[Note: This article originally appeared in our October-November 2021 newspaper edition, published on October 8.]
When Tom Foster and his friends started home brewing as students at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the late 2000’s, they could never have anticipated what their hobby would grow to become.
Brewing out of their house, they started sharing samples of the beers they created around campus, to much acclaim from their peers. Post-graduation, they decided to take it to the next level. After contract brewing on the Eastern Shore, they wanted something they could call their own. And in 2016, Diamondback Brewing Company was born when Tom and his friends opened the brewery and taproom at 1215 E. Fort Avenue in Locust Point.
“At the time, there was a bit of a lack of brewery presence within the city limits. So we saw a really good opportunity to come in, to be one of the first breweries that are actually in this [area],” says Tom.
Since its founding, Diamondback Brewing Company has cemented itself as a community-oriented, experimental brewing company with more than a dozen types of beers: lagers, pilsners, IPAs, barrel-aged, and more.
Annually, Diamondback produces 2,000 barrels of beer, with 75 percent of its product distributed in Maryland and the rest going to D.C. and Virginia. The company has a tight-knit staff, all under 30 years old and all energetic about their craft.
In their desire to set Diamondback apart from other Maryland craft breweries, Tom and his team spend a lot of time researching unique styles, finding classic beers, and putting a new-age twist on them. Their house IPA, Green Machine, gets a lot of love from the public.
Their blonde ale, Ostend Sundays, solidifies the bond between the brewery and its South Baltimore location. A group of friends living on Ostend Street won the brewing reward offered through Diamondback’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that allowed them to brew and name a beer, hence the name. The beer started out as a one-off, but it gained popularity over the years and now it’s one of the brewery’s staple summer beers.
But if you’re a fall person, fret not. There are plenty of darker-style beers in the rotation now that October is upon us. Vanilla stouts, s’mores stouts, and Czech dark lagers are some of the heavier beers for the colder months.
Tom showed us through the Diamondback facilities and production area one weekend this summer. Patrolled by the brewery cat Inky, the production floor just off the taproom houses several vats for storing oats, barley, and other grains. There is an additional line of wider vats, known as Mash tuns, along the far wall.
Taller vats used for clarification stand in a group toward the center of the floor. Augers or pipes connect each vat, allowing the beer to flow from one stage of the process to the next. Diamondback’s mobile canning station, which sits near the massive walk-in cooler at the back of the facility, can be wheeled in front of any clarification vat for easy use.
The brewing process starts with the barley, which is sourced from local farms or imported from Munich. The grains are soaked in water, milled down, and then funneled through an auger into the Mash tun. There, water is added while the Mash tun circulates the fluid within, allowing sugars to accumulate.
The mushy oat water malt is strained and piped into a large boil kettle, where hops are added to remove some of the sweetness. The result is a mixture called wort. The wort is funneled through the heat exchange to the fermenter, where it will sit at exactly 70 degrees while yeast is added to induce active fermentation. Depending on the type of beer, this process can take from one to six weeks.
From there, it’s on to clarification in another vat, a process that perfects a beer’s taste, haze, and shelf life. Though carbonation naturally occurs during the fermentation process, more CO2 is pumped into the vat during clarification for even more carbonation.
Once the flavor of the beer is in a good spot, it’s ready to be canned. Diamondback’s mobile canning machine can produce about 100 cases of beer in two to three hours.
Most of Diamondback’s beer is ready to ship or sip at this point, but it’s just the beginning for the barrel-aged beers, which go through a mixed fermentation brewing process to produce a variety of bolder tastes.
In an adjacent building sits Diamondback’s barrel room. This room is packed with large wooden barrels, ranging from Willet bourbon barrels to wine and whiskey casks. Certain beers are introduced to the barrels during the fermentation process, but instead of sitting for a few weeks, they can ferment for up to two years!
“We’ve put a huge investment in our barrel-aged beers,” says Tom.
Many of the barrels still have the whiskey or wine dregs in the bottom, adding to the robust flavor of the beer. Bacteria in the wood of the barrel, along with the brewer’s yeast, contribute to the spunky flavors of the beer over the long period of time.
About 25 percent of all Diamondback beer goes straight to the taproom. The other 75 percent heads out to market. This year, Tom and company are looking at producing a total of about 2,000 barrels. As they continue to grow their brand and hone their craft, they’re expecting to get up to 3,000 or 4,000 barrels a year.
But Tom is in no rush. “For the time being, we’ve found a really nice niche here at this size, so we’re going to continue to try growing organically and slow. That’s really been our mantra since day one.”
For now, Diamondback is focusing on perfecting its signature brews, finding exciting new flavors, and hosting community events. Whether it’s live music, Czech style beer “Foam Fridays,” or yoga, Diamondback is thriving as a crossroads of community engagement on the peninsula. – John Thomas
The SoBo Made series features local products and the people who make them on the South Baltimore peninsula. Our part of the city has long been a manufacturing and production hub. Although much of that work vanished years ago, the creative and industrious spirit endures here in firms large and small. Other SoBo Made stories: