In the already-crowded craft beer market, it’s hard to imagine adding something new. But, then again, Brian Arnold and Jill Antos are used to defying the odds. In 2013, when the husband-and-wife team opened their Meadow Mill home-brew shop, Nepenthe—a term from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” that means a “drug of forgetfulness”—it was the first of its kind in the city. Though both were passionate about making beer, it was Jill who got Brian into home-brewing (despite gender stereotypes). And after two Jones Falls’ floods forced them to repeatedly rebuild, the Antoses decided to move their dreams farther up the road—and thankfully several additional feet above sea level.
Enter Nepenthe Brewing Co. (3626 Falls Rd., 443-438-4846), which the couple opened with Brendan Kirlin (formerly of Le Garage), as a brewpub, cocktail bar, restaurant, and homebrew shop all rolled into one. The open taproom features seats for 160 people, including communal tables, a 24-stool bar, a garage-style door, and a separate dining area that peeks into the open kitchen.
The beauty of the Hampden hangout is that it offers options. While many breweries have food trucks parked outside, here the kitchen whips up a menu of inspired bar favorites. Don’t leave without sampling the juicy duck burger or the honey-drizzled fried chicken sandwich with pickles. Also of note: Garage Fries served with sauces such as cucumber kimchi aioli and lemon tahini are a nod to Kirlin’s former restaurant.
But, let’s face it, you’re here for the beer. Not surprisingly, the homebrew vets are making innovative yet approachable beer with down-to-earth descriptions like “orange Skittles” or “campfire.” If it’s your first time, definitely order a four-beer flight. We loved the Cute Little Saison for its tropical notes, Something Pithy for its easy-to-drink tangerine flavor, and Plutonian Shore, a light-bodied stout with hints of espresso. There’s also a thoughtful cocktail program for when beer bloat kicks in.
And that’s what we love about Nepenthe. Not only does the place shine with personality (see the animal murals on the wall, with each creature representing an owner), but it’s an easy spot to choose your own adventure. And, if you’re feeling inspired by the place, head downstairs to the home-brew shop. Who knows? Maybe you’ll open your own brewery someday.