High Spirits: Taproom Cult Classic Brewery
Look! Over there! Across 50 West! It’s a taproom! It’s a movie theater! It’s…it’s…The ACME? In most Maryland counties, we can’t buy beer in a grocery store. But in the same space where customers once picked up yeasty treats at the bakery counter, Kent Islanders can now enjoy fresh hops and barley.
Cult Classic Brewery and Taproom is housed where the grocery once was, just off U.S. Route 50. The retail pad was the perfect location, according to owners (and brothers) Jesse, 42, and Brooks, 45, McNew. Their twenty years as co-owners of Annapolis Home Brew taught them what to look for, and their list of wants was long.
They wanted easy access and plenty of parking. They needed a loading dock, and a flexible landlord that would allow them to change the space. Most importantly, the brothers wanted room to grow. Although they hail from the western shore, the McNews found everything they wanted in the old Acme on Kent Island. Crossing the bridge to “work” each day seemed like a seemed like a small price to pay for such a prime location.
The vibe is right on Kent Island, too. In the summer months, folks in Route 50 gridlock can stop in for a bite and a brew. When the summer people head back to Baltimore and the dock bars trade raw oysters for raw weather, Cult Classic is a cozy refuge for locals.
The McNews keep fifteen homemade beers on tap. The most popular variety, Strawberry Blonde defies stereotypes. Jesse worried about “guys” buying the fruit-based beer, “but they do.” With an ABV (alcohol by volume) of only 5.3%, it’s not “super strong,” says Jesse. Beer drinkers can enjoy “a few” without filling up. Comparatively, Cult Classic’s Belgian XX IPA packs a whopping 9.4% ABV, which might leave lightweights (like me) unable to cross the bar to make use of the skee-ball alleys. Strawberry Blonde is so popular that other local bars have requested to carry the brew.
There’s a fresh beer on tap at Cult Classic to quench every kind of thirst. Longing for a light lager? Try the Munich Helles. Dark beer enthusiasts can dig into the richest brew on tap, the Oatmeal Stout. Those with a penchant for nitros beer will enjoy the Irish Red Ale. Pulled from a special tap, nitros beers have reduced carbonation, a creamy texture and a frothy top.
With Cult Classic offering such a broad variety on tap, including seasonal brews, customers will have to make return visits to enjoy all the ale. Or they can order up tasting pours of amber-hued flights in small pilsner glasses. Cult Classic’s website includes an up-to-the minute list of beer availability, including a description of each beer and its alcohol content. Customers can enjoy their favorite Cult Classic flavors at home too: bartenders package beers to-go in 32 oz. cans, or 64 oz. growler refills.
The taproom has a cinema house vibe, which stems from the brothers’ love of campy horror-comedy flicks. The walls are lined in bold, mid-century, illustrated movie posters, featuring monsters, zombies, aliens and screaming damsels-in-distress. Behind the bar, long glass cases house cold bottles of neon soda-pops, candy, and of course, popcorn. The Ravens or Redskins are Now Showing on the Big Screen (which is framed by a red, velvet curtain).
Cult Classic offers local bites, too. The huge parking lot that the brothers coveted has plenty of space for visiting food trucks, which are announced on the taproom’s Facebook page. In the off-season the famed Kent Island “Big Owl Tiki Bar” serves up a menu which includes their legendary fish tacos.
Jesse and Brooks hope that patrons will come for the beer but stay for the hospitality. “We’d like for it to be a meeting place,” says Jesse. Over-21s and children alike are invited to enjoy Cult Classic’s array of throwback board games and cards. There are other diversions too, like basketball, shuffleboard and video games. A sound stage and private venue room are also in the works.
Jesse and Brooks have been business partners for over twenty years. When the house and senate passed legislation that eased some of the restrictions on brewers in 2017, the McNews sold their home brew shop so they could open Cult Classic. Their recipe for entrepreneurship works: they like each other. When the brothers aren’t running the business, they love to travel and scuba dive together. Their other favorite pastimes are more obvious: drinking beer and quoting cult movies. So if the adage is true, that the man who does what he loves never works a day in his life, then the Brothers McNew have found an Endless Summer. Even on Kent Island in January.