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Annapolis’ First “Nano” Brewery to Open in Eastport Neighborhood

The Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis is about to get its own neighborhood brewery. Forward Brewing will open soon at 418 Fourth Street.  Owned by Cam and Claire Bowdren, the restaurant and taproom will seat 28 and will offer food along with its locally brewed beer.  The Eastport property has been in Bowdren’s family for over 30 years.

CBM BW: Why start a brewery?

CAM BOWDREN: I like beer and I like variation in beer. Somewhere in college I discovered that there were more styles of beer than just the mass-produced macro beers, so I started seeking out different beers wherever I went. Luckily at that time I got to travel a fair amount, and though there weren’t nearly as many beers or breweries as there are today, I saw that different towns had their own local breweries and each brewery had a following because it was personal to that town or region.

All over the country, and the world, small neighborhood nano-breweries have become local hangouts and meeting places, and they offer a local flavor that you can’t find anywhere else. 

CBM BW: What is a nano brewery?

CAM BOWDREN: There isn’t an exact definition of a nano brewery, but it implies something smaller than a microbrewery, typically seven barrel brewhouses and smaller. Along with a definition of relative size, nano breweries are often small, hyper-local startups or add-ons to restaurants where there is a passion and focus on a particular style of beer or community. 

CBM BW: Why Eastport?

BOWDREN: Annapolis had Rams Head—and Fordham beer—and my friends and I were very loyal. This was about 10 years ago. I began to think that the neighborhood of Eastport could use a small local brewery. My family happened to have an old building and shop space there that was vacant. I investigated whether we could open a brewery there and what brewing in Maryland looked like. I found that Maryland was pretty far behind in brewery legislation; you could only sell beer wholesale and you could only offer visitors tastes of the beer. Basically, you could not sell your own beer directly to customers. I tabled the idea. Eight years later, Maryland laws for brewing had modernized, so I circled back. By now, Rams Head was no longer brewing in Annapolis, and our capital city didn’t have its own brand or brewery. Eastport still made sense as a perfect neighborhood to house and support something like a brewery. With a mix of small businesses and residences all within walking distance, and a fun-loving, jovial, and rebellious spirit, Eastport was ripe to have its own beer and a place to gather to drink it.

CBM BW: Have you encountered any challenges to opening?

BOWDREN: Aside from the original challenges from 10 years ago, we faced expected challenges with doing something somewhat new. We began with an old building that had seen little renovation over its long life. We were able to keep much of the building, including the front brick facade, the foundation, and several walls, but much of the building needed to be replaced and made to meet the many requirements of a commercial restaurant. We were able to make these updates while still maintaining much of the building’s quirky Eastport character. We also had to apply for a zoning boundary adjustment, because most of the Fourth Street properties are split zoned, as well as a variance for parking, because of the property’s narrow width, all to use the existing parking lot in the back of the property as a legal parking lot. Parking is considered a major issue for many people in the neighborhood even though Eastport is a very walkable peninsula. 

We also had to work with several equipment manufacturers before finding the right one and take on new tariffs before finally receiving and installing our brewing equipment.

Our newest challenge has been a test of patience in waiting for final electricity after some confusion on how power was to be supplied to the building. The building, much of the staff, kitchen equipment, and brewing equipment are all ready and waiting for power to arrive so we can open.

CBM BW: What do you intend to offer in the way of beer and food?

BOWDREN: For beer, we will begin by brewing a handful of traditional styles that we feel can satisfy many of the palates in Eastport and Annapolis. Once we move through our starting lineup, we will continue to experiment with new beers and variations. Our brewer, Warren Hendrickson, is very experienced with smaller nano and micro brewing systems and we are looking forward to unleashing his creativity. 

We hope to find a balance of traditional styles like pale ales, IPAs, lagers, and our current Kolsch style ale while also going down a few roads with different styles that aren’t found everywhere and are not repeatable. We are particularly excited to play with one of our fermenters which is reserved for sours and other funky beers. 

On the food side, our Chef Brian Clampet has put together a solid opening menu of small plates, including house-made charcuterie, spreads, pickled vegetables, and desserts that should bring people together at our community tables and offer them something new and something familiar. Our kitchen is not equipped with a hood, fryer, or grill, but this is not an issue for Brian—plus, a few constraints are often the spark of creativity. Brian shares Forward’s philosophy of running a low-waste operation and responsibly and sustainably sourcing ingredients and supplies. We are proud that Brian has a reputation of using everything and often turning what might be discarded into a new favorite dish.

CBM BW: In what way is the brewery considered “green?”

BOWDREN: Being sustainable is a fundamental part of being Forward. We like the color green, and we want to be able to see more of it for a long time. But we like the color blue too. We started our sustainability efforts by working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to start our own “BayRaiser” which allows us to plant oysters to filter the water in the Bay based on our water usage. It turns out that it’s very inexpensive to plant oysters. We also have a goal of going zero-landfill in the future. We have arranged composting for all of our food waste and will deliver our spent grain from brewing to a few small farms nearby for animal feed. We have begun to collect back the plastic six pack holders to send back to the manufacturer who will recycle them—since many municipalities cannot recycle them. Unfortunately, we know that it will be near impossible to go zero-landfill even with careful sourcing because there is always something—like plastic packaging, which is so hard to avoid—but at least we are able to avoid having a dumpster. When it comes to food sustainability, we’re focusing on sourcing foods with a low carbon, water and land-use footprint. We’ll source locally as much as we can to support our local economy, but a lot of food sustainability has to do with the types of foods you’re eating, not as much where they come from. Our menu will reflect that while offering delicious, innovative options for everyone.

CBM BW: What makes it unique compared to other dining options?

BOWDREN: Forward will stand out from other options in the area largely because we’ll currently be the only brewery in the City of Annapolis. We will make our beer in the same building and neighborhood as the customers who enjoy it, so our brewing is very personal. We’re also small, which is a good thing to us. We get to be nimble and experimental. We can try new things with ingredients, methods, and business and get direct feedback and results without overreaching. 

In many ways I think this model of being small, neighborhood-oriented, and intimate is how businesses used to be. It reminds me of a quote from Churchill where he says, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” At the same time that we are catering and listening to the customers who are sitting at our tables, we hope to also be able to keep our heads up and looking outward, finding new ideas that are working outside of our little town and planning/building for a future.