There are a lot of different brewery models out there. Some people specialize in IPAs. Some people really like barrel-aged beers. Others focus on lagers. Even in the DC area you've got brewers making beers with yeast from whale bones, brewers making beers for specific sports teams, and even brewers making beers inspired by Nine-Inch-Nails. So we're no strangers to variety in these parts. With that said, Catalog Brewing, a fledgling operation based in the Rt. 1 Farmers Market and Bazaar in the Gateway Arts District of Mount Rainier, Maryland, has a model unlike any we've seen so far.
According to their website, Catalog is "a nanobrewery concept that takes inspiration from the granddaddy of the maker movement-the Sears Modern Home. Our goal is to promote the tenets of sustainability, empowerment, hyper-localism, and community engagement through the language of grain, water, and hops." It was founded this year by homebrewers Patrick McDonough and Kenny George. The brewery is currently "in the research and development phase, working to produce a sustainable supply of hops, potable rainwater, and plant matter high in sugars." They note that their processes are "not proprietary, and we invite the homebrew community to contribute their knowledge and experience."
This Saturday, June 28, Catalog will have its first workshop, a walking tour of Sears Catalog Homes. They'll also be showing off their Beer Lab, an
experimental lab space where the artists will test and explore sustainable beer making practices. Some of the efforts they are undertaking to begin this endeavor include growing hops in container gardens made from reclaimed materials, rainwater collection, filtration, and homemade solar water heating, and the exploration of different plant matter that is high in simple sugars and will grow abundantly in a confined space.
We had a chance to interview McDonough and George via email. A lightly edited transcript of that interview follows below.
DCBeer: How did you two meet, and how did you get into homebrewing?
Catalog: We met in graduate school at George Washington University. We learned to brew through the common mix of friends who brew, kits, catalog browsing, internet research and pilgrimages to local brew shop shamans. Both of us are big beer fans with an interest in working with green practices, and DIY culture, so a homebrew project seemed like a good fit.
D: How does the hyperlocal sourcing of your ingredients impacts recipe development, the ability to replicate recipes, etc.?
C: We are calling ourselves a nanobrewery, which we see as one step smaller than a micro brewery. Our name "Catalog Brewing," as opposed to "Catalog Brewery," places emphasis on the practice of brewing rather than the product of a specific beer. This is a fairly new idea, so everything is in the research and development phase. Our aim is that we will produce super small batches of beers that are derived from as many local ingredients as possible. This means most batches will likely be 5-10 gallon limited releases and may not be duplicated unless ingredients permit. Given the emphasis on education and open sources culture, however, we will carefully document everything that we do so that it could be easily recreated by anyone interested.
D: How has the community responded to having Catalog in its backyard? Are people getting involved in the way you hoped they would?
C: The homebrewer community embraced this concept with open arms when we held our homebrewer exchange library event during the Mt. Rainier Better Block. It seems like there is a great desire to have local beer in the community. Our hope is that we become another avenue to bring all who are interested in beer, brewing, and sustainable living together to extend the dialogue in these respective fields.
D: What kinds of beers have you produced so far, and what are you hoping to produce?
C: So far, we have only brewed a few standard session pale ales. Nothing too aggressive, just balanced ales hopped with Maryland-grown Cascade. Our hopes are to experiment with whatever ingredients we yield at the Route 1 Farmers Market. We have Cascade, Magnum, and Zeus hops in the ground as well as barley. We also have some garden greens and spices like cilantro and chard that we might experiment with throwing in a batch or two. And of course we hope to brew with collected and filtered Maryland rainwater.
D: How has water collection been going so far, how long does it take you to collect enough water for a batch?
C: We recently completed the construction of the Gleaning the Rains rain collection trailer with our partnering artists J.J. McCracken, and Margaret Boozer. This system will collect 275 gallons of water from several inches of rain fall (I cannot give you exact measurements since we haven't had significant rainfall since its completion from which to measure) [Editor's Note, this interview took place earlier this month]. This should hopefully produce adequate rainwater for keeping our crops well-fed as well as brewing some small-batch runs.
D: When your website says you're working on producing "plant matter high in sugar," does that mean your beers aren't going to be primarily brewed with barley/grain? Will you go in a different direction?
C: We planted barley and will hopefully yield enough to brew a couple of batches by the end of the season. However, we are curious about seeing what other available crops can be used in beer making. For example, Mike Turner, another fantastic artist contributing to the Route 1 Farmers Market, is growing an abundant crop of sunflowers. Perhaps we can harvest some ingredients from that or work with other local farmers to get high sugar crops, like fruits, corn, rye, etc. to brew with. It's all about tapping into what we can get from our surrounding communities.
D: Is the plan to go through the TTB process and become a licensed brewery that sells beer to the public?
C: As of now, our only plans are to operate as an experimental brewing space that contributes ideas about homebrewing to the local community, though we would love it if our practices gained enough traction to bring a product to the general public. Who knows, with the public being as generous and supportive as they have been so far, it is not unreasonable to think that we may see a Vallonia IPA or Americus Ale on tap at a local brewpub in DC or Maryland sometime soon. Only time will tell!
D: How can people get more involved with your project?
C: We will be brewing on-site at the Route 1 Farmers Market in Brentwood Maryland at 4100 Rhode Island Avenue on August 16 at 10:00AM. We invite anyone interested to come take part in the event. Additionally, please check our site for updates at www.catalogbrewing.com
, and contribute to the conversation about making local beer. It is with the support of the DC/Maryland homebrewing community that we hoping to make this project a success, so let's grow some hops and make some beer!