Key Brewing Co. plans to do for Dundalk what Charm City Meadworks has done for Curtis Bay: Bring hipsters, families, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and tourists to an isolated warehouse area for a pleasant afternoon of imbibing on the weekend.
Though the taproom won't open officially till December, according to head brewer Mike McDonald's estimate, Key Brewing's space at 2500 Grays Road looks more than ready to go. Red, white, and blue stripes circuit the warehouse walls, and the 1,200-square-foot floor-to-ceiling pine-paneled taproom has 12 draft lines ready to pour beer.
But Key Brewing only has one beer in the market so far: On Point red ale, the brewery's flagship beer.
"We decided on a strategy early on," McDonald says, referring to himself and partners Spike Owen and Ray Schissler, "to come out with the one beer and let that one beer have the spotlight for at least the first month coming out, and then we would start developing other beers."
McDonald, who had been Red Brick Station's brewmaster since it opened in 1998, also has a California common, rye porter, and Helles lager in the pipeline. The California common could be flowing from Baltimore tap lines as early as next week, but the Helles will need time to lager; McDonald forecasts it being ready come Thanksgiving. Cans of Key Brewing's beer might hit store shelves around Christmas, he hopes.
Key Brewing is self-distributing for now ("Until our backs are broken that's how we're going to do it," McDonald says). You can find On Point on draft at some Baltimore bars, including a number of Federal Hill watering holes such as Cowboys and Rednecks, MaGerk's, Metropolitan, and Barfly's.
The Fed Hill concentration makes a lot more sense when you learn that both McDonald and Owen live there. In fact, when they first conceived of Key Brewing more than five years ago, they had designs of opening the brewery in the South Baltimore neighborhood.
"We were going to go in the old Pabst Castle, at the end of Charles Street, with a 20-barrel system, a small restaurant to go in it," McDonald says. "And we really got tired of dealing with the neighborhood groups."
When DuClaw uprooted from Abingdon for a bigger space in Rosedale, Key Brewing bought up its 40-barrel brewhouse and five 40-barrel fermenters. That system would never fit in the Pabst Castle, so McDonald and Owen started looking for a bigger space. Another partner found the Dundalk warehouse, and Key Brewing took it over about a year and a half ago. The team has plans to put horseshoe pits, croquet, and tables on the brewery's lawn, which faces a rather pretty forested area. McDonald also adds that he's seen osprey and bald eagles in the area around the brewery.
But the real draw will be the suds, of course. "I think beer tourism is strong enough to get people out here for sure," he says. "People will come out here."