FREDERICK — James McEver credits his uncle for introducing him to brewing beer, and at 25, he recently became the new owner of Flying Barrel — a Frederick beer-making company for more than three decades.
McEver has been brewing for only a couple of years. He loved to cook and wanted to be a chef when he was a child but didn’t go to culinary school. In college, he drank lots of coffee and tea and read about them constantly.
“I was enthralled by coffee and tea,” McEver said. “That changed after working on the farm. After 100-degree weather being in the hot sun all day, someone passed me a nice cold Yuengling, and I understood. I’ve been trying new beers since then.”
Brewing his own beer was a natural extension of enjoying professionally brewed beer, McEver said.
“It deepens the appreciation for the beverage,” McEver said. “I love having a commercially brewed beer and being able to taste flavors that I recognize from some of my brews.”
McEver became the owner of Flying Barrel in March. He worked with previous owner Bob Frank for nearly two years learning the business, which recently moved from smaller quarters on South Carroll Street to a larger space on North Market Street in Frederick.
McEver’s father was in the Army, so he moved around a lot. He attended high school and college in northern New Jersey, “so I consider that to be where I’m from.”
His grandparents and aunt and uncle live in Frederick, where he visited often growing up.
“I felt totally comfortable moving here and setting down some roots,” McEver said, believing that Frederick offers the ideal home-brewing atmosphere.
“Frederick and home-brew go hand in hand,” the entrepreneur said. “I’m not sure if it’s the German heritage, or the great craft beer scene, or the agricultural presence, but there are a lot of home brewers in our area.”
He remembers coming home after closing up the shop one day. “My neighbor was brewing out in his yard with some buddies,” he said. “It was a great moment where I realized how communal of an activity brewing can be.”
McEver equates brewing beer to a backyard barbecue where everyone sits around the brewpot taking in the aromas and flavors, wondering how the batch is going to turn out.
“I have some customers who come in every two weeks like clockwork,” McEver said. “They keep their cellars full and are constantly brewing to keep beer or wine in their pipeline.”
The variety of people who home-brew is surprising, McEver said. His customers include yuppies, scientists, teachers, government workers, firefighters, and blue- and white-collar types.
In addition to selling ingredients, equipment and supplies, Flying Barrel lets customers rent brew kettles and offers guidance. The many steps involved in brewing can be intimidating to new brewers, McEver said, so having an experienced guide really helps getting started.
“We let the customer choose what they want to brew, and the options are pretty much only limited to their creativity,” McEver said. “I love it when a customer’s eyes light up when they realize they’ve entered into a new world of making your own beer, wine, cider, mead and any other concoctions you can think of.
“It takes a lot to make a great beverage and be able to reproduce success, but it’s a noble pursuit.”
Most of his friends have gone on to work on Wall Street for financial firms or large corporations.
“Even though I’m not making anywhere close to what they are, they’re sometimes jealous of all the fun I get to have,” McEver said. “They’re excited for me that I was able to make it happen and become my own boss. Some of my friends are aspiring to do the same, so I try to encourage them.”
McEver said he likes thought-provoking things.
“I tend to think about philosophy and spirituality a lot. I guess that’s what happens when your father and both grandfathers are ministers,” McEver said.
Dave Belcher is proud of his nephew.
“I mentored him, and I think he’ll be very successful,” Belcher said. “He’s a very smart kid. He got double bachelor’s degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology, and he was third in his class.
“I have faith in him, although I’m a little biased, but I think he’s got the right attitude and attention to detail to make it work.”