The craft beer business in Maryland is booming, so it's no surprise that a new brewery is slated to enter the Baltimore market.
The Eastern shore's Burley Oak Brewing is quickly becoming one of the darlings of the Maryland brewing scene—alongside relative newcomers like Stillwater Artisinal Ales and Union Craft Brewing and stalwarts like Heavy Seas, Flying Dog Brewing and DuClaw Brewing.
If you've never heard of the year-old brewery, that's probably because their small batch, hand-crafted beers are mostly only available in Ocean City, Salisbury and the tiny eastern shore town where they're made: Berlin, MD.
In advance of the arrival of the new libations, Patch sat down for an interview with Burley Oak owner and head brewer Bryan Brushmiller.
Burley Oak's Baltimore arrival is a homecoming for Brushmiller who, despite having set down roots on the Eastern Shore, is about as Baltimore as they come.
He grew up in Essex and fondly recalls skateboarding in Fells Point with fellow Archbishop Curley alum and Maryland brewer Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisinal Ales.
Like so many of us, Brushmiller's obsession with beer started in college.
While he was undertaking degrees in chemistry and biology at Salisbury University, he worked at a local bottle shop—thus beginning an odyssey in craft beer that would eventually lead him to open Burley Oak Brewing.
"It all started out with me going to Salisbury University and working at Cheers which is a local beer store... we got to have access to a lot of good beers," Brushmiller said. "I got a biology and a chemistry degree and that kind of gave me the love of fermentation and science."
Then, Brushmiller said, "like any science major" he went into the construction industry because "that's where the money is."
Until, of course, the economic downturn struck and around Christmas of 2009, Brushmiller found out he had lost his job.
"After that, I just kind of basically refused to have anybody be in control of my financial destiny and sought out to do something on my own," Brushmiller said. "Basically I was homebrewing ... for years in my garage. [I'd been] building a bigger system and brewing more and more. Then, when I lost my job, started brewing even more."
After scraping together what funds he could and travelling to visit breweries around the country, Brushmiller, 35, said he settled on a location in Berlin, MD.
"I knew how to make beer on a small scale, I just had to learn how to do it on a larger scale ... we found Berlin, and basically bootstrapped ourselves—with a little bit of funds from a second mortgage on my house, and my retirement fund I was able to open this little brewery."
The name Burley Oak Brewing draws on the history of the town of Berlin and the 100-year-old building where the business is located.
"The name of the town comes from the name of an inn and tavern that was built here back in the 1600's ... it was called the Burley Inn," Brushmiller said. "The building we're located in was once the Berlin Barrel Company where they made oak barrels."
Pulling from his experience as a homebrewer, Brushmiller tries to brew a wide variety of beer—some of which he ages on oak barrels as a nod to the heritage of the building.
The brews run the gamut from Double India Pale Ales like Brushmiller's favorite, called "Bulletproof Tiger", to the brewery's best seller, an Imperial Red Ale called "Rude Boy".
Although everyone has a favorite, Brushmiller said experimentation is king at Burley Oak.
"I love trying different stuff … we just put out a beer with lemon verbena leaves. I get bored with brewing the same beer all the time. To be able to try out different beers is awesome."
No matter which beer is brewing, it's all made the same way—by hand. Brushmiller said that nothing at the brewery is automated—the mashing process, where hot water and grain are stirred together to create the base for a beer, is done with a wooden paddle. The whole brewing system is only capable of producing about 16 half-kegs (what consumers know as a standard keg) at a time.
"The best way I can explain it is that what we can brew in a year, someone like Dogfish Head might be able to do in a day and a half," Brushmiller said. "Everything is done manually. It takes more labor ... but it's definitely a labor of love."
That same love goes into sourcing ingredients: Brushmiller wants to create a market for Eastern shore-grown grain in the brewing world, and he's off to a good start.
"We started out getting rye from a local farmer and using it. Then we started growing—we just harvested 40,000 pounds of two-row barley. Now we’re trying to learn how to malt it. We’re trying to take it a step further to source locally."
If you're not interested in a trip down to the Eastern Shore to visit, but still want to try out some Burley Oak brews check out the Baltimore Beer Week website for information on where you can find them.