Nanobrewers take craft brewing to a new, tiny level
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 4:05 PM
The grand tour of Baying Hound Aleworks, a new brewery in Rockville, lasts maybe five minutes. A turn of the head is enough to take in the entire operation, which occupies a 1,350-square-foot bay in an industrial park. The 55-gallon mash tun and brew kettle resemble oversize soup pots. A refrigerator is crammed with bags of hop pellets. The bottle filler is a tabletop model designed for the wine industry. "I can probably do four cases an hour, depending on how much coffee I drink!" says founder and head brewer (and sole employee) Paul Rinehart.
Baying Hound is a prime example of a nanobrewery, a business that's tiny even by the standards of craft brewing, where 15,000 barrels a year is the dividing line between a micro and a regional brewery. At his current pace -- Rinehart brews twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays -- he'll turn out 96 barrels of beer during his first year in business, or about 1,300 cases of 12-ounce bottles.
Rinehart's sole product as of this writing is Baying Hound Pale Ale, which he introduced at the Takoma Park Beer Festival on Oct. 16. He describes it as more English than American in style, with a caramel sweetness to balance the hops. Rinehart uses two hops varieties: Warrior for bitterness, Willamette for its subtle, spicy herbal aroma and flavor. At 5.5 percent alcohol by volume, the beer is eminently quaffable, a little reminiscent of the much-clamored-after New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale.
Rinehart primes each bottle with a pinch of sugar to spark a secondary fermentation, naturally carbonating the contents. "It's live beer!" he says, and he admits there is a risk of exploding bottles if too much pressure builds up. To be on the safe side, he recommends you refrigerate his ale if you plan to keep it longer than three weeks.
Talk with Rinehart about his family tree, and you get the impression that his brewery is the culmination of some deep ancestral urge. A maternal great-grandfather, he says, worked for Carlsberg in Denmark: not as a brewer, but as head botanist for its botanical gardens. A great-grandfather on his father's side made moonshine during the 1920s. When Rinehart applied to the federal Tax and Trade Bureau for his permit, he says, "I told the agent I want to be the first in my family to do it legally."
He named his company after his late pet, a bloodhound named Marmalade whose throaty voice is preserved in the ring tone on Rinehart's cellphone.
Rinehart has worked in the restaurant trade, most recently as sous-chef at Bilbo Baggins in Alexandria, and he says he deliberately formulated Baying Hound Ale to accompany a wide variety of foods. Check his Web site, www.baying-hound.com, for suggested food pairings, from Welsh rarebit to lamb sliders to takoyaki (balls of fried octopus).
Small-scale operations such as Baying Hound, common during the pioneering era of craft brewing in the 1970s and '80s, are staging a comeback. The Colorado-based Brewers Association doesn't keep figures on nanobreweries (nor does it have an official definition for the term), "but we certainly have noticed the business model in the new breweries we see popping up," says Andrew Sparhawk, the group's craft beer program coordinator.
In Frederick County, farmer Tom Barse hopes to cobble together a brew house from used dairy equipment and begin brewing rustic farmhouse ales ("every single batch will be unique") by next spring. His Milkhouse Brewery, he envisions, will turn out maybe 500 barrels the first year. Most of that he'll sell at the source in growlers and swing-top bottles. "People tell me I'm going to sell a lot more, but I only have a certain amount of time to devote to this," says Barse, who boards horses and raises sheep, bees and hops at his Stillpoint Farm near Mount Airy.
About 30 miles from Charlottesville in Nellysford, Va., Mary Wolf of Wild Wolf Brewing, one of the smallest professional breweries in the country, is making a smoked Scottish ale, a honey saison, an American lager and other beers in a 10-gallon vessel manufactured by the Sabco company in Toledo, Ohio.
Wolf, who also sells home-brew supplies, plans to offer her beers in growler jugs starting Monday. She hopes eventually to move to larger quarters and install a 15-barrel brew house, but starting small "lets us get the product out there."
Nanobreweries are an inexpensive way to turn pro but are inherently unstable. Either the owners buckle under the tedious labor and mounting bills, or they expand their businesses rapidly. Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione, when he opened his Rehoboth Beach brew pub in 1995, dribbled out 10-gallon batches on what he called a "glorified home-brewing system." He kept upgrading and last year brewed nearly 97,000 barrels. New Belgium Brewing, founded in 1991 in the basement of a Fort Collins, Colo., home, rolled out 583,000 barrels in 2009.
Rinehart, too, says he hopes to add larger tanks as demand warrants and to expand beyond Montgomery County into the rest of Maryland, plus the District and Virginia. In the meantime, might a beloved hobby become a chore? "It might, if I were working for someone else," he answers. "But I won't let that happen. Being your own boss has its advantages."
Kitsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.