by Kevin M. Smith

As part of an ongoing series profiling the trials and tribulations of quarantine and Frederick craft brewers, Frederick Behind Bars talks to Rockwell‘s Scott McKernon

While breweries like Rockwell were happy about the “Essential” classification with which the Maryland government designated the craft beverage industry, the classification was bittersweet. “We were happy that we were classified essential,” explained brewer Scott McKernon, “but without being able to have our taproom open, we had to lay off our serving staff which really sucks.”

With normal still a ways off, Rockwell, like many breweries, had to shift their business plan. With the taproom closed, the brewery moved to the take-out model encouraged by the state to keep these manufacturers in business. “We are currently offering delivery and curbside pick-up to minimize contact with our customers,” said Scott. “All payments can be made through Biermi or we can take credit card info over the phone. We do still allow people to come into the tap room [for to-go sales] as long as they are wearing a mask. Biermi has been wonderful! I am very thankful to the folks at True Respite not only for creating the platform, but then generously sharing it with the brewing community.”

The changes in how breweries do business has been more significant for some than for others. For Rockwell, it was huge. “I think the hardest thing about the shift in business dynamic was going from taproom sales being our main source of income, to pick-ups and delivery as our only source of income,” McKernon said. “We are very small and only package in crowlers (32oz cans) and fill growlers. We have no canning or bottling line, which makes things that much more difficult.”

Like Jug Bridge, Scott said that sourcing crowler cans has been difficult. “I think at some point since this all started, every brewery in town has run out. We have been driving to Baltimore every week to get glass 32 and 64 oz bottles/growlers so we would have something to sell our beer in. We are still waiting for a pallet of crowler cans to arrive,” he said. 

Even with the different issues the quarantine has forced the brewery to deal with, Scott has been busy in the brewhouse. “We currently have 15 beers on tap,” he said. “In addition to those, there are some lagers in the pipeline. I have a Maibock kegged for release in May, a Pilsner in the brite which will be on when a line opens, and Mouseketeer, a Munich-Helles which is in the fermenter and will also be coming in May.”

In addition to the already crowded taps, McKernon picked up a batch of Rockstar, the New England IPA brewed “with the YCH Pink Boots hop blend Azacca®, El Dorado®, Idaho Gem™ and Loral®. which we canned at Antietam.” The beer, currently available for pick-up and limited delivery “was brewed here at Rockwell, transferred to a 7 BBL Grundy on loan from Vanish (in Virginia. Thanks Larry!). It was trucked to Antietam where they in turn moved to a brite tank, carbonted, and then canned it. It was a lot of labor, but that’s what we’ve gotta do these days.”

With the shift to To-Go Sales, McKernon recently brewed a 15 barrel batch of Rockwell’s flagship Big Juicy NEIPA at Antietam. That batch will be canned and available in 4-packs soon. Scott said that additional projects include an English Pale Ale. “The working name is That Bitch Carole Baskin. It’s a 6.0 percenter generously dry hopped with East Kent Goldings. [Additionally,] our Imperial NEIPA, YMCA² will be back in May too. This is a 9.5 percenter hopped with Yakima Gold, Mosaic, Citra, and Amarillo, thus, YMCA. That’s about it for the new stuff.”