Wander through a microbrewery tasting room or craft beer pub and there’s a good chance the clientele will be discussing nuances of beer styles and hop varieties, or the different attributes of top fermenting yeast versus bottom fermenting.
The focus may be squarely on the beers themselves at these watering holes, but that’s just one part of that day’s conversation.
Sure, they taste good, but non-chain local brewers place just as much emphasis on the relationships they work to establish with their customers and distributors.
At Jailbreak Brewing Co. in North Laurel, co-owners Kasey Turner and Justin Bonner agree that part of their mission is to deliver added value to the community that supports them. It’s not lost on them that European brewery halls in past centuries were not simply drinking venues, but also places where people caught up on news, looked for work and learned about opportunities.
“We’ve tried to bring that concept up to date,” Turner said.
In October last year, network-security-focused Blackpoint Technologies of Ellicott City partnered with Jailbreak to host a software engineer recruiting event at the brewery’s tasting room.
Prime Solutions, a Columbia company specializing in computer network operations support, did the same in early April this year. Other technology companies are expected to follow suit in the future.
“Our location lends itself well to this type of recruiting event because we’re in a vibrant county, near Fort Meade and all the businesses that support it,” Turner said. “We’re also close to Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County and the City of Laurel, so we can draw job candidates from a number of different nearby geographic locations.”
Turner and Bonner recognized the potential their brewery had as a networking venue not long after they opened.
“We meet company types looking for employees and people looking for employment all the time, and they have the same thing in common: They’re all our customers,” Turner said. “We try to connect them.”
On May 8, 100 of Jailbreak’s customers will have a unique opportunity to attend a registration-only computer security summit and talk with Apple security researchers about iOS, OS X, Apple hardware and other Apple-related security topics. Sponsors of the already sold-out event include major cybersecurity and information technology companies Booz Allen Hamilton, Cyberpoint, Endgame and FireEye, to name just a few.
“We were able to arrange this because I still have a number of friends in the IT [information technology] community throughout the United States from my government contracting days,” Turner said. “They’re all eager to connect with users and hear their concerns.”
Among the speakers lined up for the day-long event are Ian Beer, who is associated with Project Zero at Google in Zurich, Switzerland; Patrick Wardle, director of research at Synack, which provides subscription-based security; and Chris Forant of Booz Allen, whose focus is cyber and mobile security solutions for government and commercial clients.
“It’s another unique way we’ve been able to connect to the community and offer them something they might not find anywhere else,” Turner said.
The CyberWire, a Baltimore-based, community-driven security news service, will provide live coverage of the event for subscribers.
While Jailbreak has made a big splash in the local beer scene, there’s another Howard County brewery that very few residents have heard of. That’s partly because each of its beers tends toward the exotic, and partly because there’s so little of it to begin with.
Bulk Head Brewing Co., of Clarksville, the brainchild of Josh Matthews, is a nano-brewery. That’s nano, as in brewing one 31-gallon barrel of beer at a time. In business since October using a portable system currently installed on a screened-in porch, Matthews has the capacity to produce 20 kegs per week, but that threshold hasn’t been reached.
“I’m pushing the envelope with ingredients, focusing on beer drinkers who want something so unusual that they won’t find it anywhere else,” he said. “That’s who I’m reaching out to.”
How unusual are Bulk Head’s beers? Well, there’s a Honeysuckle Strong Ale, brewed with a pound of honeysuckle jam, a Guava Porter and a peach-flavored Imperial Style fruit beer for starters. “They’re big beers,” Matthews said, “bigger than most in alcohol content and flavor profiles.”
As for distributors, “I’m more interested in working with smaller restaurants and pubs that truly care about craft beer, the ones who are going to be able to talk about it with customers with the same passion I have for making it,” he said. “They’re the ones who can best promote what Bulk Head’s about.”
At the moment, Bulk Head’s one-batch creations are available on a sporadic basis at the Twist & Turn Tavern, in Highland, and the Frisco Tap House & Brewery, in Columbia, but Matthews does have plans for future expansion.
“I’d like to move up to a microbrewery in small steps, starting with a three- or seven-barrel system, and eventually have a tasting room,” Matthews said. “I’m also working to line up some new accounts this summer.”
Although his first Kickstarter campaign fizzled earlier this year, Matthews is planning to mount a more serious fundraising campaign after this year’s beer festival season runs its course.
“I don’t know if I’ll have much product to distribute until then,” he said. “At the moment, I’m focused on making enough beer to take to the D.C. Craft Beer Festival in May to help get my name out there.”
Arundel on Tap
In February the Anne Arundel County Council passed legislation adding breweries, craft breweries and farm breweries as acceptable uses in the county’s zoning code.
Chuck Soja, owner of Lures Bar & Grille in Crownsville, said he hopes to become one of the first brewery owners in the county and is planning a 6,000-square-foot facility with a 15-barrel brew house and tap room, similar to Jailbreak’s.
“When we started Lures seven years ago, craft beer wasn’t as popular as it is today,” he told the county council. “It’s not just a process; I do it more as an art and a craft. We want a restaurant there, too, with light food, and we want [our beer] distributed around local bars.”
It’s still too early to tell what direction Soja’s brewery will take in connecting with customers and distributors. But Bonner, for one, thinks his chances of success are good.
“Chuck has worked alongside us at Jailbreak for the last year, learning brewing and the ins and outs of our operation,” he said. “We’re going to wish him well.”