Historically, when most people think of Montgomery County, Maryland, they do not think about craft beer. In fact, until recently it has probably been the opposite, with the county gaining a reputation for red tape and Department of Liquor Control shortcomings. The past couple of years may signal that this reputation is outdated. In the past six months alone, two breweries (Saints Row and True Respite) have opened along East Gude Drive in Rockville, and at least two more are slated to open alongside Denizens in Silver Spring this year (Astrolab and Silver Branch).
I got the chance to visit both Saints Row and True Respite this past weekend, and it is clear the locals are thankful for the nearby options. Both taprooms garnered significant crowds. About a mile from each other on East Gude, they both cater to a family crowd. True Respite offers a large open-air space complete with games. Saints Row cultivates a laid-back, neighborhood vibe with an garage door that opens on nice days.
While True Respite seemed to lean more towards traditional styles (with two delightful grisettes, an awesome ginger-spiked witbier and smoked stout) and Saints Row embraced newer styles (their Thick Lines can face-off in a blind test with most Aslin IPAs, honestly), they probably shared more in common than they differed. In fact, one of True Respite’s first beer offerings was a collaboration with Saints Row called “Gude Two Shoes,” a blonde ale fruited with mango puree.
I got to email with True Respite owner Brendan O’Leary to get his thoughts on the MoCo beer environment, including the community and why he thinks the county’s regulatory changes could see an explosion of craft brewing in the area. What follows below is a transcript lightly edited for length and clarity.
In your previous interview with DCBeer, you said that what sets True Respite apart is building more than a product and instead an experience to be felt whenever you visit the tap room. How did you go about creating this in the building you chose? Is there anything special in the tap room that you think will cultivate this type of atmosphere?
Building a community center is at least as much about engagement as it is the tap room itself. Although we’re young (as we sit here with a week under our belt…) we’ve already managed to include several community groups in our tap room experience. At our ribbon-cutting event, we had representatives from the City of Rockville, BlackRock Center for the Arts, and the Mid-Atlantic Offroad Enthusiasts (to name a few). We plan to make inclusion of a wide variety of hobbyist and community groups a recurring theme. Our ultimate goal is for everyone who walks through the doors to have a chance to be introduced to new people and new experiences in the area if they so choose.
We also have a games table meant for bringing groups together over shared activities right here at our tables. As sports lovers ourselves, we’ll have live TV for major sporting events so that fans can gather to root for their hometown teams.
Your opening lineup seemed to balance new trends (NEIPA) and more traditional styles (two grisettes!!) - why did you decide to open with this? Are there any styles you particularly plan to focus on or will you keep producing such a wide portfolio?
We’ll always have an interesting mix of new and traditional styles. Our brewing philosophy really centers around a concept called “MAYA” (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable). It’s all about taking the familiar and twisting it just enough to create a brand new experience. Kenny, our Brewmaster, has perfected both traditional and wacky styles through the years and has now focused his abilities into twisting traditional beers just enough to create brand new and interesting concoctions. Finding that delicate line where new and interesting doesn’t cross into weird is his true genius.
His talent for dancing that line while not being scared to innovate really shines through in our Grisette Vin Blanc, a wheaty and sessionable French saison twisted with flavors common in Vinho Verde (a Portuguese white wine).
Montgomery County, at least until recently, has not been known as friendly to liquor or independent craft beer. The Washingtonian has compared it to Soviet Russia. In addition to True Respite opening, however, Saints Row Brewing opened recently, Denizens has remained a force in the entire DMV, and their own Julie Verratti is running for office. How was your experience in opening the brewery and the red tape involved? Do you think the tides are turning for craft beer and liquor in the county or that the county has outgrown this reputation?
The powers that be in Montgomery County have absolutely turned a new leaf. While the General Assembly continues to bite their collective thumbs at our industry, Montgomery County in particular has come around to truly embrace the burgeoning industry. County Council President Hans Riemer was instrumental in helping us navigate issues that would surely have hamstrung new breweries in the past. Even the DLC and the Department of Permitting Services stepped up at various times to make sure that we got the help we needed to pass inspections and meet all requirements. Given the current environment, I wouldn’t be shocked to see beer in Montgomery County explode.
Do you think the Governor attending your opening is another good sign for Montgomery County as a beer destination? How was that experience?
Governor Hogan’s visit was an absolute pleasure from start to finish. He arrived, said a few words to the crowd waiting outside, and then stepped inside the brewery for a personal tour. He gave us plenty of direct attention and asked a lot of intuitive questions about the equipment and the process. He showed sincere interest in the industry and then followed that great tour up with an outstanding summary of the good that craft beer has already done for Maryland as well as giving an endorsement of progressing the industry in the state. I’m not exactly sure that his appearance at our opening spells the coming of greatness for Montgomery County as much as the state at-large. He’s a true supporter of the industry, and it seems to us that his leadership in driving change at the state level is going to be felt in the next session.
Building off that, how have you found the beer community in Montgomery County? One of your first beers was a Saints Row collaboration. Is this something you plan on continuing to do in the future?
We’ve gotten no better support than we have from the brewers already operating in the county. The MoCo beer community is tight and everyone seems to have everyone else’s backs. It’s probably one of the single most satisfying things about opening here. Although we feel like we could never really pay all of those favors back, we’re doing our best to pay it forward as breweries like Silver Branch and Astro Lab are working to open their doors as well. These are all great people doing their best to build great businesses that do great things for their communities. What’s not to love??
Our collaboration with Saints Row was born out of an impatient desire to establish Rockville as a true beer lover’s destination. We see our successes as inescapably intertwined, and anything we can do to improve the desirability of Rockville as a destination for great beer is fair game. We’re still digging ourselves out from the dent opening weekend put into our beer inventory, but I suspect you’ll be seeing more cross-county collaborations from us and our peers as we begin to build the legend that will be MoCo beer.
You are now offering crowlers. In addition to these, are you planning on distributing kegs outside of the tap room or starting a packaging line for cans or bottles?
It won’t be long before you start to see True Respite beers on tap at local watering holes. We’re starting exclusively on draft but will move into canned product once we’ve figured out what the good people of Montgomery County are most thirsty for. For now, we’re just going to continue brewing great, twisted beers, and we’ll keep an eye on what really catches fire so we can decide when the time is right to move to cans.
Thanks to Brendan for his time, and best wishes to True Respite and the rest of the MoCo breweries as their scene continues to grow!