Farewell to a Maryland Tradition


By: Thomas Cizauskas 2000 (updated 2007, 2008)

Linthicum, MD - In 1998, a Maryland tradition of British heritage, begun by the British Brewing Company in 1988, and continued as the Oxford Brewing Company during the 1990s, was sadly, but with fond and delicious memories, placed to rest after operating for 10 years.

When it began brewing in 1988, the British Brewing Company wasthe first micro-brewery to operate in Maryland since the repeal of Prohibition, some 55 years earlier.

original 

Oxford Class label for British Brewing CompanySteve Parkes, a degreed British brewmaster, opened the brewery in Glen Burnie, a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, with his partner, British small-businessman, Craig Stuart-Paul. Financing was provided by a third principal, the owner of a chain of real ale pubs in the UK.

Parkes' cask-conditioned Oxford Class Amber Ale was Maryland's first modern microbrew.

Bertha's, a restaurant and watering hole in the historic Fells Point district of Baltimore, Maryland, was British Brewing Company's initial account. Famous for its slogan, Eat Bertha's Mussels, the establishment would hand-pull the ale from casks set upon the bartop, another first for Maryland.

Parkes discovered that other local bars and restaurants would serve the beer at temperatures far colder than those appropriate for British ales. He tweaked his recipe to accommodate these standard American practices. Oxford Class Ale rapidly developed a loyal following among beer aficionados in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Acclaim

In the 2nd and 3rd editions of his Pocket Guide to Beer, beer writer Michael Jackson described Oxford Class as: a very English-tasting ale, malt-accented but very well balanced. Sometimes found cask-conditioned as Oxford Real Ale.

In their 1997 book, The Encyclopedia of World Beers, Benjamin Myers and Graham Lees said: Baltimore beer-lovers flock to bars on Fells Point for Oxford Brewing's Special Old Bitter or wintertime Santa Class Ale .


Brewery Sold

The company briefly flirted with bottling its ales, using a second-hand machine. Mechanical difficulties and quality control issues forced a return to draft-only production.

By early 1992, financing had become difficult and Parkes departed the partnership. He moved on to the Humboldt Brewing Company in California, where he would garner several awards and achieve commercial success. Stuart-Paul would leave shortly thereafter.

In 1992, the British Brewing Company was sold to partners Jim Stotsky, and husband and wife Marianne and 'O.B.' O'Brien. The trio rechristened the - now Linthicum, Maryland based - brewery as the Oxford Brewing Company. They chose the slogan, American beers with a British accent. Under their stewardship Oxford would reached its sales zenith in 1995. But it was a decidedly un-British beer that year which became the best-selling locally produced microbrewed draft beer in Maryland.


Raspberry-Wheat

Before his departure, Parkes had designed and brewed a one-off beer for a wedding celebration: an ale fermented with 8 pounds of raspberries per barrel. Since not all of the beer had been consumed at the reception, the remaining kegs were sold to local restaurants. When that supply was quickly depleted, the pubs asked for more. Surprised but pleased, the brewery acquiesced, naming the beer simply Oxford Raspberry Wheat Ale

In 1995, the beer had become the primary product of the brewery. Oxford Class Ale did not fare well as well. In competition with other breweries' amber ales, its sales suffered.

Brewery Expansion

Oxford Brewing Company labelTo increase sales, the new owners turned to contract brewing for local restaurants and pubs. Beers were brewed for other breweries, among them, Capitol City Brewing Company and Frederick Brewing Company.

In 1994, Oxford contracted with F.X. Matt Brewing to brew the bottled version of Oxford Class and with the now shuttered Dubuque Brewing Company for bottled Raspberry-Wheat.

Oxford's 14.5 US bbl kettle and entire Hickey Equipment Company brewhouse had been originally shipped in pieces from the UK and reassembled in Glen Burnie, MD. Its old-fashioned propane gas-fired heating rings, submerged within the wort, would sound as a jet engine revving for take-off. Its fermenters, true to its English roots, were traditional open-topped 15 and 30 US bbl fermenters.

An expansion strategy of draft-only production and contract bottling soon followed, directed by beer industry veteran Mike Jaeger. By the 1996, the open fermenters had been sold and the fermentation capacity, now exclusively in closed conical unitanks, had been increased several fold. New equipment and laboratory facilities were added.

The End

But it was not to be enough. The late 1990s saw the market for fruit-based beers collapse; the rate of growth for microbrews decreased as well.

On Wednesday, December 30, 1998, Oxford's kettle was fired up for the last time. Shortly thereafter, all the equipment was sold. The fate of the brewhouse is unknown by this writer. But many of the Century-built unitanks are now in service for the Terrapin Brewery of Georgia.

Oxford's brands were purchased by Clipper City Brewing Company of Maryland, which by then, had already assumed the production of the bottled versions of Oxford Class Ale and Raspberry-Wheat. In 2008, clipper City reformulated both as Oxford Organic Ales .

Other draft brands

Oxford Brewing Company achieved success with several other draft brands:

A Legacy of Success

Past brewers for the British/Oxford Brewing Company:


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