Freshly Tapped spotlights one recently released beer, whether it be a flagship, one-off, seasonal, or modified recipe.
Previously in Freshly Tapped: Right Proper’s Maslow; 3 Stars and Charm City Meadworks’ Two-Headed Unicorn; Aslin’s The Adventures of Audrey; Atlas Brew Works’ Dance of Days; Old Ox’s Funky Face; Handsome Beer’s White Ale; Ocelot and Bluejacket’s Raised on Promises; and 3 Stars’ #ultrafresh.
Almost every Union beer is laced with a reference to the city of Baltimore or the state it anchors.
But more often than not, it’s a little more subtle.
The brewery’s flagship pale ale, Duckpin, nods to a regional variation of ten-pin bowling that (arguably) originated in Baltimore over a century ago. Its hoppy barleywine, Chessie, refers to a sea monster that lives in the Chesapeake Bay – or so the legend goes. There are allusions to historical figures (Baltimore’s first African American mayor, Kurt Schmoke; “Star Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key), sports heroes (understated but reliable first baseman Eddie Murray; the city’s beloved Ravens), and filmmaker John Waters, who’s often used the nearby Hampden neighborhood as his canvas. Waters has inspired at least two beers to date: Rye Baby IPA and a kettle-soured ale called Pink Flamingo.
The list goes on. If you’re not from Baltimore, perhaps you catch a few of these cultural references. Or maybe they’re just empty words on an aluminum can or bar menu. But if you’re from the city, these things have meaning. They resonate. You might have grown up playing mini-golf in Ocean City. You might have cruised down 34th Street with your family every December. You might faintly remember the documentary about a Judas Priest tailgate out in Landover.
If there’s an underlying message, it’s this: Union is a brewery not just in Baltimore but of Baltimore.
Of course, this goes deeper than simply beer names and label designs. Five years ago, Jon Zerivitz and Adam Benesch decided to found a production brewery in their hometown with Kevin Blodger – a seasoned brewer and an old college buddy of Benesch. And they wanted it to be located within the city limits, which came with higher costs and more headaches but was essential to their vision of a community brewery.
“We’d traveled a lot, and we’d seen craft beer really digging in around the country, but not really here,” Zerivitz remembers. “Baltimore had some established legacy brands, but there wasn’t a brewery where we wanted to go hang out, one that was programming cool things around beer, one that was making the beers that we were seeking out. We just said, ‘No one else is doing it, and if we don’t, someone else will.’”
Since opening in the spring of 2012, Union has again and again backed up this talk. Its output of flagships, seasonals, and one-offs has been unimpeachable, from aromatic hop-forward ales to traditional German recipes to citrusy kettle-sours. Simply put, no other area brewery has exhibited a mastery of – and creativity within – so many styles.
“Every style that Union brews, it nails,” says Ocelot Brewing founder Adrien Widman. “They don’t have any weaknesses. Many breweries will have one or two good beers, and everything else is just OK. It’s always impressive when you find someone who is brewing fantastic IPAs and kettle-sours and an Altbier. ”
What’s equally impressive is the way Union has continued to put Baltimore first. This year, it invited people to the parking lot of its Woodberry facility for a soapbox derby, an annual oyster eating contest, and a fundraiser for small businesses affected by the Jones Fall flood. It’s made beers to benefit Ales for ALS, to be served at the local bluegrass festival, and to support nearby bars. A co-founder invariably still leads Saturday brewery tours. In other words, Union has made a business model out of doing the right thing.
“What Union has been able to do in the city of Baltimore is what all of us want to do,” says Ben Little, head brewer at Manor Hill. “People drink their beer not just because it’s fantastic but because those guys made themselves an integral part of the community from the second they opened their doors.”
It hasn’t necessarily come easy. Opening a craft brewery in, to quote Zerivtiz, “a Natty Boh town with a blue color mentality” is a challenge, even if you put your Altbier in a can.
“We all root for the underdog,” the co-founder tells me. “Baltimore is a hard city. We have our troubles. We certainly have an image problem. But if you live here and you work here, you recognize all of its eccentricities and creativity and just how wonderful it can be. With Union, we thought that if we could help make this town a better place to live, it would all be worthwhile We took huge risks to do that, and now we’re sort of reaping the rewards, and building so much good will, and inspiring other people to move back and start small businesses. It’s become larger than ourselves.”
While a handful of new Baltimore breweries have opened in the wake of Union’s success, plenty of other brewers have followed their careers from Maryland to destinations well outside of the state line. Earlier this year, Union launched a collaboration series with the goal of bringing them back – at least for one batch of beer. It’s called RE:UNION.
“Any time that we can collaborate with a brewery that’s out-of-market but has roots tied to Maryland, it’s all that more meaningful to us,” explains Zerivtiz, a former graphic designer with a wiry frame and a penchant for wearing flat-brimmed baseball caps. “We use our location and our local pride as a jumping-off point for so many projects, so the opportunity to tie that together is a great concept. Plus, we like the fact that we’re kind of continuing to expose these great brewers who got their starts in Maryland to the local markets and beyond.”
Today, Union releases the third installment of the RE:UNION series, Lucifer’s Trees. The boozy imperial black IPA is a collaboration with Ocelot Brewing, and it follows earlier RE:UNION efforts with Austin Beerworks and Devils Backbone.
All three of these beers were brewed with a Maryland native that’s since planted his roots elsewhere. Taken as a whole, though, they trace something else, too: the history of head brewer Kevin Blodger.
“In all three cases, these are guys that I’ve known for years, and they’ve all been instrumental in my career,” Blodger shares. “It’s not that RE:UNION beers are more important, but we give them a lot more consideration than a regular collaboration. There are times when it’s just like, ‘Hey, let’s brew a beer together.’ It’s different to reach out and make beers with people who I’ve worked with and for, and who are good friends of mine.”
Will Golden had never met anyone like Kevin Blodger.
“To get to very obvious and nitty gritty, seeing a black brewer is a rare thing, but on top of that, Kevin is such a personality, and he was this enormous guy with huge dreadlocks,” he recalls. “Immediately, I was drawn to him.”
It was 2005, and Golden had just started working for Frederick Brewing Company. Blodger was a senior shift brewer at that point, having worked at the Maryland brewery over the preceding years and at the District ChopHouse for a brief stretch before that.
“We noticed we had a lot of likenesses,” Golden says. “For starters, we both grew up in the DC/Baltimore punk rock scene. It was an easy friendship.”
For a little over 12 months, the two would work side by side as part of what Golden calls a “skeleton crew.” Frederick Brewing had been in financial disarray for years – a classic example of a brewery that expanded way too quickly during the ‘90s microbrew bubble – and it tried to make ends meet by acquiring (or contract brewing for) at least six other brands. According to Golden, that put some stress on brewers, but making two-dozen types of beer meant quickly expanding their breadth of knowledge and brewing acumen.
Blodger left Frederick Brewing in 2006, not long before it was acquired by Flying Dog. Golden would assume his position as a senior shift brewer.
“Kevin made it very easy to follow in his footsteps,” he says. “He was just the coolest.”
Blodger was headed to the Capitol City Brewing Company, a brewpub chain that at the time boasted four locations between Arlington and Baltimore. He had been hired by Mike McCarthy, the Director of Brewing Operations, to be the head brewer at the latter location.
“From the start, you could definitely see that it wasn’t just a job for him,” McCarthy remembers. “He was definitely really, really into beer. And he started cranking out good stuff up there.”
The problem was the not many people were showing up to drink it.
“Baltimore was a tough location for us,” McCarthy continues. “The Inner Harbor is kind of awful in a lot of ways: It’s so touristy, and people from Baltimore don’t want to go there.”
As a result, Blodger would occasionally cycle through the other Cap City locations, particularly in the winter when the Baltimore brewpub was especially beat.
“I learned a lot from Mike, as well as what they were doing at Cap City at the time,” Blodger shares. “All of us hung out. Our wives became friends.”
It didn’t take a lot of time together for McCarthy to notice Blodger’s talent for brewing.
“It comes down to little everyday stuff. Most brewers will say that all you need to do is watch somebody use a clamp,” explains McCarthy, who has supervised brewers that have gone to Dogfish Head and Victory. “In general, when you see someone who takes his time, who’s very detail oriented, who has a passion, it’s like, ‘Oh, this guy is really good.’ They just stand out amongst everyone else. Kevin was certainly someone on that list.”
But in 2007, Blodger caught wind that Cap City was planning to shutter the underperforming Maryland location. In the end, the unexpected closing was likely for the best. Despite his friendship with McCarthy, Blodger had soured on the company at large.
“I feel like Cap City didn’t value their brewers,” he explains. “They didn’t value what we were doing – or even care. It was a means to end for them to open up their higher-priced gyms and salons with the money from the restaurants. We weren’t valued for what we were bringing to their concept, and I think Mike would echo that. It taught me, as an owner of a business now, that I don’t want to treat my employees the same way. I want them to feel valued by the company. I never felt that at Cap City.”
It would be a more than a half-decade before Blodger would be a small business owner, though. In the short term, he needed a landing spot from Cap City. One friend would help guide him in the right direction: Jason Oliver, a Maryland native whose first brewing gig was at the Baltimore’s Wharf Rat. Now based in DC, Oliver had worked his way up to regional brewery supervisor for Gordon Biersch, the national brewpub chain renowned for its traditional German beers.
“The greater Baltimore / DC brewing scene was a lot smaller then, so we all kind of hung out at beer events and each other’s breweries,” Oliver remembers. “Kevin and his wife Monica would come to our tapping parties at Gordon Biersch pretty consistently. He was – and is – a jovial, good-humored, and generous person. He’s a hoot to hang out with, and he makes good beer, too. Kevin is the guy you want around.”
Oliver convinced Gordon Biersch of this, too. The company hired Blodger to be a head brewer at a location just outside of Chicago. Despite a business model similar to Cap City, Gordon Biersch would provide a much different – or perhaps just more refined – skillset.
“At Gordon Biersch, you’re trained to be this really well-rounded German brewer,” Blodger says. “While I was there, I really fell in love with the German brewing techniques and the science behind it.”
But the steadfast devotion to German tradition could be frustrating, as well.
“All you could brew was German beers, which was such a handcuff,” Blodger recalls. “Now they can brew whatever they want. They can dip their balls in some beer and make it, but back then, it had to be a German style.”
“Gordon Biersch was not a job that developed one’s creativity; it was a job that cultivated one’s techniques, and I think that stayed with both of us,” adds Oliver. “We both moved on from Gordon Biersch to not only do some of the beer types that we loved there, but also to explore the wider world of flavors and techniques.”
All of these brewers would have a chance to explore that wider world. Oliver left Gordon Biersch in 2008 to take over brewing operations for what was then a brewpub called Devils Backbone. In 2011, Golden opened Austin Beerworks in Texas. And after a few more years at Cap City and an additional two at DC Brau, McCarthy joined Ocelot Brewing as its head brewer in 2015.
Blodger’s opportunity, meanwhile, would begin to take form in 2010, when he started discussing the possibility of opening a brewery with Benesch. At the time, the soft-spoken redhead was working at private equity firm that specialized in software investment, but his relationship with Blodger stretched back to his very first night attending the University of Maryland.
“We kind of fell in love with beer together over the college years, saving up six bucks to get a six-pack of Pete’s Wicked Ale,” Benesch reminisces. “In fact, I remember us consciously not eating lunch together so we could get a six-pack of Pete’s.”
Once he and Zerivitz – a drinking buddy and graphic designer who had grown tired of corporate cubicle life – became convinced that the time was right to open a brewery in Baltimore, they set about trying to lure Blodger back to the East Coast.
“It was scary, because Gordon Biersch paid really well, and my wife and I were in a place that we had grown to love,” Blodger admits. “At the same time, we had just had a kid, and I knew my wife wanted to be closer to her family.”
There was also the allure of creative control.
“We knew Kevin was ready to do it because he had been brewing other people’s beers for ten years,” Zerivitz says. “He was ready to spread his wings and do his own thing.”
Almost two months ago, twenty breweries competed for the honor of hop supremacy at the Logan Circle beer bar ChurchKey.
For the fourth year running, Neighborhood Restaurant Group assistant beer director (and Scion alumnus) Tim Liu had picked twenty of the best IPAs and double IPAs he could find – whether brewed locally or otherwise – for a blind tasting competition called, fittingly, Blind & Bitter.
On tap from Union was Double Duckpin – an 8.5% double IPA that’s only brewed once every three months. While the brewery’s comparatively diminutive pale ale Duckpin is an exercise in the balance of hops and malt, Double Duckpin is the opposite.
“We envisioned Double Duckpin as a West Coast IPA,” Blodger explains. “It’s all about the hops. There’s almost no malt backbone to it. We wanted it to be a very dry, flavorful, drinkable hop bomb.”
Arguably Union’s most popular beer, Double Duckpin came in first place at Blind & Bitter. The twist is that so did a beer called See the Light, a tropically floral double IPA that showcased the prized Mosaic hop. Sitting at an identical ABV, See the Light was also a very dry, flavorful, drinkable hop bomb. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, though: It was produced by Mike McCarthy and Ocelot Brewing. Very dry, flavorful, drinkable hop bombs are their calling card.
“You know how I feel about IPAs: Anything that gets in the way of the hops is a problem,” Ocelot founder Adrien Widman tells me.
The Virginia brewery has produced a range of styles – a look at its current taproom offerings include everything from a Baltic porter to its award-winning hoppy Pilsner to a traditional saison – but its IPAs unfailingly channel this hops-first M.O. The grist of an Ocelot IPA may include Vienna malt, oats, wheat, or rye, but it’s usually built on a base of unobtrusive Pilsen malt. The inclusion of caramel or specialty malts is anathema.
“Adrien opened this business with a very poignant view on certain styles of beer,” McCarthy shares. “In our opinion, caramel malts – even if they’re traditional or historically used in IPAs –overtake the hops too quickly. We know that all of our IPAs are going to die at some point, but we’d rather it be a fast, sharp drop-off of everything than a slow fade into creeping malt. We want the hops to sit on top of everything and really shine. A beer like Double Duckpin is right along our lines.”
Double Duckpin aside, this is not a tenet held with equivalent universality by Blodger. To wit: Union’s fall and winter IPAs – Foxy and Rye Baby, respectively – boast prominent malt backbones that compete for your affection with bursting hop profiles.
If Union and Ocelot differ in their approaches to an IPA, that’s OK. The world would be a boring place if everyone made the same beers.
“It’s not about right and wrong, or better and worse,” McCarthy says. “Everyone has what they like to do. We’ve kind of dug our heels in and are particular about what we like.”
Still, when the tie at Blind & Bitter accelerated conversations about a possible collaboration between the two breweries, Union and Ocelot knew they wanted to make something hop-forward.
“We were brewing a beer with Ocelot, and they’re known for their IPAs, so it had to be hoppy” Blodger shares. “At the same time, we wanted to do something a little bit different – not just a straight up IPA.”
At first, they considered brewing a kettle-soured IPA, which would have fallen in the tradition of the prior RE:UNION beers. (Union produced a dry-hopped, kettle-soured session ale with Austin Beerworks, and a dry-hopped, kettle-soured Vienna Lager with Devils Backbone.) But Union had brewed something similar a few months earlier, and it had a kettle-soured dark ale on the way, and it wanted to differentiate the collaboration. Plus, the weather was changing.
“We always think very seasonally,” Zerivitz says. “This time of year, we’re starting to order a lot more darker malts, we’re making Snow Pants, we’re making Weizenbock, we’re making all of these malty and darker beers. We started asking, ‘How can make something that’s different? What is something that we like that we don’t see a lot? What do people want to drink now?’ Well, hoppy never goes out of style, and seasonally, something darker is nice.’”
Union proposed the style at the nexus of dark and hoppy: the black IPA. It’s a beer that Blodger had long admired but never brewed.
“Kevin mentioned the black IPA, and it was just like, ‘We haven’t had one of those in a while. That sounds great,” Widman recalls.
But why isn’t this a style you see a lot? That’s a question worth exploring.
All of craft beer can feel subject to the fads and whims of the market, but the black IPA remains a most curious example of passing fancy.
In the halls of beer nerdom, there is significant debate over the origins of the style, its boundaries, and more existentially, whether a hoppy dark ale should even be called a black IPA. In short, the line between a black IPA and a hoppy stout or porter has never been quite clear. According to Mike Stein, president of Lost Lagers, examples of the latter can be found as far back as the 19th century, when Barclay Perkins produced an Export India Porter that was hopped with a whopping four pounds per barrel. However, it’s only been in recent decades that hoppy stouts and porters have taken on in America, though, with the term “black IPA” emerging in the last seven or eight years.
Ultimately, what someone looks for in a black IPA is a matter of personal preference. To quote a somewhat recent article by Jim Vorel: “Some are looking for beers that emphasize the ‘black’ in the name, albeit with an added shot of American hops. Others are looking for hop bombs that could probably pass for regular IPAs if you were tasting with a blindfold on. Still others… are looking for a hard-to-achieve balance between delicate roast and expressive American hop character.”
However you define them, Blodger has always been intrigued by interplay of hops and roasted, chocolatey malts. He reminisces about trying Surly’s Darkness – a 10.3% Russian Imperial Stout – for the first time in 2009.
“That stout was super hoppy,” the head brewer shares. “It was amazing to me that they made this dark, roasty beer that had this green hop character to it.” (Union’s oatmeal stout Snow Pants isn’t modeled around Darkness, but at 75 or so IBUs, it certainly shares its aggressive hopping levels.)
At turn of last decade, breweries across the country became smitten with the idea of black IPAs. At the crest of that wave was Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous, a beer that remains the benchmark of the style in Widman’s eyes.
“It did a great job of hiding all of that dark, roasted malt, while still providing a nice, aromatic hoppy profile and flavor,” say the Ocelot co-founder.
Notably, Stone discontinued the beer in 2015, remarking that its cult following did not translate to sustainable year-round sales. Similarly, Firestone Walker discontinued another iconic black IPA, Wookey Jack, earlier this year.
“You have to be like, ‘I wonder why…’” Widman says of that decision. “They’re probably not selling it much. I think the style had its mainstream time, and it’s been dying off since then.”
“The black IPA was such a flash in the pan,” echoes Zerivitz . “A few years ago, everyone made one, and then they disappeared. But it’s definitely a style that we’ve always enjoyed.”
There’s the crux: Ultimately, perhaps some beloved styles are better as limited, maybe even seasonal releases. The two black IPAs of note in the DC market – Port City’s Long Black Veil and Atlas Brew Work’s imperial NSFW – are produced sparingly despite both being excellent. And arguably more than any variant of IPA, a black IPA is only given a fair shake when it’s consumed fresh.
“If a black IPA sits on tap a little bit too long, the hops start to fade, and its enters this period where it’s like, ‘Is this a really dark brown ale or a porter?’” McCarthy shares. “The challenge of a regular IPA is getting it out the door and to people’s bellies as fast as possible so that it tastes really good. With a black IPA, you have dark malts competing with it, too.”
Ocelot’s goal is to sell somewhere between one-half and three-quarters of any given batch out of its tap room, which means that a hoppy dark beer is always a threat to hang around a little too long. (“We really like them a lot, but we realize that it’s a style that even when people say they like it, they only want one,” McCarthy notes.) In contrast, Union – which is only open three days a week, and faces state restrictions on how much beer it can sell out of its taproom – sends the vast majority of its beer out to market. That’s an ideal set-up for a black IPA – a thin, wide distribution.
Of course, it helps if the beer is great, too. A collaboration between two of the area’s premiere breweries will certainly come with high expectations.
But if anyone is feeling pressure, it wasn’t displayed during the formulation of Lucifer’s Trees. After the Ocelot and Union decided to brew a black IPA, Blodger was quick to formulate a recipe and shoot it over to Union.
“Kevin pretty much nailed it,” McCarthy remembers. “There was some minor talk about dry-hopping schedules – we pretty much gave him the method we use of rousing the hops on a daily basis. All brewers dry-hop a little differently.”
There was one notable distinction in the recipe of Lucifer’s Trees in comparison to some of the lighter-bodied dark ales that Union had previously brewed, like its Black-Eyed Saison, Bock 1000, and the forthcoming dark kettle-sour.
“Typically, when I do darker beers like this that aren’t typically known for being roasty, I like to add the dark malts post-mash in the lauter,” the head brewer explains. “That way, you end up getting more of the color and less of the flavor of the malts. But for this beer, I wanted to get those roasty flavors in the beer, so we added the [dehusked] Carafa III straight into the mash to bring out more of those flavors. We wanted you to get those deep, rich chocolaty notes – a hint of smoke, a hint of roast, but mostly those deep rich chocolate notes that I thought would play well with the hops that we were using.”
Lucifer’s Trees was bittered with Experimental Hop #628, and then further hopped with late additions of Azacca and Citra.
“The Azacca gives it a lot of stone fruit,” Blodger explains. “The Citra just has that big citrus burst that everybody wants.”
After fermentation with Union’s house ale yeast strain, the beer was dry-hopped more than once to punch up the aroma.
“The hops that you pick have to be somewhat explosive,” McCarthy adds. “A black IPA with Cascade is not going to be much of an IPA, because Cascade isn’t going to cut through all of that malt.”
Blodger says a sip of the beer starts with its porter notes, and right behind it, a waves of hops, before ending with a soft kiss of alcohol. While Lucifer’s Trees may have fermented dry, at 9% it is indeed a sipper.
“There are two things that make Kevin such a special brewer,” Zerivtiz shares. “One is his ability to use malt properly to create these rich and complex backbones. The other is his ability to hide ABV. We have several beers in our portfolio that are high in alcohol, and you cannot detect it. They seem so sessionable, and yet they pack a punch.”
Why make Lucifer’s Trees so boozy?
“The weather is getting a little bit colder, and a big and bold black IPA starts sounding good,” Widman shrugs.
With over 30 years of brewing experience between them – working at brewpubs and production breweries, and now running their own brewhouses – Blodger and McCarthy share a certain kinship.
“I definitely feel a connection to Mike,” Blodger says. “We’ve both been through a lot, seen a lot.”
There’s a quiet confidence that comes with such experience: Much like Jonathan Reeves at Port City, these two have brewed almost every style and have nothing to prove.
“They both have these technical chops that allow them to brew from their souls,” observes Zerevitz. “Kevin can write a recipe in his head, and we’re all super confident that it’s going to come out great, and he can make changes on the fly. I think Mike is the same way. Based on having so much experience, they can be a little bit more free in their brewing, and at the same time, utilize the skills that they’ve picked up. You see it throughout our portfolio: We’re not a one-note brewery. We’re able to do lots of different of styles that are technically proficient.”
But while the shared history of the two head brewers puts Lucifer’s Trees in line with previous RE:UNION beers, it’s actually Widman who’s the Maryland native. Ocelot’s founder was born in Silver Spring, and lived in Takoma Park for the next seven years.
And oddly enough, he had established ties with Union long before Ocelot opened or he had met McCarthy. It all goes back to Widman’s brother Sebastian, the man he credits with getting him into craft beer.
Sebastian was a member of The Bruery’s Reserve Society, the Orange County brewery’s members-only club for exclusive releases. The catch with the Reserve Society is that The Bruery wouldn’t mail beer to you. So, either you lived in town, could travel there easily, or you found some kind soul that would pick up releases and mail them to you. They call these kind souls “trustees.” Living in San Diego, Sebastian had become a trustee for a number of friends he made in online beer forums. One of them happened to be Adam Benesch.
A few years ago, Sebastian was visiting Virginia when he asked his brother if they could take a road trip. “He was like, ‘Hey, can we go to my friend’s brewery up in Baltimore? It’s called Union Craft,’” Widman recalls. “I hadn’t heard of it then, but we went up one afternoon, and hung out in the tasting room, and got to share some beers and stories.”
Thus began his friendship with the Union co-founders. “We’ve just always seemed to have a great relationship.” Widman says. “We play little pranks here and there. We’ll go to festivals and throw our stickers on their stuff, and they’ll do the same to ours.”
As silly as it may be, this sort of stuff can go a long way towards determining who a brewery collaborates with.
“First and foremost, we have to get along,” Widman says. “You don’t want to spend your day with somebody you don’t like. But respect for who they are is absolutely huge for us, too.”
The caliber of brewers who have traveled to Baltimore to participate in the RE:UNION series speaks volumes to the respect that Union has engendered over the past four-and-a-half years.
“When I taste one of Kevin’s beers, I know it,” says Golden, whose family still lives in Frederick. “It usually comes down to how clean it is, what the malt bill is, things like that. It’s always… well, it just always Kevin’s beer. Every brewer has their fingerprint.”
“Kevin is a great brewer, and it is wonderful to see him do his own thing,” adds Oliver. “We’ve both had some pet projects from previous jobs, be it Gordon Bierch or otherwise, and it’s cool to see the evolution of those beers.”
From the first batch of Duckpin to Lucifer’s Trees, Blodger sees a thread.
“So far, I’ve written every recipe that we’ve done at Union,” the head brewer tells me. “I have my thoughts on things and how things should be done. I try to make each beer different, whether it’s using different malts or different hops. I feel like Cheech and Chong: I want it to be different but the same. I want to have a Union feel to our beer, but I want every beer to be different and delicious.”
One area where Union paid deference to Ocelot was the name of beer. All of the beers that the Virginia brewery produces are named after snippets of song lyrics, and Zerevitz, who essentially serves as Union’s creative director, was excited to play along. “I personally love their brand and the whole music theme,” he says.
When Ocelot visited Union for the brewday, the two breweries set about hammering out a name.
“Because it’s a black IPA, we were pondering, ‘Do we want to go with black metal?’” McCarthy remembers. “We were looking up lyrics to ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ by Public Enemy.'”
Zerevitz was championing Lucifer’s Trees – a lyric pulled from My Morning Jacket’s “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal”.
“My Morning Jacket is my favorite band, and this is super dark, very hoppy IPA, so it spoke to me,” shares Zerevitz. “I’m super happy where it landed.”
From the concept to the packaging to the liquid, Lucifer’s Trees is another small victory for Union.
“We’ve established ourselves as a brewery that’s a force to be reckoned with,” Zerevitz says. “We’re a brewery that lights a fire under both established breweries and the young guys coming in. And I think we’re helping to make Baltimore and Maryland a better scene, in general.”
“Baltimore supports its own,” Blodger adds. “If you say, ‘We’re dedicating ourselves to this city,’ people get behind you that much more.”