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Beer Bar Spotlight: Max's Taphouse

"Our goal is to be the best beer bar in the world, with the biggest and best inventory and the most knowledgeable staff you will find,” Ron Furman, the owner of Max’s Taphouse, said with a smile.
Max's Taphouse in Baltimore Maryland
Max's Taphouse in Baltimore Maryland

Max’s, previously called Max’s on Broadway, is a local icon in the Fell’s Point neighborhood of Baltimore, Md., an area full of shops, restaurants and historic buildings along the city’s waterfront. You know the area well if you’ve seen the TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which was largely filmed just a few blocks from the bar. Max’s has been known as a great beer destination in the mid-Atlantic region for more than a decade now, but it’s really in the last five or so years that the bar has achieved much more wide-ranging acclaim. This is due in part to the incredible success of its Belgian Beer Fest, which draws beer lovers from around the
country each February. 

To give you a picture of the incredible beeriness of Maryland’s premier beer bar, Casey Hard, the general manager, said late last year that the number of beers on draft at Max’s would soon increase from 72 to 100. “We will also add two new beer engines to the three we already have, which will give us five cask-conditioned beers,” he noted. “We occasionally put firkins on the bar for special events as well. And we have over 1,000 different bottled beers.” 

Like Hard, who joined the crew 10 years ago, several of Max’s bartenders have been along for the ride as the bar’s beer offerings have expanded over the years. Jason Mislan has also been on board for more than a decade, Jamie Ritter for 12 years, and Bob Simko, sixteen. “I came here in 1993,” Simko said recently. “I started in the kitchen and was behind the bar within a month.”

Furman noted that when he bought the bar in 1986 it was a music club called On Broadway. “I changed it to Max’s on Broadway, as my grandfather’s name was Max,” he explained. “I then set about getting glass coolers and building a good beer selection. I think we had around 300 bottled beers by 1993, when I decided to add the first 24 taps. I wanted to be the best beer bar in Baltimore and to give people a unique drinking experience.

Max’s, which is one of this writer’s “locals,” does good, filling pub fare like burgers, nachos and the like. The food menu gets ramped up a bit  during events like the Belgian fest, which is held every President’s Day weekend. “We had beer lovers here from all over the U.S. and even from some foreign countries for the 2009 fest,” said Hard. “The fest runs three days, beginning at 11 a.m. the Friday morning of that February weekend. People were lined up outside at 9 a.m., waiting to get in and get seats at the bar or grab a table for the day,” he remembered.

Hard was the driving force behind procuring 100 different Belgian beers on tap for the 2009 event. “There were also 14 U.S. -brewed, Belgian-inspired beers on draft,” he said. “Special ones included cask-conditioned versions of Cerberus and La Petroleuse from our friends at the Brewer’s Art,” the popular brewpub/restaurant, which is known for its excellent cooking and Belgian-style brews and is situated less than three miles from Max’s. “Brewery Ommegang is also always well-represented,” Hard noted. “In fact, we had nine of their brews on draft during the 2009 fest, including one brewed just for the event.” 

Max’s sees a fair number of local and national beer debuts as well. The bar served as host for the first tapping of cask-conditioned Hanssens Oude Lambik and Oude Kriek during the 2009 Belgian fest. Draft versions of ‘t Smisje Calva Reserva and Grande Reserva were also featured last year, as was Picobrouwerij Alvinne’s Kerasus.

For this year’s fest, Hard planned to have 120 authentic Belgian beers on draft and 150 in bottles. “We want to expand the event every year,” he said. At press time, the draft list was still in the works. However, one thing that is certain is that Max’s is set to feature a sneak-preview release of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, a new brewing venture headed by Baltimore’s own Brian “Stillwater” Strumke. Stillwater’s goal is to produce raditionally inspired, 21st century-innovated ales in multiple locations around the globe. The initial offering is Stateside Saison, an American- hopped, Belgian-inspired, Saison-style ale. This brew is due to hit the shelves nationwide around mid-March, and it will also be available on draft in a number of bars around the Mid-Atlantic region. Later in the spring will come the launch of the Belgian-brewed “Import Series.” “We have much more planned for the rest of 2010,” Hard mentioned. “We will have a mini Italian beer fest in April for the first time. Additionally, we always have a USA Craft Beer week, the same week as the official one held by the Brewer’s Association, which is May 17 to 23 this year,” he continued. Hard also noted that it is likely Max’s will hold another “Rare and Obscure” beer week in July. 

“Then, the German fest will be the next big event,” Hard said. “It’s in mid-September, just about the time the Oktoberfest starts in Munich. We had over 60 authentic German beers on draft for the fest in 2009, and 72 in bottles. In fact, we had about 10 served from gravity kegs, sitting on the bar as firkins do, over the course of the fest last year.”

Max’s just added Cask Thursdays late last year, where casks are discounted from the normal price and special brews are usually offered. “Casey really loves great beers and knows how to get beer lovers here,” Furman said.

A regular fixture, which began many years ago, is the Tuesday Beer Social, where a special brew or brews are featured in the Mobtown Lounge, the upstairs bar at Max’s. The Christmas beer social and Christmas in July social really pack in the beer lovers, as do many other events over the course of the year. Quite often, brewers, importers and other industry figures attend the beer socials, making for a great camaraderie over beer.

In addition to the cask specials, Max’s often has events on Thursday nights as well. “We had over 20 beers on draft from Victory Brewing in Downingtown, Penn., one Thursday night last year,” Hard said. “And their brewery reps were here to tell people about the beers. 

“There is always a lot of educating people about different beers and beer styles,” Hard added. “We do get a lot of tourist walk-in traffic here, based on our location, and we try to suggest craft beers for people to taste, if they are amicable.” With such a strong emphasis on the latest trends and a clear dedication to education, Max’s seems poised to continue its rise through the beer bar ranks.