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Meet Silver Spring's Citizens Brewing Company

This summer, Citizens Brewing Company (@citizensbrewco) will be opening its doors in Silver Spring, MD, just across the DC border.  I recently caught up with the team behind the project.  What follows is a lightly edited copy of that interview.

How did Citizens Brewing Co. come to be?  In particular, how did the locals behind the venture come to partner with head brewer Jeff Ramirez?

Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti are residents of downtown Silver Spring, and Julie was raised here.  Jeff is our brother-in-law and has been in the industry for five years at Iron Hill Brewery (PA) and Mountain Sun Brewery (CO), where he has produced the flagship beers for both locations and most recently ran the specialty beer program.  After years of individually aspiring to open an entertainment venue and brewery, the team decided to found Citizens in early 2013.  We knew that with Jeff's brewing skills and Emily and Julie's relationships in the community, we could create a unique venue and successful brewery.

What kind of system will you be brewing on - capacity, fermenters, etc - and do you have an expected delivery date?

We have purchased a used system from Choc Beer Company in Krebs, OK.  The system is all Specific Mechanical equipment and includes a 15 BBL steam jacketed brewhouse, five 15 BBL fermenters, a 15 BBL bright tank, a 30 BBL hot liquor tank, and a 20 BBL cold liquor tank.  Additionally, we purchased two 10 BBL fermenters specifically for sour and "wild" beer production that will be used as primary fermenters for these beers before they go into barrels. We are currently in the process of purchasing additional equipment to complete the brewery.  We are working to have the system installed by March.

We are looking at an approximate first year production of 1,500 BBLs with this equipment if we average 2-3 weeks tank time per beer and we have the the potential to double this production with the amount of space at the 1115 East-West Highway location.

I've heard that you'll be putting out a broad range of beers, from lagers to Belgians to sours.  In a time when many breweries choose to focus on a particular category or style, what led you to go in the other direction and develop a wide array of products? 

One of the reasons we all enjoy and got into craft beer is for the variety.  We want to be able offer the experience of going to a beer bar or brewpub, interacting with knowledgeable staff, and making an educated and fun decision on what we are going to imbibe instead of walking up to the bar and asking the bartender for a "Bud" because that's your brand.

As of now our planned five core beers are a Bohemian Pilsner, Robust Porter, India Red Ale, Rye IPA, and American-Belgo Pale (or rotating Belgian ).  This is going to require managing three yeast strains at a time with only five fermenters to start, and any brewer will tell you that this is no easy task (especially when three of those five beers will be dry-hopped to some degree).  Fortunately for Jeff, he had to do this pretty often at Mountain Sun with only five fermenters.  When looking at this lineup, we can't think of any season or time of day that we would want to drink a beer and wouldn't be satisfied with one of these choices.  So hopefully this will be the same for our customers.

This is a broad question, so feel free to answer any way you want: what do you hope to bring to the craft beer scene here in the DC area?  

We're excited to be part of the burgeoning scene, bringing the craft beer tradition, style, and expertise to Silver Spring. As an urban brewery, we will prioritize interaction with customers to engage both craft beer aficionados and those new to craft beer in an exciting beer experience.  Citizens will produce and sell beer on site, and we will also sell our flagship beers to select bars and restaurants across the region. 

Our focus will be traditional European-style lagers, American-style ales and Belgian-inspired beers but given Jeff’s experience in specialty brews, we also want to push the envelope and serve innovative beers people might not have tried before. This range allows us to engage with a wider set of customers through craft beer, while still having a more specific selection available for distribution.

What is it about Silver Spring and the people there that made you pick 1115 East-West Highway as your location?

Silver Spring is a great place to live, with a diverse population and a lot of charm and character in our local establishments.  As residents, we recognize that there is an unmet demand for nightlife and restaurant options, and we want to provide the community with a great location to explore craft beer.  The location at 1115 East-West Highway is ideal for what we want to do in our urban brewery - we will have a large (3500 square feet!) and comfortable outdoor beer garden, seating for dining in the space upstairs, and a bar downstairs where the brewing takes place. With over 4,500 apartment units within blocks of our location, we know that we can provide a great venue for downtown residents who deserve high quality food and drink. Also, our location is less than a ten-minute walk from the Silver Spring metro so we’re accessible to beer lovers everywhere in the DC area.

What aspects of the brewpub model appeal to you?  Any details on the proposed partnership with a local restaurant that will handle the food?

We wanted to do an urban brewery with a tasting room because we want to enable our customers' full experience of craft beer. By enjoying beer where it is produced, we can offer customers tailored recommendations, detailed explanations of the beer style and taste, and can serve fresh, high quality brews.  

We will be announcing our restaurant partners on our social media (access via www.citizensbrewingco.com) in the coming months, but rest assured they are established and well known in the region. Working closely with them to design the menu, we will provide seasonal food in an “American tapas” style that complements our beer and accommodates the different settings for drinking and dining. We will have items perfect for sharing, small plates, and full courses for beer garden patrons and diners alike.

Montgomery County's regulations regarding alcohol are more stringent than those in nearby areas.  What made you choose Silver Spring?  How have your dealings with county authorities been so far?

In July 2013, the Maryland craft beer scene had a major boost - the state laws changed so breweries can sell pints and growlers directly to customers.  From the beginning, we have worked extremely closely with the MoCo Council and County officials and Maryland MoCo state delegation to review the laws on the books and discuss improvements, particularly as part of the MoCo Nighttime Economy Task Force.

Our elected officials and local civil servants have been incredibly supportive and helpful, and we're fortunate to be working on several changes that will further improve the situation for breweries. Because of this close collaboration, together we are doing some great work to improve the landscape for craft beer in MoCo and the nighttime economy of Silver Spring.  

What's the timeframe for opening?  Are you planning on releasing any collaboration projects prior to that?

We are designing and building out the space and will be installing our equipment in the next few months.  We are working towards an early summer opening.  We're fortunate to have our equipment arriving several months before we open, so are looking forward to beginning to brew and collaborate with other breweries in the months before our opening (permits pending, of course!).

Last but not least, what are your favorite local beers?

We are excited to join the DC region's craft beer scene and think there are a lot of great breweries here.  For our favorite local brews, we have to tip our hats to our neighbors to the north at The Brewer's Art, Heavy Seas, and DuClaw.  

 

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