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Father and son convert fire station into brewpub

It started with a pale ale.

While attending college in Canada, Ian Hummel began home brewing as a way to release creative energy. He spent the next four years experimenting with recipes — some results better than others — and getting feedback from his friends.

Now a certified brewmaster, Hummel and his father, Harry Hummel, plan to open a Mount Vernon brewpub in October. Brew House No. 16, located in a former fire station near Center Stage, received unanimous approval from the city’s liquor board earlier this month.

The bar and restaurant will serve Chesapeake-inspired cuisine, Ian Hummel said. Crab cakes, mussels, oysters, hamburgers and paella will be on the menu, along with plenty of beer. Harry Hummel said the restaurant will emphasize locally sourced food.

Ian Hummel will brew five styles of beer, including an IPA, a bittersweet chocolate stout and American brown ale. Eventually, he wants to expand to between six and nine types and add seasonal specials such as a wheat beer during the summer and a pumpkin ale in the fall.

In the meantime, the Hummels are cleaning up and restoring the North Calvert Street firehouse, built in 1908. Ian Hummel found the location online during a four-month-long search.

“It was perfect. Everything about it, like the height of the ceilings for the brewery, the ambience,” Hummel said. “I could just see a restaurant and brewery here.”

On Friday, contractors milled around the first floor of the firehouse, and Harry Hummel reviewed plans for the bar. Harry Hummel, a principal at Francis Cauffman Architects, will retire this year. In college, he owned a sandwich shop, and he is eager to get back into the restaurant business.

“He’s in his place,” Ian Hummel said. “He’s running around, talking to people. He’s having so much fun.”

The father and son team want to open in time for an Oktoberfest celebration, but Ian Hummel said that so far projects have taken about twice as long as expected.

At the back of the spacious hall, silver fermentation tanks were still unwrapped. Six red booths at the front also remained in their plastic. Ian Hummel picked up a rusted lantern that will hang under the building’s archway.

“Everything is still a little rough, so envision it,” he said.

Outside, “Baltimore City Fire Department” reads at the top of the old firehouse, and “No. 16” stands out in bold lettering above the red double doors. The Hummels will add “Brew House” to the archway but preserve the rest of the building’s facade.

“When [patrons] come in, I would like them to feel that the history of the building and the area and the restaurant are hand-in-hand,” Harry Hummel said.

Marion Winik, the brewpub’s marketing and public relations vice president, expects the restaurant to attract local students and Center State theatergoers.

“The ambience of the place will be perfect for all the UB and Peabody students — artisanal, unique, home-grown, historic — with great beer,” said Winik, who is also a University of Baltimore professor and Baltimore Fishbowl columnist.

The brewpub will have indoor and outdoor seating. Cheryl Knott, who has lived in Mount Vernon for seven years, said she initially was concerned that outdoor seating might be too noisy at night. But not many restaurants in the area offer outdoor seating, which she said could help Brew House distinguish itself from other bars.

Another restaurant within walking distance also could shorten wait times for casual food and beer, Knott said.

“I often go to Brewer’s Art, which is consistently great, but it’s often packed,” she said. “Hopefully with more options to choose from in the neighborhood, the crowd can be dispersed a bit.”

Mount Vernon resident Geoff Rowland, a self-described beer connoisseur, plans to check out Brew House when it opens. For him, the prime draw of a brewpub is a diverse menu and, of course, delicious beer. As long as the menu stands out and the beer is unique, he said, it will be a neighborhood hit.

“In order to stand out from the competition in the area, namely Brewers Art, I think they will need to offer something different — either many specialty beers on tap or perhaps go with a more ‘German beer hall’ type vibe,” said Rowland, who has lived in Mount Vernon for four years.

When Brew House opens and the first patrons walk in, Ian Hummel looks forward to helping people pair their entrees with a beer. He studied the art and science of beer-making during a six-month course at a world-renowned brewing institution, and he continues to read books about beer. The path to becoming a great brewer never ends, he said.  

“We don’t need to make the best beers in Baltimore, but we want to make people’s favorite beers,” Hummel said. “That’s important to us. We want people to come in and celebrate with us and have a good time.”