What happens when you put together the Mad Fermentationist, a Hop-focused Beer Nerd, and the perfect location in Columbia? The best new brewery, Sapwood Cellars. Located just off MD-108, the Sapwood Cellars has to be at the top of your list for breweries to visit.
What is Sapwood Cellars?
Co-founded by Michael Tonsmeire and Scott Janish, the Sapwood Cellars is a Columbia, MD brewery tentatively scheduled to open in June of 2018. The two are combining their knowledge and love of IPA’s, sours, and funky, bold beers to create mixes that are sure to blow the tastebuds right out of your mouth.
Scott Janish took time to give the Columbia Life team a tour of the new location in Columbia and answered some of the questions we had about the brewery.
What Beers Will Sapwood Cellars Brew?
Sapwood Cellars will start off by focusing on brewing hoppy, fruity IPAs, sours, and mixed fermented beers. They will branch out later into other types of beers based on what their customers are saying they like and want. But Janish said, “We feel there is a strong case for specialization. If you’re doing one thing over, and over again, you’re just improving it each time and trying to really knock it out of the park. Versus having 10 different styles of beer always on tap. We really see a lot of benefit in [specialization].”
We actually had the opportunity to try out one of the beers Sapwood Cellars will potentially have on tap. It was a hazy IPA made from Amarillo and Citra hops. The beer was “designed to be slightly sweet with a pillowy mouthfeel. The focus is on the hop flavor over the hop bitterness to bring out more fruit-like flavors and aromas” said Janish.
Let us tell you, this might have been one of the greatest smelling beers ever. When we brought the glass up to our mouths, the blissful scents hit our noses and instantly got our tastebuds going. The first sip was delightful, full of flavor, and left us wanting more. As you continued to drink the beer, more and more flavors burst out. It was a pretty sad moment when we ran out of the beer.
Locally Sourced Ingredients
Sapwood Cellars is going to source their ingredients locally as much as they possibly can. They for sure plan on bringing in fruits from near by farms and markets. Janish told us that sour beers ferment really well when mixed with fruits. Adding in cherries, blackberries, raspberries, or citrus really makes the beer pop with extra flavor.
Hops and grains on the other hand may be a little more difficult to find close by. Most hops and grains are grown out on the west coast, for example in Yakima Valley, WA. It is a bit tough to locally source what isn’t local.
What ABV Levels Will the Beers Have?
Since Sapwood Cellars’ immediate plan is to just function as a tap house, they have shot for a middle to lower ABV (alcohol by volume) level. Their focus is more on the taste of the beer, not the alcohol content. Most beers brewed by Sapwood Cellars will fall into the 4-6% ABV range.
Will Sapwood Cellars Bottle or Can Their Beer?
Right away, no, unfortunately. Sapwood Cellars needs to see which beers are liked by the public. Also, some beers don’t do quite as well in bottles and have a shorter shelf life. The sours most likely will bottled, but those are going to take nearly a year to be brewed and fermented.
Where Did the Name Come From?
The name Sapwood Cellars has two meanings to it. The first one being a combination of the beers they will be focusing on. The sap part can be used to describe the IPAs and then wood to describe the barrels used for the sours and fermented beers.
The other side of the brewery’s name comes from trees themselves. Sapwood is the softer, outer layer of newly formed wood. It is the initial workings of all trees and is vital to the maturing of a tree as it carries water between the leaves and roots. The sapwood eventually turns into heartwood, which is what is used to make the barrels that the beer goes into for fermentation.
Then there is the common piece between the two, cellar. A cellar is the common brewer’s term for the fermentation space, but it’s also the cool, quiet resting place of barrels.
What’s Up with the Co-Founders?
Both members of the DC Homebrewers Club, Janish and Tonsmeire were two men on a mission. Tonsmeire had written a book, one well-known in the beer community, and Janish was considering writing one of his own. So Janish emailed Tonsmeire asking for some tips. Tonsmeire figured the best way to give tips was in person. Tonsmeire invited Janish over to share a beer or two while they talked. Neither of them could have seen what was coming next.
While sitting down for their meeting about book writing, the topic of breweries came up. Janish had attempted and came quite close to opening one in the past and Tonsmeire had been sitting on the idea as well for awhile. Well, the rest was history. The two decided to become business partners and started the long process of opening up a brewery.
Coming from South Dakota for work, Scott Janish is a beer lover with a dream. He had received a “Brew Your Own Beer” kit as a gift one year. He tried his hand at the craft for the first time ever and in his own words, “the beer was terrible! It tasted like soap.” This was a good thing, though. Janish’s personality pushed him to try it again because he knew he could make it better.
Janish began doing research on brewing. He was trying to understand the ins and outs of the craft. Janish spent countless hours looking through hundreds of academic studies on the topic. This led him to begin blogging about brewing in his free time.
The man known as the “Mad Fermentationist”, Michael Tonsmeire, is pretty well known in the beer world. His publicity came from the book he wrote, “American Sour Beers.” The book was a huge success and was published by Brewer’s Publications. It is still today used as the leading resource for homebrewers and craft brewers. Janish told us that “it’s essentially the handbook to sour beer brewing.”
Tonsmeire has spread his knowledge of the craft across the nation. He believes that it should be shared, not kept a secret. Over his time, Tonsmeire has worked as a consultant for Modern Times and has helped dozens of other craft breweries get started and brew a good beer.
What is the Ultimate Goal?
“Honestly, to get this far is pretty satisfying for both of us.” Janish spoke of how proud both co-founders are to have made it this far. They now own a location, a brewery. They are going to continue building, brewing beers for the people, listening to what they want, and just keep going up from there.
A farm brewery is something Janish said he would like to eventually have. A “destination type place where you can have fun, farmhouse style beers.” Tasting rooms in Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD are also some considerations for the future.
But right now, Sapwood Cellars is focusing solely on opening and growing its name. Brewing beer that the people of Columbia, and all of those surrounding, want and are asking for.
Can’t Wait Until June?
Luckily for the beer enthusiasts who are dying to try the Sapwood Cellars beer we described above and others, you don’t have to wait until June. Sapwood Cellars has reserved a table at the Love Thy Beer Festival. The festival will be hosted by the Brewers Association of Maryland on February 16th in Silver Spring at the Civic Center.
Where to Find Sapwood Cellars
Sapwood Cellars is conveniently located off MD-108. The address is 8980 Rt 108, Columbia, MD 21045, in suites M, N, and O.
Janish and Tonsmeire have put ALOT of thought and effort into their product. For a long time, the two have been researching and writing about the craft. Their appreciation and dedication to their beers trumps any other we’ve seen.
Good luck to the Sapwood Cellars and we hope to see all of you at the grand opening!