If you’ve sat at a Baltimore bar recently, you’ve probably noticed hand-crafted wooden tap handles engraved with Monument City and 51 Rye.
The story behind Monument City Brewing, started by brothers Matt and Ken Praay, involves an obvious passion for craft beer, a whole lot of Skype sessions, and a fateful trip on the Appalachian Trail.
Several years ago, Ken was working a day job and honing his passion for homebrewing at night. “I’m not a good musician, I can’t paint, and I can’t write all that well,” he says. “This was a way for me to express my creativity.”
Meanwhile, his brother Matt, who is also an avid homebrew fan, was working in Afghanistan as a government contractor. The two got to talking and, over the course of a year, wrote a business plan to start a brewery over Skype.
When Matt returned home, the two brothers took a hike on the Appalachian Trail and cemented the deal.
“I think that hike gives you some clarity and you realize what’s important,” Ken explains. “We wanted to do something as a family and what more fun way to get closer than to start a brewery. We decided to pull the trigger and go for it.”
Soon the Praay brothers secured a spot in the craft beer collective of Peabody Heights Brewery in Waverly. Monument City’s signature release, 51 Rye, launched in November 2014. The 6.5-percent ABV beer has a lot of citra and dry hops for citrus on the nose, balanced with the spicy rye, which makes up more than half of the grain bail.
“We really try to showcase the main ingredients—whether it’s the barley or the rye,” Ken says. “And 51 Rye was our way to pay homage to the old Maryland rye scene.”
Three weeks later, Monument released its Brown Ale, which is an all-malt brown ale with toasty notes of chocolate and caramel. “With our two core releases, we wanted something that would appeal to each end of the spectrum,” he says.
Another aspect that’s really important to the them is the art of their tap handles. The custom handles are created by local woodworking shop Mark Supik & Company with reclaimed wood from old Baltimore mash tanks. The logo (designed by local agency Orange Element) is then screen printed on by Baltimore Print Studios.
“Small businesses are the only reason we’re selling beer,” Ken says. “So it was really important for us to keep everything local. Each handle is individually created by hand.”
Monument City is looking to release a pale ale and an IPA for the summer months, but for now Ken and Matt are still going bar to bar, with growlers in hand, spreading the word about their product.
“There is so much talent in the local craft beer community right now,” Ken says. “Our goal, if we’re lucky, is to be in the top four or five of those local beers. If we can do that, we’ll be very happy.”
Try Monument City Brewing, and a dozen other local beers, at Saturday’s Brews & Bands festival, sponsored by WTMD.