Lifelong friends Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger and Jon Zerivitz all shared the same two passions: craft beer and Baltimore. And in 2012, the trio pursued their dream of opening a brewery in the city they love. Their dream started as a 20 barrel brewhouse, called.
The first beer they introduced was Duckpin Pale Ale, which quickly made its way into the list of things quintessentially Baltimore, just like the pastime of duckpin bowling, the beer’s namesake.
“It’s been really exciting to see that become Baltimore’s hometown beer in a short amount of time,” said Benesch of Duckpin Pale Ale.
Today, Duckpin Pale Ale accounts for half of what Union brews, but the company offers an extensive list of other beers, including Anthem, a golden ale named after the penning of the Star Spangled Banner in Baltimore, and Old Pro, a German-style wheat beer named after Ocean City’s signature miniature golf course.
Very quickly, Union became synonymous with beer in Baltimore. Its beers were increasingly added to taps at local bars, and more and more Baltimoreans were stocking their fridges with Union Craft beers. You could say a legacy was brewing.
In no time at all, Union Craft Brewing outgrew its 7,000 square foot facility, and took over more space. Soon, 15,000 square feet was too small. While searching for a long-term solution with even more space, the team found a massive building down the street from its original location in the historic Woodberry neighborhood.
The former Sears warehouse was perfectly located, but at 140,000 square feet, too large for the company that was focusing on smart growth.
“We’re very focused on growing the right way,” said Benesch. “We don’t just want to grow to grow. We want to grow in a way that’s sustainable for many, many years.”
But the team had an idea of how to make it work for themselves, and it meant forming a new union with other modern-day manufacturers.
The idea? Create a space for production-type businesses to co-locate and operate under one roof, while sharing resources and knowledge. It turns out, many other small-to-medium sized manufacturers were also in need of more space to grow, but struggled to find the perfect amount of industrial space.
And so, Union Collective began.
To purchase the former Sears Warehouse, the team secured small business funding from, a program from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
Anchored by Union Craft Brewing, Union Collective opened its doors in 2018, and is home to other independent makers including:, and . , an indoor climbing facility, is also part of the collective.
Several entrepreneurs operating under one roof is already paying off Benesch says, with the companies working together to tackle issues, ranging from sourcing of raw materials to shipping.
“The idea around Union Collective is bigger than a brewery,” said Benesch.
“It’s not just us. It’s a collective of seven or eight other Baltimore-based growing businesses. We’re, in many ways, in this together now.”
The business benefits of the Collective are tangible, but building the community is really at the heart of Union Collective.
“It became really important for us to create a space that could act as a community hub,” said Benesch. “We found really early on that people love beer, which is a wonderful thing. So we wanted to take that visit and do something more with it besides just giving them a beer.”
The Collective is all about experience. Someone stopping by to try Union’s beers can now experience indoor climbing, pick up a bag of locally roasted coffee, or taste Old Bay Caramel ice cream.
Unique events, like “Night Brunch” at the Charmery keep locals engaged. And it’s not just the locals who enjoy Union Collective. Benesch says droves of visitors fill the taproom every weekend.
“We’ve been blown away by the amount of beer tourism that exists,” said Benesch, who is excited to showcase Baltimore to visitors.
Benesch knows creating a community goes beyond providing a place to socialize and things to do. Since opening its doors, Union Craft Brewery has found unique ways to give back to the community; from making donations to local charities, to organizing events that raise money for BARCS Animal Shelter.
“We are Baltimoreans at heart,” said Benesch. “We care about our city and we want to give back anyway we can. This space has enabled us to do that at a larger scale, and people appreciate that.”
Giving back is also about giving jobs to Baltimoreans, says Benesch, who reports that half of the brewery employees live within a mile of the brewery.
“The dollars that people spend here are reinvested in our employees,” said Benesch. “That’s exactly the ecosystem that Baltimore needs.”
Union Collective employs about 100 people, not including the other locations that are able to open up because of the increased production at the Collective. Benesch expects employee count for the companies to grow exponentially.
“We love Baltimore, and we love the product we’ve created here," said Benesch. "We believe these products will have a long life and a long longevity. We’re really looking at the long term here in Baltimore. That’s what this space allows us to do: control our own destiny.”
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