Baltimore Beer Legend, Bill Oliver
Bill Oliver comes from a long line of Canadian home brewers. Bill’s fond memories of his father’s fellow fire fighters stopping by the house for a pint or two of his brew influenced him. Bill’s father Harry had a secret ingredient that made his ales better – actual brewer’s yeast from Taylor and Bate. The yeast was Bill’s first hint as to the benefit of using high quality ingredients in making ales.
Bill’s interest in beer styles began in a high school poetry class. A discussion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning during class revealed that her doctor prescribed that she drink a pint of porter every day. No one in the class, including the teacher, knew anything about porter. Bill’s eventual research of ale styles (limited in the beginning by Canada’s dearth of non-lager drafts) entailed travel to numerous countries and has stretched over decades.
A graduate of Cornell University, he received his MBA from Loyola University. Upon graduation Bill went into sales and marketing for Esskay. He is credited with coining the still-popular slogan, “Taste the difference quality makes” for the Esskay Oriole hotdog (the first Major League team product alliance).
The Oliver family purchased Wharf Rat Fells Point in 1987, and it was Bill’s concept to make it an all-draft establishment. At that time Imported drafts were expanding and the world of craft brewing was in its infancy. The Wharf Rat draft line-up touted 30 taps – the largest selection on the East Coast at the time.
A fortuitous meeting with Arthur Seddon, master brewer emeritus of Bass, led to a longterm friendship and mentorship for Bill. Bill, his wife Carole and their daughter Jennifer travelled with Arthur and his wife Beryl tasting the finest ales England had to offer. This is where Bill discovered cask conditioned ale. Arthur imparted invaluable brewing knowledge to Bill including how to procure the finest malts and hops, how to chemically treat water and how best to cellar ales.
Bill knew if he were to be able to provide his customers in America with such extraordinary ales, he would have to brew them himself.
Bill also discovered the Society for The Preservation of Beers from the Wood at The Great British Beer Festival and subsequently became the inspiration for the founding of the first US chapter of SPBW.
In 1992, the Oliver family opened Wharf Rat Camden Yards. Oliver Breweries, Ltd was built in the basement, and, in 1993, the first open fermentation Oliver Ales were introduced. In fairly short order, The Wharf Rat Camden Yards became the 5th largest brew pub in the US. It is a credit to Bill’s efforts that he was awarded a silver medal at the GABF in 1994. Numerous other accolades followed, but perhaps the greatest honor came when Michael Jackson chose to feature Oliver ESB in his book “Ultimate Beer”.
The Oliver family sold Oliver Breweries, Ltd (and The Wharf Rat Camden Yards) in 2008. That said, as Chairman of the Tasting Committee, Bill maintains his interest in ensuring that The Wharf Rat provides “Only the Best Beers.”