How do you celebrate the fifth year of your dream job? That was the question facing Judy Neff of Checkerspot Brewing Company in Baltimore. The craft beer makers (Judy and husband Rob) were approaching an important milestone this year and wanted a unique idea to mark the occasion. They had no idea that Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams beers, Truly seltzers and Angry Orchard ciders, would have the answer.
“The timing couldn’t have been better,” says Judy Neff.
The Neffs are the winners of the 11th 2022 Brewing & Business Experienceship, a program hosted by Samuel Adams and founder Jim Koch. Brewing the American Dream is an annual experience that offers brewers a mentorship with access to resources and support within the company plus the chance to create a limited release collaborative beer at the Samuel Adams Boston Brewery. The brewery was chosen out of a pool of over 50 applicants.
“We saw this opportunity being advertised and we knew it fit our five-year plan. We were looking to purchase a property and expand, so being able to have this level of mentorship available was amazing,” Neff says. “It’s like having unlimited access to experts who actually know what they are doing. Samuel Adams has such experience and to access that was a dream come true.”
“It’s been such a pleasure to develop the collaboration beer with Judy and Rob of Checkerspot and we cannot wait to see how they continue to flourish and grow as brewers,” said Jennifer Glanville Love, director of partnerships and collaborations at Boston Beer Company. “As our Brewing the American Dream family grows larger each year, we are so pleased to continue our efforts and find the next up-and-coming craft brewery to benefit from our Experienceship program.”
Founded by the Neffs in 2018, Checkerspot Brewing Company offers small-batch craft and gluten-reduced beers at their taproom in Baltimore. The brewery hosts many fundraisers and collaborative partnerships, giving back to organizations like The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, Baltimore Military Muster and many more.
“We were impressed by Judy and Rob’s beer—but even more inspired by their story,” said Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams. “Turning passion into purpose is what led me to create Brewing the American Dream. Checkerspot is a deserving brewery that truly appreciates the heart and science of beer and I’m thrilled to share this experience with them at the Great American Beer Festival where I got my start as a brewer some 38 years ago. I can only hope this experience will put them on the same trajectory.”
The 2022 Brewer Experienceship was deliberated live for the first time ever. An in-person celebration of five finalists, the Crafting Dreams Beer Bash was hosted on September 7 at Arlo SoHo in New York City. Finalists from across the country showcased their signature brew and shared their brewing and business story with judges and beer lovers. At the end of the night, attendees cast votes for their favorite brewery of the bunch, which factored into the ultimate decision to crown Checkerspot Brewing Company as this year’s winner.
Next month, Checkerspot will release Inspiration IPA, the beer they created and brewed as part of the experience. This India pale ale utilizes Vienna rye malt sourced from Maryland purveyor, Bear Branch Malt in Carroll County, and will be available in limited quantities on tap at both Samuel Adams Boston Brewery and Checkerspot in Baltimore. Maryland rye has been getting plenty of attention this year, as a bill has gone to the desk of Gov. Wes Moore making Maryland rye whiskey the official state spirit.
“We picked a style of beer we knew we wanted and then worked with their brewers to create a recipe. I knew I wanted a rye and it was important to have the Maryland malt. We literally put everything in the car and drove it up to Boston. We brought some Maryland with us for the experience.”
Neff says she picked her favorite hops to use (Idaho 7 along with Amarillo and Centennial) and the couple spent a week in Boston working with marketing and sales teams, plus a daylong immersive brew. “The team had answers to questions we didn’t even know we had,” she says. “It was a whirlwind but it helped us build some lasting relationships.”
Leave it to a good pint of beer to solidify a relationship— important in an ever-growing industry. Across the nation, craft breweries are still going strong, says Jim Bauckman of Grow & Fortify. “Despite the turmoil in the wake of the pandemic, the craft beer industry in Maryland is vibrant and growing more diverse. Our local industry shares a lot of similarities with the national industry and we anticipate growth will continue in the immediate future.”
Bauckman expects that this growth will start to slow down a little bit. “Competition remains tight and local breweries share crowded retail shelf space with more out-of-state brands. Now is the best time for regional consumers to directly support Maryland’s breweries by visiting their tasting rooms and seeking locally crafted beers in their favorite beer, wine and liquor stores and restaurants.”
Checkerspot Brewing welcomes the competition. “If you look at other places, like the West Coast and down south in North Carolina, we really still have a lot of room for growth comparably,” says Judy Neff. “The industry is doing well and becoming more commonplace and that leads to people expecting higher quality beers.”
Try Inspired Rye IPA for yourself at the launch party May 5 at Checkerspot Brewing, 5-9pm.
With each Inspiration Rye IPA, guest will get a bag of Life by Dallas True Pop Popcorn, a local winner of a pitch competition that was part of the same Brewing the American Dream.
There will also be Cinco de Mayo festivities, including a chili pepper eating contest, a Mexican-inspired food menu and Cinco de Mayo-inspired music all evening.