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Dr. Jones, I Presume: Steve Jones Leaves Oliver Brewing Company

Baltimore brewing legend Steve Jones began his career in the basement of the Pratt Street Alehouse in 1999, under the tutelage of Barret Lauer, now Director of Brewing Operations at DC’s Right Proper.

The pub system Jones began on is no longer there; Oliver shifted operations to a much larger production brewery on Shannon Drive near I-895 in late 2015. Jones’ last batch in the Pratt Street Ale House basement was gyle number 4,403 on August 8, 2015. That number means that over 4,000 beers had been produced in the basement of the Pratt Street Ale House. Appropriately, that last “gyle” was a collaboration with Kurt Kroll and Brandon “Millhouse” Miller, of Manor Hill Brewing.

The Pratt Street Ale House’s basement brewery was a cramped, tight space, often dimly lit being below street level. More than once this reporter smacked his head on a floor beam exiting the stairwell. But what the space lacked in physical grace, its brewer more than made up for in knowledge, prowess, and camaraderie.

Barrett Lauer wrote of Jones, “When I think of Steve Jones the first thing I think of is his wonderfully balanced beers, and his dedication and hard work. Steve worked for about a year, before getting a paycheck at Oliver’s. Coming from England, it took awhile to get the proper paperwork in order. That didn’t stop Steve from showing up for work every day. He knew he wanted to be a brewer at the Wharf Rat and Oliver Brewing Company and that the position could possibly not be available when he finally did get his papers. On top of working for free, brewing at the Wharf Rat was a very physically demanding job. Constantly ducking, crouching, and banging your head came with the territory. It was definitely not for the weak of heart. I compare his epic run at the Wharf Rat and his subsequent opening of Oliver’s production facility to the likes of Cal Ripken. He is truly someone who you want on your team, shows up every day, and is always a pleasure working with. He is also a kick ass father and family man, of which I can truly appreciate!”

Pratt Street was a long time supporter of proper British ales in and around DC. Jones regularly sent casks to Meridian Pint as well as many other stalwarts of the DC beer scene. In 2013 the Craft Brewers Conference came to DC and Meridian Pint worked with Jones to make cask ales for the event. Of course there were many Olivers casks and collabs in DC prior to 2013. The first beers bearing the 3 Stars name were collaborations with Jones, released at Churchkey in February 2012.

Mike McGarvey, co-founder and head brewer of 3 Stars wrote, “Steve Jones and Oliver Ales helped us during startup in many ways, from sharing techniques and processes to brewing collaborations before our brewery was built. For this we will always be very grateful and the BW Rye series will always hold special significance for me. Steve’s really a brewer’s brewer. He doesn’t care so much about who’s who and he’s not too selective about what information he’s willing to share. I’ve tried to take his generous nature as an example of what stewardship should be and use it as a guide throughout my brewing career.”

According to Jones’ post, part of his reason for leaving has been the difficulty “to balance what is best for our family with work,” given that he and his spouse have been working full time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kurt Kroll of Manor Hill wrote of Jones, ”you think you’re a hard worker until you meet a hard worker. Dr. Jones was one of those people. I’ve done more collabs with him than any other brewery by far. Oliver’s is losing a staple of Maryland brewing that will be hard to replace.”

“Millhouse” Miller wrote, “I met Steve in 2006 as a homebrewer when I was trying to figure out ringwood yeast and make a beer like his Best Bitter. He shared yeast and his knowledge back then and we became good friends as we saw each other more and more at beer festivals as I was starting my own career. We made our first beer collaboration in 2011 and we had so much fun making the beer Kurt, Chipper (Derek Davis), Steve & I would look for any excuse to make a beer together. Since then we have made 15 collaborations together and they were all more than just making beer. We shared music, kids being born and spending time with each other away from the brewery and our families. He has always been a great example of balancing the demands of this business and a healthy family life. Taking care of his family this way is just another example of why I’m proud to be his friend.”

Jeff Hancock of DC Brau wrote, “My favorite memory was first learning of Oliver when Mari and I moved back from Michigan in the mid 2000’s. I was very excited to learn that they had a brew system identical to the one I apprenticed on up at the Grizzly Peak Brewpub in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mari and I ate there a couple of times ahead of miscellaneous events and happenings in Baltimore. Once we started DC Brau and I officially got the pleasure of meeting Steve and sharing battle stories of working on the old Peter Austin brewing systems from the UK, considered antique by today’s standards.

The follow up to our initial meeting was even better, once DC Brau was established and both Steve and I knew that there weren’t a whole lot of next generation brewers who knew that much about traditional British ales. When we decided to brew “Burial at Sea” ruby mild ale, I was elated that I was making a beer with a highly accomplished English ex-pat and it was mild ale at that. At the time of the collaboration, few breweries were even looking at making beers under 5%. Needless to say, the collaborations came out beautifully! Steve Jones is a true local Maryland brewing legend and the mark he left on the DC/MD/VA brewing community will live on in local brewing folklore forever.”

Jones’ first batch at Oliver on Shannon Drive was Ironman Pale Ale, gyle number 0001. His last batch Friday was Beazly, for the Brewer’s Art. Oliver contract brews for the Brewer’s Art amongst other brands and beverages that come from their production facility. Fittingly, Jones began brewing part-time at the Brewer’s Art brewpub last week.

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