Bog Turtle Brewery debuts its first brew in Oxford
By Steven Hoffman
There was a great deal of anticipation leading up the debut of the Bog Turtle Brewery’s first brew to be sold to the public. A large crowd gathered at the Sawmill Grill in Oxford on the evening of Dec. 21 to get the first taste of the Devil’s 9 Ball, an American Pale Ale that is handcrafted by the six owners of the Bog Turtle Brewery.
“Downtown Oxford just received the perfect Christmas gift—Bog Turtle Brewing’s Devil’s 9 Ball,” said Donna Hosler, the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., who was among those who turned out for the event.
The Bog Turtle Brewery is the collaborative effort of its six owners, Tom King, John Ewing, Johnny Topmiller, Steve Applegate, Jon Campbell, and Chris Davis. King explained that the origins of the Bog Turtle Brewery can be traced back more than eight years, to when he and some friends started experimenting with brewing their own beers on the first Saturday of each month. Five of the six brewers reside in the Sycamore Crossing development. They all have full-time jobs—working as a union pipe-fitter, a physical therapist, an engineer, an IT professional, and a sales manager—so they take turns working on weekends and evenings to brew their products. Brewing beer started out as a hobby for the six of them, but now, King explained jokingly, it is a hobby that has grown out of control.
According to the 2015 Beer Judge Certification Program, there are 34 styles of beer with many different subcategories to each style. However, all these varieties are made with four base ingredients: malted grain, water, hops, and yeast. What the brewer does with those ingredients is what makes each brewery distinctive.
Long before they offered their brews to the public, the Bog Turtle Brewery owners developed their own methods of brewing the beer. All six owners are detail-oriented people who can handle the delicate chemistry that is involved in the beer-making process. They invest the time to re-circulate the hot liquor through the mash to capture as much of the sugars as possible. They let the wort boil longer, allowing the malts and sugars to become more concentrated for the yeast.
During the weekend brewing sessions, they earned the respect of some local beer aficionados. Eventually, they entered a local brewing competition and won the People’s Choice Award. They started considering how they could make their products available to a wider audience.
“People kept asking us, ‘Where can I get your beer?’” King explained.
Initially, when they started looking for a space large enough for their brewing equipment, they were considering setting up shop in the Octoraro Hotel & Tavern, but the building was damaged in a fire in the latter part of 2014. Then they found a very suitable spot in the back part of the OASA building at 14 South 3rd Street.
There is a rigorous process of obtaining all the necessary licenses to open a brewery. King thanked the offices of U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts and State Rep. John Lawrence, both of which stepped in to help cut through some of the red tape that was involved with the process so that the Bog Turtle Brewery could reach the point where it could sell its products to the public.
Right now, they are making a red ale, Rochambeau Rouge, which they describe as a flavorful “malty,” “toasty,” “caramel” beverage.
The Cattail, a honey brown ale, is made from eight different malted grains featuring floor-kilned English malt, dark chocolate malt, and golden honey malt, as well as local honey from West Grove, creating a smooth and sweet beer that is full of flavor.
The Two Stories blonde ale is a perfectly balanced ale that combines a blend of English malt with American hops.
King said that they picked the Devil’s 9 Ball to introduce the Bog Turtle Brewery to the community because they thought it would be a beer with wide appeal. It is an American Pale Ale with a hoppy, citrusy flavor.
“It has a hoppy aroma,” King explained, “but it’s not very bitter.”
The Bog Turtle Brewery’s beers will only be available at the Sawmill Grill.
“Our plan, down the road a little bit, is to be able to fill growlers sometime in 2016,” King explained.
Campbell said that they want to grow the business in manageable increments, only increasing the number of beers that they produce, and the amount of beer they can produce, based on what the owners can handle by brewing in their free time on weekends and evenings. Using a football reference, Campbell said that they don’t want to “out-kick our coverage” and not be able to meet the demand for the product. At some point, Campbell said, he would like to have a tasting room where beer aficionados could enjoy their brews. But that’s in the future.
The craft brew market has been growing considerably in recent years. King noted that the number of beer breweries in the U.S. has reached pre-Prohibition levels for the first time. Craft brews now account for about 10 percent of the total beer market, and that’s expected to climb to 20 percent. Oxford officials are glad that the town now has a brewery of its own open.
“The Bog Turtle guys are a true asset to Oxford,” explained Hosler. “They are generous and involved, and they make a mighty fine APA.”
King, meanwhile, said that he and the other owners have been overwhelmed by how the community has responded.
“The town has been amazingly supportive,” he explained.
Looking around at the crowded Sawmill Grill, with so many people enjoying the Devil’s 9 Ball, Campbell wholeheartedly agreed.
“It’s cool to have the community turn out like this,” he said.
John McGlothlin, who runs the Sawmill Grill, said that they were excited that the Bog Turtle Brewery picked the restaurant to debut its beer, and the brews would continue to be available there.
“We couldn’t ask for better partners,” McGlothlin explained. “They are really involved in the community. We’re already looking forward to the next beer.”