Jim Waller and Greg Bentley are craft beer engineers
The lights are on and burning through the fog on a cold, rainy winter night in the old post office at the top of Main Street in Red Lion.
The interior of the building seems new, but you can feel its history. Originally serving as the town’s postal gathering center in 1935, it found a future as a furniture store, a karate studio and most recently as a bank. Now, it’s a comfortable space for the community to come and enjoy locally brewed beer.
The new inhabitants are Jim Waller and Greg Bentley – two engineers of craft beer with a combined 25 years of brewing experience. Running the operation (along with their wives and adult children), they’ve made Black Cap Brewing Company a family operation.
Bentley and Waller met about eight years ago at a local homebrew club. Both have a background in engineering. Their custom designed, three-barrel, gas-fired brew system is a testament to their mechanical capabilities. It’s slightly larger than a regular brewing system, and the gas-fired capability really makes it traditional.
These two are DIY guys. They like making things, so why not make beer?
“Homebrew kits were a big thing in 1995,” says Waller, “and my wife got me one for Christmas.”
Waller says making beer is messy, and his wife kicked him out of the kitchen and into the basement of their old farmhouse. It eventually led to the Red Lion location.
The public house is one big open space. There’s a bar and some tables. They have music playing, but noise carries wildly, so the crowd provides most of the audible entertainment.
There are only a few remnants of the old post office left hanging on the walls. The space is divided by a privacy partition running between where the beer is created and where it’s served. The tables are placed around the outside walls, leaving the bar – which is very inviting – right in the middle of the room.
Bentley and Waller wanted to create a place they could go as beer lovers.
Waller says it’s “a family friendly atmosphere for beer geeks.” Both owners are friendly and glad to answer any questions and relieve drinkers of their microbrew animosity.
Don’t expect to find your chocolate peanut butter jalapeno banana milk stout here. These guys are traditional. The Belgian Blond – Waller’s favorite beer – is an extremely approachable Belgian-style ale. These guys are providing serious no frills, no gimmick microbrews.
The menu features eight current beers on tap; a mainstay (and Bentley’s recommendation for beer philistines) is the pre-prohibition Cream Ale. Not at all like Genessee Cream Ale, this is dry and a lot more refined.
The evening I was there, two saisons were featured – a lightly spiced but very traditional Saison De Gui, and the ultra-spiced Ginger Saison, which might be their most unorthodox beer.
The darkest beer I tried (because the General Gates Porter was kicked) was the Dunkleweizen, which was full bodied and sweet. The Belgian Blond was very simple, striking every note you should expect of a Belgian-style beer.
My favorite of the night was the Hop Scramble IPA. It’s Bentley’s favorite, too (we’re both hop fans). It was fragrant and sweet in the very first sip, almost fruity. But like a traditional IPA, the sweetness instantly dissipated and that familiar hop flavor glares you in the eye and smacks every taste bud in your mouth.
I had trouble finding Black Cap on Untappd, but Waller told me they’re on there. They’re currently in the process of “claiming” the brewery. [Editor’s note: They’ve claimed it.]
“Beer should be simple and taste good,” Bentley says. “We want people to be able to explore and have a wide range of beer that is high quality and traditional style that people can enjoy.”
Bentley and Waller are excited to keep creating new beers. Expect to see a different draft on the menu every few weeks. Though they may tweak the original recipes for their staples, you can count on a hoppy option, the easy-to-drink approachable beer, a traditional wheat beer and a dark beer like a porter or stout.
Their inspirations are breweries like Tröegs and Victory – local operations crafting beer in traditional ways.
“When we brew beers that are sort of disassociated with a style, it’s hard to know if we brewed the beer well,” says Waller. “So we came back to tradition, learned the styles and became a lot better brewers.”
Before opening Black Cap, they did a lot of “market research” – in other words, going to brewpubs around the country.
The food is simple but good – a couple starters, paninis and desserts from Red Lion’s Red Brick Bakery. The recipes are mostly credited to Bentley. Their food menu offers enough to hit the spot but not distract you from what’s important – beer.
“I would rather eat at a brewpub than any other place,” Waller says. “There’s normally good, simple food and you can sample different beers.”
Bentley and Waller agree that you don’t need to have a world record number of taps in a brew house. It’s nice to have 25 or 30 taps, but it takes too long to read the list, they say. For a new microbrew enthusiast, Black Cap Brewing Company is a good place to start.
• 5 West High Street, Red Lion
• (443) 418-9473
• Thursday, 4-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 3-10pm