"I drank shit beer throughout college," Kevin Blodger (pictured) admits while checking the temperature of a fledgling batch of Union Craft Brewing's altbier, Balt Alt. The 36-year-old brewmaster and co-founder of the Woodberry brewery recalls polishing off many a forty of King Cobra malt liquor while at University of Maryland College Park, where he first started homebrewing.
Most brewers can identify their baptismal craft beer-the one that started it all. For Blodger, it was Pete's Wicked Winter Brew, a sessionable spiced ale from the now-defunct Pete's Brewing Company, which used the tagline "Not Yet World Famous" in its series of 1994 commercials. (Pete's was bought by the Gambrinus Company, a macrobrewery, in '98, when it was the second-largest craft brewery in the nation; recipe changes were made and the brand was discontinued in 2011.) From Pete's, he branched out into Sierra Nevada and Wild Goose, another obsolete line of beers, made by the Frederick Brewing Company, where Blodger landed his first job as a professional brewer in 2004. He took a pay cut from a teaching job in Silver Spring to work as a brewer, but didn't mind.
"I was actually thinking about this last night, how much I love that job," Blodger says. "You're constantly busy, you're just busting your ass every day; it was fun. I can't wait till we're at that level where it's going to be super-super busy. I feel like we bust our asses here, but Frederick was a different level."
Few are the full-time employees of Union, which began brewing in June 2012: Blodger, co-founder Jon Zerivitz, and Adam Benesch, the third founding partner who started working at the brewery full-time only a few weeks ago. With the help of a couple interns, the three field the non-brewing responsibilities of craft beer-working the sales circuit in Maryland, glad-handing at Union events, plugging their brand on Facebook. Union already won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their Balt Alt this past fall, Blodger's fourth GABF medal.
As he waits for the temperature of the altbier brew to rise, Blodger and Benesch recount their first meeting, in college. "I threw up in front of his door," Blodger says. "I think the cleaning-up was when we became friends," Benesch adds. Though Blodger can't recall exactly, he guesses he was probably drunk on shit beer.