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Cecil County Life

All along the Firetower

May 24, 2017 10:14AM ● By Richard Gaw
When Roger and Dawn Davis decided to open their own brewery earlier this year, they did so with the idea of tapping into the agriculture and history of Cecil County. With stouts and ales with cool names now popping up at local farmer's markets, the taste of the region is in every bottle

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Go ahead. Examine your life. Pick it apart at the seems. Twist it around like a giant Rubik's Cube and explore it for opportunities, for slim doors that remain slightly ajar, for you to disappear into and live out your crazy, crazy dreams.
The latest U.S. Census reports that 325 million people live in this country, and of them, there is a fair likelihood that nearly half of them keep their wild aspirations for a fulfilled life in a desk drawer or a closet, or in a quiet place in their minds that's grown mostly bittersweet. Many of them read the stories in the magazines about these Everyman pioneers whose lives have been enriched by the riskiness of their choices, by their decision to just Go For It, and at the end of every magazine story, they sit and ask themselves, Why can't I do that? What's to stop me but my own fear that I will fail in my attempt?  
Have you ever read these magazine articles?
If not, then this is that magazine article.
The story that began the life of the Firetower Farm Brewery in Colora had its beginning in the complex world known as Defying Logic. Roger Davis is a plant manager at an adhesive tapes manufacturing facility outside of Philadelphia. His wife Dawn is a teacher at the Ursuline Academy and the University of Delaware. They currently live in Newark, but have roots deep in Cecil County, having once lived in Elkton, where Dawn taught at North East High School.
The roots of the brewery could be found in the pairing of two traits that Roger said make up who he is: He is a chemist by heart, and he is also the proud owner of an obsessive personality. A dedicated runner, Roger has run 100 miles across the Grand Canyon in temperatures that fluctuated between freezing and intense heat. Riding the wave of home brewing popularity, he began experimenting in his kitchen by brewing beer for his friends, beginning four years ago.  
So when Roger approached Dawn with the idea of expanding his love for brewing outside of the home and developing it on a larger scale, Dawn was originally skeptical of her husband's concept. 
“In terms of time and money, I thought, 'He has a full-time job and I had a full-time teaching job, so how are we going to swing this?'  Dawn said. “And yet, Roger wanted to do it and in the end, how can you say 'no' to someone who wants to do something?”
“What tied itself into everything was that I was attempting pursue what the French call Terroir -  the desire to create the taste of a particular region,” Roger said. “I wanted to see what malt, barley and grains from this area would taste like in beer.”
Three years ago, Roger met fellow runner Megan Kilby, and began telling her about his brewing aspirations. She connected him with her father Bill, the owner of the farm, who offered Roger a few acres to create his brewery. After obtaining all the proper licenses, Firetower Farm Brewery was launched on Sept. 30, 2014. 
The brewery, housed in a 1,600-square-foot facility on the farm, was almost entirely built by Roger and Dawn mostly from salvaged and re-purposed materials, which include the cabinetry, walls, doors, foundation and the beer-making equipment. Every available weekend or stolen group of days were spent at the farm; Dawn mixed the mortar and Roger laid the bricks, while the foundation was constructed by outside contractors.
To learn more about the craft of brewing, Roger attended an intensive week-long course at the University of California at Davis. It was a fantasy camp for him, but it taught Roger the essential of brewing – the chemicals, the percentages, the painstakingly slow process of turning grains into beer.
From their first tasting at Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun on Jan. 14 – where they introduced their products to over 200 visitors, who braved 15-degree weather – Roger and Dawn have begun to showcase Firetower Farm beer at several farmers markets throughout Cecil County, including Havre de Grace Farmers Market and the Bel Air Farmers Market, Wilson's Farm Market, as well as a repeat visit to Flying Plow Farm.
Influenced by the modern-day IPA brewing craze that's swept over the United States like a blizzard of creativity, Firetower Farm Brewery has attached some peculiar names to their products: Bucky Brown Dunkelweizen Wheat Ale. Winter Stores Corn Ale. Full House Mocha Stout. Trapdoor Abbey Ale. Farm Stand Blonde Corn Ale.
Each label includes a story that pulls in the history of  Cecil County, as well as the farm-raised products used in Firetower farm beer.  For instance, Bucky Brown Dunkelweizen Wheat Ale  is named after a groundhog that was a presence in the Davis backyard.
“Walk proudly, Bucky,” the label reads. “Your home is the Fair Hill Nature Preserve. Take in the natural beauty and aromas. Just a little further and you'd pick up the scent of our Cecil County grown wheat for this delicious Dunkelweisen.”
The Full House Mocha Stout celebrates the historic Blue Ball Tavern, and the Winter Stores Corn Ale label predicts that Revolutionary War generals Washington, Rochambeau and Lafayette “surely would have enjoyed the winter version of Firetower's corn ale” during their travels through Cecil County during the war.
Roger and Dawn Davis know that in the future, they have the choice to convert their Firetower Farm Brewery into a fully-automated facility. In fact, there is an entire industry that is being built around the home-brewing craze in America, one that the brewery plans to stay clear of.  
“Right now, it's a four-to-five week supply chain between our brew date and our sale date, and this is our fifth month and we have been to five market tastings,” Roger said. “One of the many things I learned at UC-Davis was that many small breweries fail because it is so tempting to buy the latest equipment out there.
“If we were going to buy a ten bottle-per minute beer labeling machine you're at least talking $20,000 to $30,000.  If I have $80,000, I would be able to buy a canning line that could can 60 bottles a minute. I can get a ten-barrel brewing system for $1.2 million, but if we did that, we would constantly be chasing our payments.”
Roger pointed to the blocks in the foundation and the wood in the double wall construction of the 40-foot by 40-foot facility he and his wife built with their own hands.
“I am a believer in human will,” he said. “Once you decide to do something, you can do it. You just have to continue to believe. If you decide inside yourself that you can't do it anymore, you're not going to do it.”
He then looked at Dawn, and then all around the cozy confines of his dream.
“It is one stick of wood at a time, and one block of cement at a time, one bottle at a time,” he said. 

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]

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