“Agriculture, Malting, and Breweries in Maryland, a Historical Perspective” Maureen O’Prey

When I first wrote this blog, it initially appeared on the website “Behind the Craft” in 2015. Since then, Dark Cloud Malthouse has opened in Howard County, and more are on the way. Several Hop Farms have also cropped up in recent years in Maryland to fill the void for locally grown hops.

Barley had a long history of harvest in Maryland. Prior to Prohibition Maryland had a fine six rowed bearded winter barley crop that was used for malting, and at one time considered the only barley profitable in the state.[1] It was sown in September and harvested in June and sent to local malting facilities. When enough barley was not harvested within Maryland to supply the maltsters demand, barley supplements came from the west, and local malt houses like H. Straus & Bros. malted the barley, for the breweries that did not malt their own.[2] Prior to Prohibition there was quite a bit more farmland in Maryland, in fact 80% of the state was farmland in 1900.[3]


By 2007 only 31% of Maryland was farmland, despite 30 years of preservation efforts by MAPLF (Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation) and substantial tax breaks geared toward the conservation of farmland.[4] In 2014 the Regional Economic Studies Institute report on the economy noted that the farming industry in Maryland has shown a loss of 3.4%, where all other industries in Maryland demonstrated stability or growth after the recession ended. Today barley grown in Maryland that is suitable for malting is limited. The small amount produced is not nearly enough to supply the demand by breweries, but attempts are being made to rectify that.  


Amber Fields, a local farm and malting facility in Frederick, Maryland partnered with Brewer’s Alley and Monocacy Brewing Company to supply local malted barley and rye to the brewery for production.  Tom Flores, brewmaster at Monocacy and Brewer’s Alley (and the newest member of the board of directors for the Brewers Association of America) worked hand in hand with Greg Clabaugh, the founder of Amber Fields to create a facility for the malting of his barley.  In 2001 Flores and Clabaugh produced the first Maryland beer since Prohibition brewed with local malts. After ten years of tweaking the process, Clabaugh and Flores have consistent production of malted grains for the breweries.[5] They recently began malting rye, and successfully used that to create Monocacy’s Riot Rye, a flavorful pale ale.  


Bryan Brushmiller founder of Burley Oak Brewing Company also partnered with a local farmer Brooks Clayville to begin a malting venture with local grains. As with Amber Fields, it took several attempts to get the barley and malting perfected.  The series of Burley Oak brews that contain locally grown and malted grains are known as ‘Home Grown Ales’. The first in the series was produced in 2013 and named Local, a pale ale embodying everything Brushmiller and Clayville were striving for. Both Clayville and Clabaugh worked in conjunction with the University Of Maryland and their Agricultural Sciences department to plan the best malting grains for the soil.[6]


Burley Oak and Monocacy engender the pervasive ‘buy local-use local’ mentality.  Other breweries would like to follow in the footsteps of Flores and Brushmiller, but are finding it difficult due to a lack of local grains suitable for malting.  This may be what swings the trend back toward growth for a struggling farming industry. The most significant aspect of the expansion of barley and rye farming for malting is the effect on the Chesapeake Bay. Barley and rye are both considered cover crops, and have the added benefit of storing nitrogen in their plant tissue, instead of allowing it to run off into the soil which eventually pollutes the Bay.[7]


A return to the soil for Maryland may be in order. If more farmers in Maryland can plant suitable grains for malting to supply the breweries, everyone benefits. An increase in farming specifically for Maryland breweries not only foments the growth of Maryland’s lagging agricultural industry, but allows for that development without compromising the health of the Bay.  An increase in regionally grown and malted grains is in high demand by other Maryland breweries that would love to produce a regular offering of brews made from local grains.



[1] American Brewer’s Review, 1913, vol. 27, 181-182.

[2] Baltimore American, May 2, 1870, 5.

[3] James DiLisio, Maryland Geography (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2014), p?

[4] Ibid; Farmland Preservation Report 2014 accessed 2/7/15 via http://www.farmlandpreservationreport.com/  

[5] Caryl Velisek, “Amber Fields brewing beer with Maryland-grown barley, “ AmericanFarm.com, 2012. Accessed 2/7/15.

[6] Bryan Brushmiller, Interview by author, Berlin, Maryland, July 2013; “Burley Farming”, BurleyOak.com 2015. Accessed 2/7/15.

[7] Velisek, Amber Fields; Stephen Ausmus, “Chesapeake Bay Clean Up Revs Up”, Agricultural Research August 2010, 16-17.


Author: brewedinmaryland

Historian, author, craft beer lover.

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