It’s hard for Richard Gue to articulate the mix of emotions he felt coursing through his body on the afternoon of July 1.
On one level, there was fear. Not fear in the sense of butterflies or jitters, even though, yes, it was the “grand opening” weekend for Hysteria Brewing, and the co-founder surely did harbor some nervousness about it. This was a different kind of fear, something more palpable. It was distress. Dread. Panic.
Gue suffers from a combination of agoraphobia and claustrophobia, which means a large crowd packed into a tight space is a terrifying sight. And looking out upon the Hysertia taproom that warm Saturday, he saw a room filled well beyond its capacity with thirsty patrons.
“This place was nuts-to-butts packed,” Gue recalls, cribbing a turn-of-phrase from his head brewer, Jordan McGraw. “I had a lot of anxiety from that. So, I just stayed back here, watching.”
Seven weeks later, Gue is standing on the other side of the partition that separates the production floor from the tasting room. At 6’7”, he has a long, lumbering figure, which today he’s draped in baggy shorts and a loose, short-sleeved Oxford. When we shake hands, his gargantuan mitts swallow mine whole. Most people would be envious of such size and strength, but for the man with the Instagram handle ThatTallGuyNamedRich, it’s the root of his anxiety.
“I’m always the one in the back because I’m afraid of standing in front of people,” he explains. “That’s how it all started for me.”
Even with those things gnawing at his sense of security, Gue couldn’t help but feel awash with the kind of emotions you’d expect on an opening day: gratitude, joy, a sense of accomplishment. Hysteria Brewing was years in the making, and after suffering setback after setback after setback – and sinking a whopping $1.4 million into the venture – there were finally customers filling the tasting room.
“I was overwhelmed,” Gue tells me. “I was in awe that the dream I had been building for so long had finally come true. I remember feeling chills on the back of my neck and thinking, ‘I can’t believe we’re here.’ I started to cry. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it now. I shed a lot of tears, literally, when I was building this place. I was always afraid that we would never make it. So, to finally see it, I felt so proud of my team and the progress we’ve made. It blew me away.”
But those warm-and-fuzzies quickly dissipated when Gue was confronted with an unexpected reality: Hysteria was kicking kegs at unsustainable rate.
“My sales person told me, ‘We’re going to run out of beer,’” the co-founder recalls. “I said, ‘There’s no fucking way we’re going to run out of all that beer.’ Our cooler was literally stacked with beer. We had hundreds of kegs.”
Despite Gue’s disbelief, that messenger was right. The Hysteria team had spent months brewing around the clock to build up a cache of beer for the grand opening and beyond, but it would barely be enough to sate the 20,000 people who visited the Columbia, Maryland brewery that weekend.
“I just sat here watching those kegs dwindle,” says Gue. “I kept hearing the bartender say, ‘Re-tap number 3.’ ‘Re-tap number 1.’ ‘We’re out of number 5.’ I remember going back and forth, pulling out all of the kegs, putting in new ones, and thinking, ‘Oh fuck, we are going to run out of beer.’”
One inaugural weekend and thirty barrels of beer later, Hysteria would close its taproom for two months. The decision wasn’t based solely on the fact that the brewery had run out of beer. It was also because the money Gue had made over those two days would enable him to get Hysteria’s 20-barrel brewhouse – which had been doing little more than occupy space – up and running.
“There were two things that were awesome about that weekend,” Gue says. “One, people loved our beer. They were really enjoying it, and the fact is that were just selling it and selling it. Two, my bank account the next week had enough to pay some of the contractors that were screaming down my throat, saying that they wouldn’t continue working until I paid them.”
For the 35-year-old father of two, the highs and lows of that Saturday are part and parcel of opening a brewery.
“I mean, I’m a Christian, and God has been helping me a lot, you know what I mean?” he continues. “Everything keeps falling into place. Every time I fail, every time I start running out of money, something happens that pushes me to the next level and allows me to do what I need to do. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster.”
The road to Hysteria Brewing was paved with vape pens and e-juice.
But before Richard Gue opened an electronic cigarette store that grosses seven figures annually, he was a regular dude hanging out with other regular dudes, spitballing ways to make a buck.
The year was 2005, and at the time, Gue was working as the Director of Academics at a Baltimore real estate school – a somewhat ironic position for a high school dropout. He and a few friends had formed a weekly club called Ultimate Justice, which despite the grave name mostly involved the consumption of beer.
“It was an excuse for us to get away from our wives and drink together,” Gue admits. “It was also for a bigger reason, though, and that reason was that we thought we were too smart as a crew to continue working for other people, and we needed to figure out a way to start a business together.”
Ultimate Justice incubated a number of concepts that never quite hatched. There was Pizzadillas, a food truck that would specialize in quesadillas stuffed with pizza toppings. There was a “power hour” DVD with 60 minute-long comedy sketches – one of several ideas for college drinking games. There was DeScent, “a deodorant, not for your armpits, but for your downstairs pits,” Gue explains, laughing like it’s the first time he’s ever described it aloud. They developed some prototypes for that one, but it never went anywhere.
“It always a dream of ours to get into business, but, frankly, we had so many failed attempts,” Gue says. “I never in my wildest dreams believed I would be a business owner and working for myself. We tried.”
A winning concept would eventually emerge when Gue stopped trying to develop a product for other people and made one for himself. By 2011, the group had dwindled down to three participants, and one of them was in the military, training for and then serving in Afghanistan. Gue and the other remaining cohort had recently quit smoking traditional cigarettes and picked up their electronic siblings. The problem was that available electronic cigarettes weren’t cutting it. They didn’t quite satisfy the itch, and the available flavors were awful.
“I’m an engineer by hobby, and I’ve always been one to tinker, so I kind of got into electronic cigarettes and realized how it all works,” Gue recalls. “We realized we could make our own electronic cigarettes a lot better. And we made our own e-liquid, which was a lot better.”
He and his partner brought news of their modified wares to various online forums, and the good people of the internet kindly encouraged them to build a website and sell those products. So, they did. Working in Gue’s garage, they started blending flavors from other liquid manufacturers, putting them into electronic cigarettes, and selling them as their own.
“It was supposed to be this small little hobby, but it turned out to be something way more than that,” says Gue, who characterizes the electronic cigarette market at the time as a “tiny little nano-industry” with a few hundred thousands users. “I mean, vaping wasn’t even a thing. I wasn’t sure if it ever would be. But it exploded in just a few short months.”
Soon enough, The Vaper’s Knoll had moved out of the garage and into rented space. Eight months later, it opened a brick-and-mortar retail shop. Then it outgrew that space and had to move to a larger one. It even opened a lab and hired a biochemist. In a few years time, the company was manufacturing in Baltimore and making over $1,000,000 annually at a flagship store in Pasadena, Maryland.
Of course, customers weren’t the only ones paying more attention to the vape industry. The Food and Drug Administration was, too. And as the agency grappled with how to police the burgeoning industry, Gue began to see the writing on the wall.
“We had the FDA regulations breathing down our necks, and we knew that this huge upward turn in an unregulated industry wasn’t going to be sustainable forever,” he shares. “So, we said, ‘We’re making a lot of money. Let’s truly invest all of it back into itself.’ We decided that we needed to diversify.”
Beer was the obvious choice. After all, they had started meeting mostly as an excuse to drink it. Gue had been homebrewing since 2001, too.
“We were huge beer nuts,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, if we can make beer, shit, let’s do it.’ Plus, the industry isn’t going anywhere – ever. We decided that if we wanted stability, we should do what we know, which is beer.”
It didn’t take long for Gue to learn that for as much as he knew about brewing, there was significantly more he didn’t. One blind spot was in cost and scale. He and his partners had initially planned to operate as a nano brewery, producing two barrels of beer at a time and selling it exclusively out of the taproom. What Gue eventually concluded was that much of the buildout would be the same for a small or large system, and the latter model only limited growth – something he realized with the help of fellow Maryland breweries UNION Craft and Jailbreak Brewing.
“I reached out to them, asked if I could look at their breweries, and they invited us to sit down and have a beer and chat,” Gue recalls. “They’re the ones that offered their minds to be picked, and that blew me away. They don’t view us as competition. We’re partners in craft beer. And speaking with them, I realized that I was in over my head. You have this perfect brewery in your mind, then you talk to people and they’re like, ‘That’s not going to work.’ But you’ve already started, you’re already invested – you don’t want to go backwards.”
The brewery had purchased a 2-barrel system, but that could be converted to a pilot set-up for test batches and brewery exclusives. It opted to spring for a $300,000 20-barrel system, which would require a fair amount of unexpected additional investment in construction down the road. While costly, the experience of the grand opening was reassurance that they had made the right decision.
“We essentially tried to run this taproom on a nano-system, and we couldn’t even stay open for a weekend,” Gue says. “I did not believe that you could go through 30 barrels of beer in a weekend in a taproom. There was no way a city or a town or county, in my eyes, could come in, drink all of that beer. But it happened. I’m so glad that I listened to everybody else, because they knew what I didn’t know.”
It’s important to note that not all breweries open to crowds that ravage their inventory of beer. The reason for the buzz around and reaction to Hysteria’s beer is the product of the team Gue recruited to make, market, and sell it – along with the extra time they had to do so.
Jordan McGraw isn’t cocky, but he’s certainly not lacking confidence.
“I was telling a friend last night, ‘The difference between us is that I’ll make beer that sells but I also enjoy that beer,’” Hysteria’s head brewer says. “I can alter anything into another beer that will sell. Look at this New England-style haze craze that’s kind of sweeping the East Coast right now. It’s just a matter of adjusting the water profile or adding low floc, so if that trend goes away in six months, we don’t have to change our product. It would be the same thing – you’d just be able to see through it.”
McGraw speaks at a low decibel and generally seems to enjoy telling it like is. It’s the latter quality, coupled with his confidence, that landed him a job in Columbia as Hysteria’s first hire.
Late last summer, his friend and former coworker Tyler Kreis texted him about a classified ad he’d seen on Facebook for a head brewer position in Maryland. At the time, McGraw was bartending, but with his thirtieth birthday approaching, he was hoping to get back into brewing.
McGraw had already put in time at two of the state’s oldest craft breweries. He started at the old Olivers Brewery, a Baltimore brewpub that specialized in authentic English ales. (It has since opened a production brewery.) There, working in a low-ceilinged basement that prevented him from standing upright for six hours at a time, he learned about open fermentation and firkins and grist construction under the tutelage of head brewer Steve Jones and brewer Derek Davis.
“Steve is a mad scientist,” McGraw says. “He’s the smartest brewer I’ve worked under. I mean, the guy has a PhD in water chemistry. But I spent most of my time under Derek, and he taught me a whole lot.”
From there, the brewer headed across town to DuClaw Brewing, a hop-forward operation that’s perhaps best most known for a chocolate peanut butter porter called Sweet Baby Jesus and its slightly dated, “edgy” branding. At DuClaw, McGraw would kick-start a kettle sour program and develop a specialty in fruited beers, but he found it a less enriching environment than his previous home.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t learn a whole lot at DuClaw,” he tells me. “You can always say that every job is a learning experience, whether you learn what to do or what not to do, and I learned a lot about what not to do at DuClaw.”
A head brewer position would allow McGraw to apply those lessons, but first he had to land the gig. He sent an e-mail to Gue, and within 20 minutes he had received a call from the co-founder. At some point, the two started talking about what kind of beers they like.
“I mentioned that I’m not a fan of rye beers, and I told him that I don’t like red ales,” Gue remembers. “Those styles just never piqued my fancy. Every time I tried one, it just wasn’t good, so I kind of stopped trying them.”
Towards the end of the conversation, Gue invited him to come make a beer of McGraw’s choice on Hysteria’s pilot system. Whether he knew it or not, McGraw had advanced to the second stage of a three-part interview process. For this stage, Gue wanted to make sure he and a head brewer could work together. For the third and last, the brewer would have to come back for the less glamorous parts of the process – fermentation and cellaring and dry-hopping. Gue wanted to see how a brewer treated his or her baby.
McGraw never made it to the third stage. On the brew day, he showed up with a recipe that didn’t quite take his potential employers preferences into consideration.
“I asked what we were brewing, and he said a red rye, and I was like, ‘You motherfucker!’” Gue recalls with a considerable laugh. “It was like, ‘OK, well, you’ve got balls. You’re not afraid to take a chance.’ And that’s what I was looking for: I’m looking for someone who’s not afraid to make a beer.”
McGraw had never made a red ale of his own before, but September was approaching, and he knew Gue liked big, sticky, chewy, malty beer. It also reflected his belief that anyone’s distaste for a style can be changed with the right beer.
As duo brewed the red ale, Gue would intentionally make small mistakes to see if McGraw would correct him. He’d done the same thing with the previous brewers he’d interviewed for the job.
“They were following my lead versus taking the lead,” Gue says of the earlier interviews. “Jordan had that leadership quality that the other guys didn’t.”
The co-founder offered McGraw the position before the end of the brew day.
“Jordan has all of the good habits and none of the bad habits that homebrewers like me does,” Gue observes. “He has professional experience. I will never be good enough to get up there and brew.”
Gue has placed a premium on experience across Hysteria. To handle sales, he hired Tyler Kreis, a veteran of DuClaw, the former beer director for Frisco Tap House, and someone with a deep contact book. For marketing, he tapped Zachary Michel, a certified beer judge with experience in booze retail, as well as organizing and promoting the Charm City Fringe Fest. Both brought extensive homebrewing experience and could help on the side of recipe development and production.
“It’s been great to have people that know what they’re doing and have worked in the industry,” Gue says. “They’ve been able to help me build the brand while I’m building the space.”
They also contribute to the patchwork of tastes that form Hysteria’s eclectic range of offerings.
Heavily committed people, insanely full-flavored beer.
That’s the Hysteria Brewing tagline – or, at least, the one on its website.
Talking with Gue, he shoots another motto my way: Beer that’s not afraid.
Much of Hysteria’s branding follows behind this madcap posturing. Kegs feature the sketched face of some crazed scientist, kaleidoscopic swirls reflected in his glasses and the rapture of madness frozen in his demented smile. Beers have sinister names like Darkest Hour or Mad Sun or Mother’s Milk. 10/6, a new triple IPA collaboration with Frederick’s White Rabbit Gastropub beer director Ben Little, nods to the number stitched into the hat of the Mad Hatter. It’s just the first in a series called Down the Rabbit Hole that will reference “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
How does this whole motif connect to Hysteria’s beer?
“We’re looking to experiment and make stuff that we haven’t seen in the market before,” Michel explains. “We treat our pilot system like a lab – that’s where it all starts and ends. It’s about that mad scientist approach, that homebrew mentality.”
Some early Hysteria beers certainly bear out this experimental approach. At the Great American Beer Festival earlier this month, Hysteria poured Idle Hands, a kettle-soured Belgian tripel brewed with tart cherry purée and aged in red wine barrels. Another recent sour ale, Beetz by J, was boiled with roasted beets. When McGraw was charged with brewing an American wheat ale, he brewed one with lemon peel and Citra hops, then fermented it with a hefeweizen yeast strain.
“It’s a totally different imagining of a wheat ale,” Michel says of Yellow Sudmarine. “That’s an example of Jordan’s talent: Taking a style that he doesn’t necessarily like, something that’s fairly middle-of-the-road, and still making a beer that sets itself apart. It’s super crushable, it’s fluffy, it’s soft, it’s easy drinking, but it’s different.”
Such tart and light offerings contrast with the stouts and scotch ales that Gue gravitated towards as a homebrewer.
“Some people hate scotch ales or smoky beers or big, huge, chewy barleywines, but I love them,” the co-founder shares. “When Jordan started here, all of my beers were 9% or 10%.”
McGraw subsequently took a sickle to the alcohol content of Hysteria’s recipes.
“I told him we can’t do that,” the head brewer says. “People don’t really want that. What we want is for people to sit here for three hours and have four or five beers.”
Still, stouts remain a substantial part of Hysteria’s portfolio. The base beer is technically an imperial milk stout, now called Mother’s Milk, which is one of two original Gue recipes to make it into Hysteria’s rotating portfolio. Add locally roasted Orinoco coffee to that template and it becomes The Morning After. Kick the up the ABV and you get Grandmother’s Milk. Remove the lactose milk sugar, throw in some rye, and voila: Darkest Hour. Put any of these beers in a bourbon barrel and let them soak up the oak and booze.
“And when we get a chance we’re going to sour all of them,” McGraw adds. “It might taste awful, and we might dump it right down the drain, but you’re not going to know until you know.”
The head brewer developed a taste for sour ales during his DuClaw days, when he was required to attend industry events and found that tart beers were all he could stomach while nursing a hangover. Later, he was charged with developing the brewery’s dry-hopped Berliner weisse, Sour Me This, and with some valuable pointers from Denizens Brewing head brewer and sour savant Jeff Ramirez, he taught himself how to make them.
“It’s one of those styles that Rich is not interested in, but I’m really passionate about it,” McGraw says. “He’s coming around to it… slowly.”
Gue is indeed not enamored with sour ales, and despite his head brewer’s optimism, that does not appear likely to change soon. Nevertheless, McGraw is free to produce them. He can even take Gue’s favorite homebrew recipe, an imperial milk stout, and corrupt it with bacteria and wild organisms. In other words, unlike some area breweries, Hysteria is not a top-down operation where the founder dictates the particulars of the production schedule.
“Jordan can make whatever he wants,” Gue says. “I know that I don’t like the same beers that a lot of people like. We all have different styles that we enjoy, and I get it. I need someone who likes beer that I don’t like. It works in our favor to have different, diverse people, and to feed off of that.”
If there’s a thread that runs through these beers, it’s that goal of making something insanely full flavored. Admittedly, that’s a nebulous and hyperbolic concept, but it’s one that comes up again and again in conversation at Hysteria.
“We’re all about heavy, chewy, full-flavored beers, and less about those light beers,” Gue explains. “When we do lighter stuff, like hefeweizens and wheat beers, we still manage to keep that body and mouthfeel. That’s what’s important to us: You can taste our beer. We’re not afraid of a lot of flavor. That might turn some non-beer drinkers away. They’ll go, ‘Ah, it’s too bitter’ or ‘It’s too malty’ or ‘There’s too much going on.’ They want their water beer. Well, we’ve got a ginger beer on tap for that.’”
The co-founder’s swagger belies the fact that Hysteria doesn’t exactly turn a deaf ear to consumer preference.
“It kind of goes against what I was just saying, but Ty and Jordan and Zach are all very attuned with what the market wants right now,” Gue says. “Our customers will drive us in the direction that they want us to go in, and we’re OK with that – so long as it still fits in our business model and what we think is fun.”
“It’s not the sexiest side of things, but you’ve got to ask yourself: What sells the best?” says Michel, talking to me from outside Avery Brewing a few weeks ago. “Honestly, usually what sells the best is a hefeweizen or a pale or a golden ale. It’s the quote-unquote ‘boring’ beers. So, if Ty says something sells well in the market, it’s Jordan’s job as head brewer to satisfy the market if we’re trying to grow a brand. It’s Jordan’s job to make a kickass version of that.”
So far, the clearest example of that philosophy is a hoppy beer with a funny name.
Three years ago, on a popular Reddit forum dedicated to adorable animal images, someone posted a picture of a raccoon wearing a tuxedo top and bowtie. “Raccoon in a suit,” the user captioned it. Amongst the dozens of comments to the post, one read: “raccoons = trash pandas.” And as can only happen these days, that silly combination of three words bloomed into a full-blown meme.
Across message boards and social media, images of raccoons doing various raccoon things – dumpster diving, sliding down rails, sleeping – spread with the “trash panda” tag. This meme spawned another, more popular one: honest animal names. If raccoon = trash panda, then zebra = prison pony. Skunk = fart squirrel. Penguin = formal chicken. And so on.
At some point, the meme made its way onto Jordan McGraw’s smartphone or computer screen. Still working at DuClaw, he tried to convince the brewery’s higher-ups to name his new dry-hopped Berliner weisse Trash Panda.
“I found those things hilarious,” the brewer remembers. “I was like, ‘We could kick off a whole sour series with names like this.’ DuClaw had a beer called Homicide Possum coming down the line, so I was like, ‘It can’t be any more ridiculous than that. Let’s give it a whirl.’ But the head of sales, Ty’s old boss, shot it dead. She was like, ‘No way. We’re not putting the word trash on a beer.’ I was like, ‘But we can put homicide on a beer? In Baltimore?'”
A year later, McGraw was at Hysteria, and he hadn’t given up the Trash Panda panda.
“I don’t want to say it was me sticking it to DuClaw, but I was like, ‘You know? I want to make a Trash Panda. It’s catchy. People respond to it,’” he remembers. “But instead of it being a sour ale, we put a whole lot of hops in this one.”
Trash Panda is Hysteria’s take on a New England-style IPA. It’s only appropriate: Merriam-Webster defines a meme as “any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another,” often “by imitation,” and when it comes to the craft beer industry, the New England-style IPA has essentially become one.
As has been well documented, the loosely defined style of smooth, hop-loaded ales emerged from the Northeast – Vermont, in particular – around a decade or so ago. These beers not only showcased the citrusy and tropical (or “juicy”) qualities of their new-age hops, they also looked like juice on account of their of exorbitant hoping rates, high-protein grains (like unmalted wheat and flaked oats), and the use of low-floucculating English ale yeast that doesn’t drop out of suspension during fermentation.
Trained to value clarity in beer, many traditional brewers were initially left aghast by these murky, unfiltered “juice bombs,” but in the past few years, resistance to the style has all but crumbled. Breweries across the country opened with or developed a specialization in the style, and they subsequently sold boatloads of expensive tallboy four-packs. Not unlike a meme, this “haze craze” was fueled by a certain level of absurdity and inside-jokiness. Beers came coupled with names and packaging that played up their opaque, fruit-forward characteristics: Two Juicy, Juice Machine, Juicy Juice. People made fun of jooooose, but people bought jooooose. It was a goof, but it was serious, but it was a goof. Or something like that.
Eventually, the style’s popularity became something that that major U.S. craft breweries couldn’t ignore, and like Ted Cruz tweeting about the Zodiac killer, we’ve arrived at the point where old guard breweries like Stone, Sam Adams, and Bell’s are putting New England-style IPAs in kegs. And, sure, a brewery like Stillwater Artisanal may playfully put “juicy” and “hazy” on its labels to spoof the trend, but good luck finding subversiveness or nuance in New Belgium’s forthcoming Juicy Haze IPA.
Regardless of how we got here, the fact remains that the surest way for a new brewery to gin up interest on social media these days is to unveil a well-executed juice bomb. For proof from the past year, look no further than fellow Maryland operations Diamondback Beer, Cushwa Brewing, and Goonda Beersmiths.
“People just want those hazy, New England-style IPAs right now,” Gue says. “So, we set out to come up with our own spin on the style while keeping true to our brand.”
Development of Trash Panda started when Kreis, an avid hombrewer, brought a batch of IPA hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe – the holy trinity of “Gucci hops” – into Hysteria. McGraw loved it, and set out about tweaking the recipe for a larger production scale.
As with many Hysteria beers, Trash Panda’s grist includes the premium British pale malt Maris Otter. Maris Otter is essentially the Cadillac of pale malts – expensive but worth it. It’s also Gue’s favorite malt.
“If I wasn’t here, Rich would make the base of all his beers Maris Otter,” McGraw says. “I had to come in and say, ‘Stop it.’ I was like, ‘We’ll keep it around, because I also love it, but it’s not cheap.'”
The head brewer mixed Maris Otter with an even amount of Canadian pale malt – a trick he picked up from Steve Jones at Oliver. He also added flaked oats for a fuller mouthfeel and a “hazier look to match with the juicer hops.”
McGraw left the combination of Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe intact, but decided to switch from pellets to lupulin powder. Released commercially for the first time last year, lupulin powder is a purified concentration of resin compounds and aromatic oils found in whole hop flowers. In other words, someone figured out how to isolate a hop cone’s lupulin glands (where all flavor and aroma you’d want for juicy IPAs reside) from its leafy parts (which give of green, grassy, bitter flavors). Some brewers argue that the lupulin powder of a given hop varietal produces a different mix of flavors from its pellet counterpart. McGraw is unconvinced.
“I’m going to be honest, I don’t really pick up much of a difference,” he admits. “I almost equate it to a gimmick. You say ‘lupulin powder,’ and everyone loses their shit. But we were like, ‘Oh that’s funny: The three hops we use in Trash Panda are Simcoe, Mosaic, and Citra, and those are three of the five hops that readily available in powder form.’ So, I was like, ‘Let’s try it.’”
What’s more important than the form of those hops is how Hysteria uses them. After a small charge of CTZ during the boil, McGraw adds Simcoe, Citra, and Mosaic powder during the whirlpool – a technique known as “hop bursting” that adds hop flavor and aroma without bitterness. (The lack of any real bitterness is another defining characteristic of the New England-style IPA.) And here’s where it gets interesting: McGraw then dry-hops Trash Panda four or five days into primary fermentation.
Dry-hopping during fermentation is a somewhat divisive practice among brewers. As Dave Green has documented, some brewers, like pFriem Family Brewers’ Josh Pfriem, argue that “the constant nucleation from fermentation scrubs away some of the hop aromas that you are trying to achieve.” Put differently, the CO2 escaping a fermenter’s blow-off tube takes coveted hop aroma with it.
But there are others, like Firestone Walker’s Matt Brynildson, who take the position that dry-hopping alongside active yeast helps facilitate “natural mixing” and leads to the “biotransformation of hop oil compounds.” So, because the yeast is moving around so vigorously, it’s moving the hops around with it, which helps better integrate them into the beer.
Unsurprisingly, McGraw finds himself in this camp.
“What we saw was that the yeast really binds with the hops as it was flocculating,” McGraw explains. “As the yeast was going up and down, it would grab a hold of the hops. It ends up mixing in really well.”
When yeast binds with leftover hop acid, the fruity esters of the former essentially stack on top of the tropical, fruity flavors of the latter. Those yeast particles also stay in suspension, contributing to that desirable haze. Thus, a juice bomb is born.
One significant downside of this technique is that it renders yeast unrecyclable. Typically, a fresh pitch of yeast is salvaged from one batch and reused several times over, but once yeast comes into contact with hops, the hops are in that yeast and you can’t “repitch” it. And since a 20-barrel pitch of yeast costs between $350 and $500, that makes dry-hopping during fermentation an expensive proposition. Thankfully, Hysteria has an ace up its sleeve.
Around the time that McGraw was developing Trash Panda, Gue let him know that The Vaper’s Knoll’s biochemist was interested in learning to propagate yeast. That meant that if Hysteria supplied an initial yeast strain, the biochemist could grow it up and supply fresh pitches for each batch going forward. McGraw likens it having a personal White Labs.
“I looked at Rich and said, ‘Hey, really cool story: We’re going to save so much money on this yeast,’” McGraw remembers. “I was like, ‘We’re going to have the freshest yeast in our beer. Our cells are going to be new and viable – they’re going to work. We’re going to get full attenuation in every beer.’ He was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ Then I was like, ‘But all the money I save you I’m going to spend on hops.’”
After a second round of post-fermentation dry-hopping, Trash Panda has been pumped with almost five pounds of hops per barrel – a massive number for a semi-regularly occurring beer.
“When you put this beer up to your nose, you smell the citrus, you smell the pine, you smell the spicy and floral notes of hops, and when you taste it, it’s just bam: citrus and juicy hops right in your face,” Gue says. “Then it finishes with that huge mouthfeel of what a beer should be in our eyes.”
As at DuClaw, McGraw again faced some resistance to the Trash Panda name, but by passing it off as a “working name,” he was able to get a foot in the door.
“We did our early open houses with the name Trash Panda, and people thought it was hilarious,” the head brewer recalls with a healthy sense of satisfaction. “Zach, our marketing guy, was like, ‘We can’t fucking name this beer Trash Panda.’ I was like, ‘I know. It’s so stupid. It just doesn’t fit our thing… But it’s too late. It’s just too late.’”
Victory was his.
“It’s still not my favorite name,” Michel says. “It’s something that’s neither here nor there as far as the Hysteria brand goes, but it is one that people like.”
Indeed, according to Gue, Trash Panda is easily Hysteria’s most popular beer. Although the plan was to launch it as the brewery’s core IPA, they quickly realized the production turnaround and resource required were too intensive to do so. Plus, with an IPA like this, Hyseria doesn’t want it sitting around for long. Instead, Hysteria will release Trash Panda quarterly, much like UNION Craft does with Double Duckpin.
“We’re going to juice bombs like the Veil and Trillium,” McGraw says. “Those things are so aromatic, it’s like a mouthful of awesome hops without the bitterness. We can do that. A lot of breweries around here can’t.”
“Hysteria is producing what people want,” says Ben Little, who poured Hysteria the day White Rabbit Gastropub opened. “They’re going for aromatic, a-little-on-the-hazier-side IPAs. At the same time, they’re going for some darker beers, too. This area doesn’t produce a whole lot of year-round darker beers – lower-ABV stouts and stuff like that. I think they’re finding their niche in the market pretty fast. From the beginning, they’re going after what people are looking for, and they’re making some pretty damn solid beer.”
Like all breweries, young or old, Hysteria Brewing remains a work in progress, but it has been under construction in the literal, physical sense of the word for over one year now.
During that time, the original budget for this construction ballooned from $250,000 to $700,000. How does a brewery budget increase threefold? That’s a messy question. There were electrical issues, which involved rewiring and a new cabinet and amperage adjustments. That cost $200,000 alone. There was the separate HVAC system that Gue had to install for the production side of the brewery, even though Hysteria Brewing is essentially one big room. There was that aforementioned new brewhouse. There was the taproom buildout and design.
“There were all these huge things that just kept piling onto each other,” Gue says. “It’s been a really hard road, and we’re still not at the finish line. I finally have an occupancy permit, but I’m still not done with production. Our auger system is still not running. We’re making it work, though.”
Hysteria has been making it work for a while now. The brewery may have opened its taproom doors for good over Labor Day weekend, but its team has been in place for most all of this year. McGraw started last September, followed by Michel in October, then Kreis and a brewery tech in January. Of course, 2017 did not unfold as they expected. Delay after delay after delay got in the way of many plans and even the most conservative timelines. Then again, it wasn’t as if they all sat around sketching “Hysteria Brewing” logos on loose-leaf paper notebooks.
“It was torture for all of us, but we made the best of it,” Michel says. “It gave us time to play around and figure some stuff out before we opened.”
Brewing on the 2-barrel nano-system, McGraw and his team began to develop and hone recipes, brewing some over and over, discarding others. Notably, Hysteria wasn’t just sitting on these beers. The brewery had attained its state license and could send them out to market.
“When we brought Ty on, he just started selling all the beer,” says McGraw.
Drawing on his network, Kreis placed Hysteria in Baltimore’s best beer bars, like Max’s Taphouse, Severna Park Taphouse, and both Frisco Tap House locations. Whether he knew it or not, this was chumming the water for the grand opening.
“Those bars were taking our beer, and they were taking all of it,” Gue recalls. “At some point, we actually had to tell Ty to stop selling because we needed save some for the taproom. But we were able to test the waters, and we were able to open with beers that we know people like. We’re not opening with a bunch of experimental brews.”
Notably, the brewery did open with a number barrel-aged beers, and there are plenty more still maturing.
“When I came on last October, I looked at Rich, and I was like, ‘I have an idea: Let’s start barrel aging, because we’re not going to be open for a while. We could be one of the first breweries around here that’s come right out of the gate with barrel-aged beer,’” remembers McGraw, who traces his love for barrel aging to visiting Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium for the first time. “Rich was like, ‘Why not? Here’s a thousand dollars. Go buy some barrels.'”
McGraw lined up six Heaven Hill and started aging stouts. He’d buy wine barrels and put his sour cherry tripel, among other things, in them. He’d start aging an oud bruin, which is still sitting in the back room of Hysteria, 11 months into its expected 18-month journey. A distillery next door is expected to store barrels inoculated with wild yeast.
“I’m a huge fan of barrel-aged beer, and I always have been,” says Gue. “Barrel aging adds that character, that richness, that complexity that you don’t get out of a beer any other way. There’s only one way to do it and that’s to do it, and you need a lot of barrels, and you need to be committed.”
When I visit in mid-August, everything that Hysteria had sold in its taproom or sent to market at that point had been produced on its 2-barrel system. To make enough beer to fill its 20-barrel fermentation tanks, the four-member brew team worked 12-hour days – one pair working the 7:00 pm to 7:00 am shift, the other from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. To state the obvious, getting the 20-barrel brewhouse installed and running was a relief. On that Saturday morning, there are full batches of Trash Panda, Yellow Sudmarine, and the first iteration of This Is Not a Test (a series of beers brewed without any piloting) brewed on that system fermenting away.
“Now that we’ve got this up and running, it’s like, ‘OK, back to work!’” McGraw says. “We’re still experimenting. We’re still trying to find our IPA – one that’s going to move the best and be shelf stable.”
Hysteria will continue to use the nano-system to produce exclusives for its taproom and certain accounts.
“As brewers, a lot of your job is to brew the same recipe over and over again,” Michel says, “but with the pilot system, Jordan is able to really flex his muscles and try new things.”
“It allows us to do some things that a lot of breweries don’t have the opportunity to do, which is make enough beer on your pilot system to distribute it or serve it in the taproom,” McGraw adds. “But at the end of the day, we’re a production brewery with a taproom – not a taproom with a brewery. The margins are a lot higher in the taproom, but we want to get the brand out there and show people what we can do.”
“Every day, it blows me away that out of the gate, we’ve done things that other breweries that have been open for a while are still hoping to get to do,” Gue shares. “We don’t even have the beer to supply these guys, and they’re breathing down our neck. It’s just humbling.”
The night before we meet, McGraw was at Max’s Taphouse for its Hopfest. Hysteria had sent the Baltimore institution the initial batch of its 10/6 triple IPA, so the head brewer had dropped by. Sitting at the bar with his old coworker Derek Davis, another patron shared some advice.
“We were looking at the menu, and this woman who had been buying flights and doling out samples kind of reached over and goes, ‘Hysteria is really good,’” McGraw says. “I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s great. That’s cool.’ Derek turned to me and goes, ‘It’s never going to get old.’”
“How’d that event go by the way?” Gue inquires.
“It was pretty good,” his head brewer answers. “It wasn’t crazy busy.”
“That’s why I didn’t go,” the co-founder admits. “I can’t do that.”
He pauses for a beat.
“You know, crowds.”