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May 22, 2006 - Tom Baker: Why Heavyweight Is Closing & What's Coming Next
For Tom Baker, a brewer who never lost the passion and adventuresome spirit of his homebrewing days, the impending shut-down of his Heavyweight Brewing Co. is more a beginning than an ending.

In a follow-up to the story about the end of Heavyweight which appeared here Saturday, co-founder Baker told the Beer Yard in an exclusive interview yesterday why the decision was made now and talked more extensively about the future plans he and his co-founder and wife, Peggy Zwerver, have been working on.

"We've been thinking about closing for a long while," Baker acknowledged. "I felt like I'd kinda lost my way with Heavyweight. I really didn't know what it meant to me any more. I didn't like the grind of making the same beers over and over. I've always relished the brewpub scenario where you can make different beers all the time. I mean, I've been doing that to an extent anyway, with our One Time, One Place beers and other one-offs. I like to try new things and I don't like the feeling of people looking at me as if I were a traitor if I want to make a 5% beer or something completely out of the ordinary.

"The other thing is that, while Heavyweight has been profitable for the last couple of years, the only way to make it really profitable would be to divest myself of the whole one-man brewery approach, to grow bigger and add people. But the real charm and appeal of Heavyweight was that is was just me. I really have no interest in hiring people and doing all the things you need to do to grow bigger.

"It just seemed this was the time to do it, to go out on top. For the last several months, our beers have been really solid and we've got a good reputation. Now we'll try to cash in on that with something different. And if that makes me happy in the bargain, that's a good thing too."

Baker's desire to operate a small brewpub which would also be a good beer bar is something he's been discussing with friends for years, and he says he believes he and Peggy can pull it off. "We're talking to a lot of people, both locally and from other areas, and I'd like to think we can make something happen by the end of the year. We hope to stay in this area because I really like the Philadelphia market. I have a general concept in mind, but there are a lot of options and we're looking at everything."

Baker also confirmed that the final Heavyweight appearance will be at the Royal Stumble, Nodding Head's annual beer event in which the winning brewer is the first to empty his keg, on July 7, and he talked about the last three beers still to be brewed at the Ocean City plant, including one which will be a collaboration with Scott (The Dude) Morrison, brewmaster at the two McKenzie Brew House locations in suburban Philadelphia.

"Scott and I just worked this out Saturday at the Iron Hill brewfest," he explained. "We're going to make a wild rice beer with bread yeast. All three of the final beers will be made with bread yeast and the next one, which I'll also do this week, will be a sourdough rye beer with caraway. It will be a little different from the Triumph version, which is a really nice beer. They put the caraway in at the last minute, in the serving tank, but I'm going for a more subtle thing and will add caraway in the boil to let the sourness and the bread yeast dominate with hint of caraway in the back. The final beer will be what I call a smorgasbord, which will be made with whatever is left in the brewery. We won't now what that beer will be until we do it, I guess. That's the one which I'll take to the Royal Stumble."

As part of the shut-down, Heavyweight will be selling off all its beer stock and Baker detailed some of those which are, or will be, available. "We're only doing big bottles now, we extinguished the 12oz line," he said, "although we do have some of those in reserve. We have cases of Biere d'Art from the last bottling and we just bottled St'-vee, which is an interesting beer. We named after Steve Lander, who comes here all the time. He was really crazy about our Golden Idol, a beer we made with Brettanomyces. It was actually a batch of Lunacy that went awry because some of the malt bags were mislabeled. We added some Brett and named it for Steve.

"We also have several cases of bourbon-aged Old Salty 2005, our barleywine, left, and We'll bottle the rest of our Black Ocean, a Schwartzbier made with oyster shells, and Doug's Colonial Ale, a beer I made with Doug Duschell, a North Jersey homebrewer, using his recipe of 50% Brumalt and 50% Pale malt. The Brumalt really gives it an interesting flavor."

"Interesting," Tom Baker will tell you, is what brewing is all about.--JACK CURTIN