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Hand-crafted beer is booming in Frederick

FREDERICK — For Joe Rzepka, it started with buying a basic home-brewing kit and some bottles for a good friend for his birthday.

Rzepka helped that friend brew his first batch of beer, and then helped brew a couple more, he said.

“After that, I went out and got all the equipment needed to do it myself since we liked it so much,” he said.

That was about 16 years ago. Since then, Rzepka has brewed anywhere from two to four batches of beer each year — first in a small townhouse and later, on the front porch and in the garage of his Frederick home.

Each home-brewed batch yields about five gallons of beer, or about two cases, Rzepka said. His skill grew, and now he makes 10-gallon batches at a time.

“Once you get into it, it just never ends,” Rzepka said of his hobby.

In addition to brewing his own beverages, Rzepka has become involved in many groups geared toward beer-makers and beer-lovers in Frederick, he said, including Frederick’s Original Ale Makers and the Junto Society Beer Club at Flying Dog Brewery.

FOAM has been in existence for some time, but Rzepka joined in 2003 after moving to Frederick, he said. Members pay an inexpensive annual membership fee, and the group holds monthly meetings to discuss upcoming events — such as Frederick Beer Week or local home-brew competitions — or host visitors from local breweries. The club also hosts several events throughout the year for members, including holiday and pool parties, Rzepka said.

Flying Dog Brewery established its Junto Society Beer Club in January, said Kenneth MacFawn, club coordinator. Once Flying Dog announced it was starting the club, the 100 spots filled up within just two hours, MacFawn said.

The name of the club was inspired by a group of the same name created by Benjamin Franklin, MacFawn said.

“Junto was a society that (Franklin) came up with … which involved a group of guys getting together on Friday nights at a bar, having a few beers and thinking about how to improve society,” he said.

Keeping with the theme, Flying Dog’s Junto society, made up of male and female beer-lovers, boasts the motto, “great thinkers and beer drinkers,” MacFawn said.

Members pay an annual fee to be a part of the society, which includes a T-shirt and a six-pack or growler (a 64-ounce, glass, flip-top beer container) of that month’s featured beer to take home after each meeting, MacFawn said.

At each meeting, a different Flying Dog employee talks about the specific beer being introduced by the brewery that month, including a discussion about the ingredients and how it’s made, MacFawn said. Flying Dog is releasing about 23 new beers this year, MacFawn added.

“It’s a great way for people to learn more about these beers … to be able to ask the brewers why they picked a specific ingredient, how they got a certain taste to come through, or what they were going for when creating the beer,” he said.

Frederick Wine House also started a beer club in December for the purpose of introducing craft beer fans to different styles and breweries, said Guy Fritz, Frederick Wine House’s beer specialist.

Similar to Flying Dog’s Junto Society, members pay an annual fee to join, which includes a six-pack to go of whatever beer is being showcased that month.

Unlike the Junto Society, the Frederick Wine House beer club, currently made up of about 50 people, features beers brewed throughout the country and is still accepting members. The Junto Society club is much more private, MacFawn said.

At each monthly meeting at Frederick Wine House, a different brewer visits the shop to talk about his or her beer, or the club Skypes with a brewer from another state. So far, they have talked to brewers from California, Colorado, Maine and Pennsylvania, to name a few, Fritz said.

“I always choose breweries that I think people will want to learn more about … or I try to showcase a more rare beer,” Fritz said.

Of the club, Fritz said it also builds camaraderie between the breweries and beer shops, such as theirs.

“It’s always good to work together and know where your beer comes from.”