Add To Favorites

Veteran-owned Battery Island Brewing now open in historic Havre de Grace

Baltimore Sun - 5/3/2021

For a long time, 101 N. Washington St. was Havre de Grace’s Green’s pharmacy. It later became a bike shop and also a hair salon. The building sits on the foundation of another building that is said to have been burned down by the British during the War of 1812.

Now, friends, co-workers and business partners Kyle Hurst and Kevin Wilson have turned the site into a nanobrewery, one they hope will become a gathering place for Havre de Grace residents for years to come. The brewery officially opened May 1.

Beer brewing began as a hobby for both, who met while working at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Both graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. military; Hurst, 34, is still active duty in the Army, while Wilson, 51, holds a civilian position after retiring from a 26-year career in the Army and Coast Guard.

Wilson, a Cecil County native, has been an avid home brewer since 1994. “I think it’s kind of a peaceful, therapeutic process,” he said of his hobby, which has its roots in ancient civilizations.

When he moved back to Havre de Grace in 2018, temporarily living in an apartment and without the space to brew, Hurst, who had just bought a house in Havre de Grace, offered his basement. Later, when Wilson moved to a larger home in Perryville, they expanded to his basement.

They began researching the idea of starting a nanobrewery. In contrast to microbreweries, nanobreweries feature smaller production capacity and only limited distribution, selling most of their beer on-site. The advantage, Hurst says, is “we can brew what we want, we can brew what our customers want, and we don’t have to worry about lengthy supply chains.”

Hurst says their Army co-workers “think we’re a little crazy.” And there are times they thought that might be right, asking themselves: “Are we insane? Is this ever going to work?”

But once they found a location — the former pharmacy — they began imagining the future of their business, one that embraces Havre de Grace’s rich history, which dates back to before the American Revolution. “We really wanted to be in downtown Havre de Grace,” said Wilson. “It took a while to find the facility.” They named the brewery for an artificial island in the Chesapeake Bay. Wilson calls the setting the perfect locale for their business, saying the community has been nothing but supportive of their project.

They also tested out beers on family and friends, getting feedback that taught them that “everyone’s taste buds are completely different,” says Hurst.

Hurst says their background in the Army has helped shape their “do-it-yourself” attitude to the entire project. Aside from plumbing and electrical updates, they renovated the historic building themselves, ripping up vinyl flooring and restoring the original hardwood floors. They even built the bar using wood from an enormous oak tree Wilson felled in his yard.

Wilson keeps a mental checklist with him for every project — a holdover from his days as an aviator, when he needed to keep a pre-flight checklist. “My entire active-duty career I was a helicopter pilot,” Wilson said. “Everything in a helicopter’s done with a checklist. … It keeps you from missing stuff.” He takes the same approach with beer brewing, using an Excel printout to record temperatures and other information.

“We don’t ever drink when we brew — that’s one of the rules,” Wilson said — and necessary when dealing with hot liquids. “But at the end of a brew session … drinking a beer is also relaxing. Now opening a brewery, that’s not very relaxing.”

Meanwhile, Hurst points to the logistical skills he learned as an infantry officer conducting military operations. “I got to learn operations management, logistics management … to deliver a product at the right place the right time,” he said. He later transitioned into Army acquisitions and project management, a background that came in handy “every step of the way,” he says.

“Cost, schedule and goals are three competing things,” says Wilson. Pay less, then increase time, and perhaps sacrifice goals, too.

The brewery is able to seat around 48 people at full capacity — or “during non COVID times,” as Hurst says. They plan to eventually get a canner and potentially sell kegs of beer to nearby alehouses.

But they don’t have any intentions of blowing up. “We’re not in this to become the next Dogfish Head,” said Hurst, referring to the Delaware craft brewer that opened in 1995 and now sells beer nationwide.

“We just want to make good beer for people. We enjoy making beer, and we enjoy people enjoying our beer.”

Battery Island Brewing

101 N. Washington St., Havre De Grace. 443-987-0065.

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.