I have a lot of wonderful words to share about the Ministry of Brewing, but in case you are in a rush to recover from midterm season or the impending election with strong and delicious drinks, I will say: You should definitely go here. My friends and I decided to head to the Ministry of Brewing this Friday afternoon, conveniently timed at 5 p.m. to celebrate another midterm season approximately halfway finished.
While I knew it was located in an old church, I was unprepared for the impressive, sprawling brewery situated in the historic St. Michael’s Church. It was incredibly spacious and decorated beautifully, with much of the church decor left intact (full disclosure, I’m Jewish, so my church understanding is quite limited, but my Catholic friends informed me that they had left up the balcony organ and a ceiling fresco).
The manager greeted us and informed us of the COVID-19 precautions in place — the walkways were all one way so you wouldn’t walk past someone, and we were told to put on our masks whenever our server came over or if we got up to walk to the bathroom. Between these extra precautions and the distance between the picnic tables, I felt incredibly safe.
When our server came over, he asked us what we were looking for in a drink.
“Oh, like something light and fruity,” Elizabeth said. Without missing the beat, the server said he got it. I ordered a drink that had been recommended to me by another friend, and two other members of our crew had opted for the strongest possible drinks on the menu, going for the 7.1% “Silly Walks.” The server returned back with a pint of the “Wit” for me and the “Esmerelda” with added raspberry flavor for Elizabeth.
I can’t pretend to have a refined beer tasting palette beyond occasionally participating in the Natty Boh/Natty Light debate, but the drinks were, in fact, delightful. My “Wit” was exactly what I wanted from a beer — flavorful, crisp and not too heavy or light. Abby stated that her 7.1% beer had West Coast notes of “salt and sunshine and the cornfields in autumn.” Elizabeth was similarly very pleased with her drink that the server had selected.
We also ordered a few ciders after our first round. Their Downeast Cider is 7.3% alcohol by volume and to be honest tastes exactly like the apple juice you drank as a child, and it was certainly a fan favorite especially given the seasonality. You should totally order this drink while you’re there.
The rotating selection of beers also includes house-made sodas. While we were there, they offered blueberry and lemon, so the Ministry of Brewing also provides for those looking for a non-alcoholic experience but excellent ambience.
It is also worth noting that you can bring your own food into the Ministry of Brewing, so while we did not think to do so given that we came at 5 p.m., a lot of the people I saw who came in after had done so. The proximity of the brewery to a litany of restaurants in Fells Point makes it easy to go grab a bite to eat after as well, since we walked to Ekiben after leaving to satiate some desires for steamed buns.
The Ministry of Brewing opened its doors this January, after the church had closed eight years prior. According to a press release, the Ministry of Brewing’s mission is to promote and model inclusion in the Upper Fells Point community.
The institution was founded by Ernst Valery and David Wendell, former Cornell University football teammates, and Jeff Hunt and Mike Powell. Dave Macala is the head brewer. Wendell and Powell had previous experience in the Cincinnati brewing scene at MadTree Brewing.
Valery explained in an interview with The News-Letter that he and Wendell had hoped to open a brewery together for years. They had been looking in Cincinnati until they realized that the Baltimore church was the perfect location for their brewery.
“We came across the church as a development opportunity. I lived in that neighborhood, so I was familiar with the church, and when it came on the market, we didn’t really look at it,” Valery said. “Later on [Wendell] came to visit and we saw it, and we thought, ‘Wow, this is the church for our brewery.’”
Valery expanded on the ideals and goals of the Ministry of Brewing. He outlined its program to teach microbiology and brewing to underrepresented young adults. Valery explained that his philosophy as a real estate developer applies to his work as a brewery cofounder.
He wants to focus on making sure people do not get displaced while also ensuring that people are included in the economy.
“I always look at opportunities to create a level playing field for inclusion,” he said. “Not many Black and brown people and women are in the industry, from top to bottom. Not many people of color know how to brew, not many women are master brewers. So the whole purpose of the course is to create a bridge and have a pathway of inclusion for people who are typically consumers but not the ones leading and innovating in the field.”
Valery and his co-founders encountered difficulties while starting their venture, he said, namely securing funding with people of color on the founding team.
“The banking industry makes negative assumptions about a lot of people, especially of color and women,” he said. “We’re looking for the person who’s calling you a derogatory name as opposed to the person who’s not giving you opportunity and access.”
Most U.S. banking executives, Valery noted, are white men.
“So unless you’re doing something that’s all white males they won’t invest in you,” he said. “If you look at M&T bank, they wouldn’t give us a penny, and we went to them. And the one brewery that was all white males, they gave them the money.”
When asked about these allegations, Scott Graham, senior public relations manager for M&T Bank’s Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. locations, stated in an email to The News-Letter that the organization is committed to minority and women-owned business communities.
“That is one reason the bank started in 2019 a team of business bankers dedicated to working exclusively with women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color in Greater Baltimore,” he wrote.
Valery hopes to continue effecting change in his community and promoting the success of the Ministry of Brewing.
“What we’ve learned is that if you can put a good product with a space that feels inclusive and safe, and it’s also a beautiful space, it’s the formula for long-term success,” he said. “We’re hoping to have long-term success with those things in place.”
Valery and his co-founders’ goals seem to be well on their way to this long-term success. I loved my time at the Ministry of Brewing and highly recommend that everyone check it out.
Click here for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s considerations for restaurants and bars amid COVID-19.