Steve Jones can finally stand up straight. Oliver Brewing Co.'s head brewer this week started transitioning from the low-ceiled basement brewery at Pratt Street Ale House to a 12,000-square-foot Claremont-Freedom production brewery, situated in an old ice factory.
The new digs will enable Oliver to not only supply beer to its three bustling restaurants—Pratt Street Ale House, the Ale House Columbia, and Park Tavern in Severna Park—but also send more beer out for distribution. Oliver just hired a second sales rep to peddle its beer in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
The company is upgrading from its seven-barrel, three-vessel brewhouse to a 20-barrel, four-vessel brewhouse. There are eight fermenting tanks (four open, four closed), and Jones says that Oliver wants to add its own canning line eventually. (It will use a mobile canning line in the meantime.)
"We have to start selling some beer before we can spend more money," Jones says, "because this stuff ain't cheap."
Oliver co-owner Justin Dvorkin says that the production brewery has cost about $1.3 million so far. But the price tag was worth it to keep pumping beer to Oliver's restaurants.
"It came to a point where there could be no next restaurant till we get this [brewery] because we couldn't supply the beer," Dvorkin says when asked if any more restaurant plans were in the works.
The new production facility also has a taproom, which could open at the end of the summer, pending approval (it goes before the Liquor Board next week). Dvorkin says that Oliver will do tours and tastings on the weekend, but he's not sure what the taproom's regular hours will be yet.
"We'll decide when we get going. As many hours as people are showing up and trying beer."
The only downside of the production brewery for Oliver devotees might be that the larger format will change Jones' brewing habits. On the tiny Pratt Street system, he could pretty much craft whatever beer he wanted, whenever he wanted. But it's a lot more difficult to sell 20 barrels of beer than it is seven. So the new brewery will limit the variety that Jones can churn out.
"Last year we brewed 53 different beers at the brewpub. Those days are definitely gone," Jones says. "We can't just brew 20 barrels of something on a whim and expect to be able to sell it."
As for the fate of Pratt Street's 22-year-old brewhouse? It'll be chopped up (so it can be removed from the restaurant's basement) and most likely sold for scrap, Jones says.
"It's had a good run. It's time to euthanize it, I think."