A nearly empty flight of beer from Mobtown Brewing

People are staying closer to home these days, but there’s still lots to do in the region. 9 ½ Hours is a feature with suggestions for local day trips.

Breweries and taprooms are bubbling up across Baltimore, and to us they seem like an ideal industry for a city full of people who are itching to spend time together again.

Baltimore’s small breweries are founded by entrepreneurs bringing new life to historic but underused spaces — reclaiming wood, installing gleaming tanks, constructing entertainment stages and creating spaces for people to laugh and sip with their neighbors.

The owners and founders of these small businesses tend to be steeped in the science they need to master the technical skills that turn water and hops and barley and yeast into hazy IPAs, crisp pilsners and creamy stouts.

The breweries we visited survived the pandemic through ingenuity and tenacity, opening outdoor spaces and pivoting to bottling, canning and distribution to stay alive when their taprooms closed.

Baltimore Fishbowl is here to help you design your own brewpub tour in 9 ½ hours. So designate a driver, and come with us as we visit neighborhoods, see cool architecture and drink like a local.

Bigger breweries like Guinness Open Gate, Heavy Seas, and Union Craft are wonderful and definitely worth a visit. But those on our list may be a little less well-known. For this tour, we stayed small, hopping and buzzing through the blocks of Baltimore.

Mobtown Brewing Company

Murals by local artists enliven the taproom of Mobtown Brewing.

Mobtown Brewing, which opened in 2019 at 4015 Foster Avenue, honors the history of Baltimore beer.

“We felt that opening a brewery in Brewers Hill would be pretty great considering the history here with the National Bohemian and Gunther breweries just up the hill from us,” says co-owner and head brewer Dave Carpenter. In 2018, he decided to leave his career in geotechnical engineering,  enrolled in a master brewers program at the University of California, Davis, and began searching for a Baltimore location to start his business.

Carpenter and his partners chose the empty shell of a building that had originally been used by Westinghouse to make electric motors used on military ships. Reclaimed pine flooring from a Lake Clifton High School renovation became paneling. The bar footrests are made from Canton Railroad Company rails. Colorful murals were painted by local artists Marshall Adams and Chelsea Henery.

The fully renovated building now provides a popular gathering spot for residents of Canton, Fells Point, Brewers Hill, and Highlandtown. “Two of the owners and almost all of our employees live in the neighborhood,” says Carpenter.

During a recent visit, we tasted six brews by ordering a flight, our selections guided by a helpful server wearing a “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian” T-shirt that definitely completely fooled us.

Like many breweries, Mobtown pivoted during the pandemic and begin canning their beers, which are now available in bars, restaurants and liquor stores throughout central Maryland and Washington DC.

Ministry of Brewing

Tanks for beer soar on the alter of the former church that is now Ministry of Brewiing.

In Upper Fells Point, one of Baltimore’s newest breweries is perhaps its most unique. The Ministry of Brewing operates from within the cavernous former St. Michaels Church at 1900 East Lombard Street.

The business opened in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic shutdown, but by the grace of some deity, it has persisted.

Co-founder Ernst Valery is a Baltimore resident and developer who, according to the brewery’s website, “specializes in transforming the distressed into the vibrant.”

Inside, gleaming tanks dominate the altar of the Romanesque revival style church, and patrons can sit on pew-style benches, comfortably distanced from each other, for a beer-hall flavor.

The tap handles mimic the look of the stained-glass windows that illuminate the cavernous space, and the man operating those taps told us that the building was featured in a scene in the 2004 film “Ladder 49,” which starred Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta and was filmed primarily around Baltimore.

Esquire magazine just listed Ministry as one of the 27 best bars in America.  “What are you feeling? Perhaps it’s a greater power. Or maybe it’s just 9.9 Problems, the potent, 9.9 percent ABV stout,” said the magazine.

Diamondback Brewing Company

The taproom of Diamondback Brewing is built around an industrial smokestack.

Located in the heart of Locust Point at 1215 East Fort Avenue, Diamondback calls itself an experimental production brewery focused on unfiltered lagers and hop-forward ales.

Co-founder and owner Tom Foster said the Diamondback idea started during his senior year at University of Maryland College Park. He and his partners were home-brewing out of their house and eventually developed a business plan and started contract brewing in St. Michael’s. After two years, they pivoted to Baltimore and opened the Locust Point facility in 2016.

The team was looking for a place with an industrial feel that retained characteristics of a neighborhood brewery. The Locust Point location – a former home of Coca Cola as well as Phillips Seafood – fit the bill. The taproom features a towering smoke stack that became the focal point of the brewery. A new 2,500-square-foot outdoor patio provides a beer garden experience within city limits.

Customers tend to be couples and young families from Locust Point and surrounding neighborhoods, Foster said.

To survive the pandemic, he said, “We launched a delivery service that extended throughout the state, and allowed us to reach a wider customer base. We also launched a local pizza delivery service that ran pizza all throughout the city of Baltimore.”

Foster says Diamondback is best known for its house IPA, called Green Machine, but the brewery also produces everything from Czech Pilsners to English Milds. “I think we are most known for producing a wide range of unique offerings, which allow our customers to experience beers outside of their norm,” he said.

Suspended Brewing Company

A drawing for the redesign of the space of Suspended Brewing hangs on the wall.

Suspended is a true local spot with a great vibe for Pigtown, a neighborhood always on the cusp of a renaissance. Founded by UMBC grads, it’s known for its sour beers – some infused with peach and other flavors.

The team oversaw a terrific renovation of its space at 912 Washington Boulevard, which is filled with warm wood and interesting chandeliers.

Suspended is becoming known for its knowledgeable staff – and visitors say it’s an ideal spot for day drinking.

Checkerspot Brewing Company

The patio of Checkerspot

Judy Neff started homebrewing as a hobby about 15 years ago and eventually had eight taps in the basement of her Baltimore home. “It was getting out of control,” she said.

So Neff, who had earned a PhD in microbiology from Johns Hopkins, decided to leave her job with a hospital disinfectant startup and turn her hobby into a full-time business.

“Making beer is so much more fun,” she said. “It’s hard work but at the end of the day you’ve made this awesome beer.”

She and husband Rob Neff opened the Checkerspot Brewing Co. in June 2018 at 1399 South Sharp Street, choosing a location in the shadow of M&T Stadium, with plenty of parking and room for indoor and outdoor seating.

When the pandemic shut down their taproom, the large covered parking lot across the street became ideal for outdoor food and beverage enjoyment. The Neffs also started canning their beer, which is now sold in restaurant and liquor stores across Baltimore.

Judy Neff is an advocate for women in brewing. Baltimore Beer Babes, which she founded in 2012, now has about 80 members who share home brewing information and cheer each other on.

Monument City Brewing Company

Monument City is in a great location near Patterson Park, with plenty of parking.

Monument City Brewing Company is located 1 North Haven Street, a commercial portion of Highlandtown that’s a couple of blocks east of Patterson Park.

It was founded by brothers Ken and Matt Praay, who concocted the idea while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Ken Praay said that after moving to Baltimore about 20 years ago, he was inspired by Brewer’s Art, perhaps the grandfather of all city brewpubs, and grew enamored of “the idea of making beer and sharing it with the community.”

The Praays opened Monument City in 2017, in a space built in 1904 to house the Williamson Veneer Factory. Renovations exposed the concrete floor and left plenty of wood. As a nice touch, you can pour your own drinking water from a beer tap. There’s plenty of parking and the location is dog-friendly. They took the opportunity to reconfigure and expand their customer spaces during the pandemic.

Ken says that 51 Rye is their signature beer, but that there are a lot of good IPAs and other varieties to try.

So is Baltimore’s local beer market getting too crowded? No way, says Ken. With so much variety, brew lovers can find something that suits their palette, while supporting local businesses.

“We all bring something a little different to the table,” he said. “I’m of the opinion there is still room, and its great to have options.”