry that way,” Daley said. “You’re pretty crazy to get into it. You’re not going to get rich brewing.”