Franklin's Brew Master Relies on Skill and Occasional Serendipity
By Hannah Kim
Thursday, April 2, 2009; with updates April 7, 2009
Third in a series of profiles of folks with interesting jobs
HYATTSVILLE, Md. - - At 5 a.m., it’s still dark outside, and the parking lot is empty at Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery and General Store. Charles Noll, the restaurant’s brew master, says this is the perfect time to start brewing beer.
“I’m a morning person, and it’s easier to get stuff done when no one else is around,” he says.
Noll, 37, has professionally brewed beer for 12 years, the last seven at Franklin’s. And though he majored in criminal justice in college, he now says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Noll got into brewing his own beer even before he could legally drink it. He read an article in Newsweek about brewing beer at home and decided to try it.
“I split the batch cost with friends before we were 21,” he says. “At homebrew stores you weren’t ID’d; the ingredients to beer weren’t illegal.”
After graduating with a criminal justice degree in 1993 from The State University of New York, Noll worked in private security before making the plunge to professionally brew beer in 1997. An apprenticeship at the Malt River Brewing Co. brought him to Albany, N.Y.
In 2001, Noll responded to an ad for a brew master position at Franklin’s. After a drink-off, Mike Franklin, the owner of the restaurant, deemed Noll’s beer tops.
“We tried three different brewers’ beers, and we liked his the best,” Franklin says.
Having worked on a similar brewing system at his previous job, Noll was also “familiar with all of the quirks of the system,” Franklin says.
Noll now works with one assistant, Greg Eberwein.
On this morning, Eberwein helps Noll get started in Franklin’s basement, where they begin opening 55-pound bags of malted barley. Their goal for today is to brew “Mission Accomplished,” a medium, dark ale that will require hundreds of gallons of water, about 800 pounds of six different malts, seven pounds of hop and three pounds of yeast.
Noll’s “Mission Accomplished” pokes fun at former president George Bush’s declaration of an early victory in the Iraq War.
An anarchist, Noll can be politically outspoken. He calls his signature brew “Anarchy Ale.”
“He’s an interesting person, to say the least,” says bartender Justin MacFee, noting that Noll sometimes gets into heated arguments with customers at the bar.
Sometimes coming up with a good beer is an accident.
At a previous job, Noll once had a hydrometer crack on him while he was using it to measure the sugar levels of the wort, the liquid drained from the heated mixture of malt and water that beer is made from. Thinking that the wort was going to be too strong, Noll added more water and anticipated the worst for straying from the recipe. However, the beer sold quickly.
“Mistakes can sometimes be good things,” he says.
MacFee says the Indian Pale Ale, or “IPA,” is his favorite because of its hoppier flavor and 7 percent alcohol level. “You get a lot of bang for your buck,” he says.
Tracy Minter, 40, of Washington, D.C., also enjoys the IPA.
Charles Noll's name was misspelled in an earlier edition of this story. In that edition, the year he began brewing professionally was also inaccurate, as was the amount of water used to brew on the day of the reporter's visit. Those mistakes have been corrected.
“I like the bitter aftertaste,” says Minter, who’s been coming to Franklin’s for the fresh beer since the brewery opened.
Last week Noll celebrated brewing his 400th batch of beer at Franklin’s with a new beer, a Belgian Quad with an alcohol content of 12 percent. It took two months to brew.
Noll says he’s glad he found this career path.
“I enjoy it very much,” he says. “I have a very good time with this, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s my own dream job.”