Checkerspot Brewing Co

I am sharing my good fortune today. Last night I was honored to get a sneak peek at the newest Baltimore Brewery- Checkerspot. It is ideally located on Sharp and Ostend, just a few minutes walk from both Raven’s stadium and Oriole Park.  The owners, Judy Neff, Rob Neff, and cask whisperer Steve Marsh are friends that I am humbled and privileged to know. My goodness do they make fabulous beer!

The brewery is still in process, and about two months or so from completion. Every brewery in Maryland is built in the image of its founder’s vision. Checkerspot, as it nears completion is revealing the personality of it’s founders bit by bit, from the two story taproom to the mastery over space, light, and function.  Perhaps I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to Maryland breweries, and the twilight tour during Baltimore’s blackout added to the mystique; but the aura of the brewery had already begun to emerge without a single drop of water in the brew kettle.

20180302_174312_001Once the beer begins to flow, I have no doubt that Judy, Rob and Steve will emerge from the cocoon of construction and soar from the chrysalis like the beautiful, unique butterfly they have chosen as their namesake. Small batch, hand crafted local beer, made with local ingredients will take center stage. Their special brand of liquid gold will join the ranks of the great Maryland breweries that dot the landscape from the mountains of Cumberland, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Cheers to great beer!


The Beautiful Dark Cloud Beyond the Horizon

February 24, 2018

This week I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to tour a working malt house in Cooksville, Maryland. Many of us enjoy fabulous local craft beer, and a fair contingent are quite discerning about the malts used. Few however really give much thought to the process of taking a seed, planting it into the ground, and what happens to that seed after the harvest and before it gets to the mash tun. It is a most fascinating process.
All of the malting grains that Dark Cloud uses are grown within fifteen miles of the malt house. Growing grains suitable for malting isn’t as easy as one might think. In fact, if you want excellent malt to make excellent beer there is a bit of crop management to attend to. Fortunately in Maryland we have an expert at the ready. Dr. Bob Kratochvil, an extension specialist in Agronomy with the University of Maryland not only has a blog about malt, he actively works with farmers on planting and managing these important and quite lucrative cover crops.

Not all malting grains make it to the malt house. Dr. Kratochvil shows farmers which varieties are best suited and how to maximize the quality, and minimize the fungus in our humid climate. Most malt grown in the United States is done in more arid climates like North Dakota, and is grown for macro-breweries like Miller Coors. With the moisture content of the East Coast to consider Dr. Kratochvil constantly searches for viable new varieties, always testing out new grains to find those best suited to our region. European varieties like some French malting grains, which are acclimated to wet climates, have proven quite suitable and possess a brilliant flavor profile for brewers.
Premium malting grains grown in Maryland fetch $6-10 per bushel, while grains not suitable for malting are used as feed or tilled back into the soil, garnering relatively no profit. Malting grains can double as feed grains as well- making it incredibly profitable for the farmers to plant. Since it is a winter crop, planting takes place after corn or soybean crops are harvested. The malting grains also draw harmful nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into their pulp, preventing them from leaching into the soil and the Chesapeake Bay. Dr. Kratochvil guides farmers through every step of the process to achieve the desired outcome. He also works with maltsters to ensure they work with the best grains, and are able to take the grain through the malting process and send it off to the brewers. In fact, it was Dr. Kratochvil that introduced the founding partners of Dark Cloud Malt House.

P1050559Danny Buswell, a chemical engineer and his partner Jesse Kais, an excellent brewer of malted beverages at both Flying Dog and Jailbreak are the men behind this incredible venture called Dark Cloud. Jesse became interested in the process as a brewer that desired local malting grains for his beers. Danny was infinitely intrigued with the malting process once Amber Fields started malting their own grains almost two decades ago. It was kismet really, as they each had reached out to Dr. Kratochvil and he in turn thought it wise to put them together. It was a natural fit. Getting started was problematic due to the lack of malting equipment on the market. Small scale malting equipment averages around $1 million, which is silly since one could not produce enough malt on such equipment to ever realize a profit. This mimics the early days of modern brewing in Maryland when homebrewers literally had to weld their own equipment together to brew. That is exactly what Danny and Jesse had to do, make their own equipment.
At a cost of $50, 000 it was no small feat, and no minor investment. It was also why they chose to malt grains within a tank as opposed to the legendary and common method of floor malting. For the small space they were using, which happened to be on the Kais family farm, it was the best way to control temperature and humidity- the cornerstones of successful malting. The self-made half-ton system operated perfectly, and was ideal for discovering if malting was a viable business model.

P1050554Malting grain is pretty straightforward but extremely labor intensive and heavily reliant upon a complete understanding of both chemical and agricultural processes taking place. It is also heavily dependent upon what kind of malt is being made- from pale to dark, barley to wheat. Before grains are put through the malting process, they must be tested to see if they are viable (chemically) and what type of malt they are most suited for. The raw grains are first steeped in water. Dark Cloud relies upon well water that is filtered and tested regularly. The steeping (and sparging) keeps oxygen in the process and allows the barley kernel to absorb water, triggering enzymes to break down seed to make starch available to the brewers. Germination will begin during the steeping process and is visible in the acrospires (the sprout) that emerges from the kernel.

Germination is the next step in the process. This is a critical component that must be monitored. The length of time for germination depends on several factors, from the type of barley (2 row vs 6 row), to the type of malt produced. It is stirred by hand through the process while humidity and temperature are tightly regulated. During germination the protein and carbohydrates are broken down, further opening the starch reserves. Finally the germination is halted when the barley is kiln dried.

If heat is not applied all of the starch reserves will be gone- leaving nothing for the brewers to work with. The kiln temperature and time varies greatly depending upon the desired malt -pale to dark, etc. For example the Pilsen malt would reach 180 degrees, while the Munich would be ideal at 220 degrees. Recirculated air is a key component to the kiln drying process. Once complete, every single batch is tested and the lab report is provided to the brewers to determine if it is suitable for their specified use.


Dark Cloud produces around 2,000 bushels per year from the locally grown grains. Maryland small craft breweries are the target consumer. Dark Cloud is producing specialty malts only- filling a much needed gap in the market for our breweries to produce small batch beers. The average malt requirement for a small brew is anywhere from 500 to 1500 lbs. of malt. Each bushel contains 50 lbs. of malt, therefore the smallest batch needs 10 bushels of malt, and the largest 30 bushels. 2,000 bushels may not seem like much but it is certainly enough to accommodate a wide variety of brewers. Their very 1st customer was Eastern Shore Brewing, and although they operate on a small scale they have several customers already:
Checkerspot Brewing,
Milkhouse Brewery
Brookeville Beer Farm
Barley & Hops
House Cat

Dark Cloud serves breweries sprinkled across the entire state, but would like to expand. The initial creation of Dark Cloud and the past two years have provided what is known as “proof of concept”. In fact when Danny and Jesse decided to open operations the Maryland Department of Agriculture had just abandoned their malting grains program, deeming it a failure after 2 years. In reality that was not nearly enough time to make any accurate determination at all. Danny, Jesse, and Bob refused to give up however, and now it is a fruitful operation, inspiring other malt houses to pop up. The massive Proximity Malt in Laurel Delaware is working with Maryland and other regional farmers to supply enough malting grains to produce 1 million bushels per year- all to be sold to craft breweries on the East Coast. That provides even more encouragement to the fledgling maltsters.

In fact, things are going so well Danny and Jesse have applied for a loan to upgrade to a 3 ton system. This would allow them to build a new malt storage building, while malting 3.5 tons per week- equating to 14,000 bushels per year. That also allows them to accept quality malting grains from farmers across the state. This is a very good thing as grain loses between 15-30% of its weight during the malting process, therefore the more malting grains grown the better for Dark Cloud and all of the brewers they serve. That is also when Danny can finally quit his day job and stop driving from Easton to Howard County every night to malt, as malting would be his full time job!

Danny and Jesse embody the true spirit of entrepreneurs risking it all to make their dream a reality. It is humbling to bear witness to the men behind Dark Cloud with their eternally positive attitudes, and sheer motivation to make Maryland malt once again. Dark Cloud is a name that conjures vivid imagery, and one not soon to be forgotten unless the Maryland Legislature decides to pass regressive and harmful legislation against our state’s craft breweries. I believe that is the only thing that could hinder Dark Cloud’s incredibly bright future.


Beers To Your Health

January 21, 2018

It has been quite the week for beer folks! While the federal government may be shut down, the state government is absolutely operational. As the 2018 legislative session has begun in Maryland things have most certainly been heating up, and the local breweries have seen standing room only crowds.

This week I had the opportunity to watch communities rise up and support the craft breweries in their neighborhoods. Perhaps not entirely their ‘local’ neighborhoods exactly, as some travelled from the farthest reaches of Maryland specifically to visit a favorite brewery. Others showed en mass to support a beloved brewery employee celebrating a birthday, while many celebrated new beer releases across the state. The outpouring of support for Maryland breweries was exceptional! It did not stop there however. On Wednesday evening, I had the good fortune of being present at Rockwell Brewery in Frederick. Paul Tinney and Matt Thrasher were also celebrating the release of their collaboration beer with Brian Voltaggio. The lovely wheat beer was created to compliment Family Meal (Voltaggio’s Diner) Chicken, and oh what a pairing it was. Clean, refreshing, perfectly hopped and just delectable.

Rockwell Brewery filled quickly in a very short span, not only to celebrate the beer (and chicken), but to witness Paul and Matt receive accolades from the crusader for Maryland beer reform, Comptroller Franchot. Earlier in the day, the Comptroller sat in for the “Uncapped” Podcast with Chris Sands and Liz Murphy, answering questions, and addressing not so subtle accusations thrown in his direction from well-placed editorials. The editorials have charged that breweries are being kept in check with oppressive regulations due to public health issues, and it is the legislature is acting responsibly. Franchot answered these allegations succinctly. He is the alcohol regulator in the state, and that is not lost on most of us. Franchot stated that he wasn’t advocating for an increase in the amount of alcohol people consume, but sought to increase the proportion of Maryland beers consumed in the state, reducing the out of state intake, thus leaving the consumption rates the same. A reasonable, logical person would understand that is responsible and not at all a public health concern.

arrow beer health

In reality the health benefits of moderate beer consumption have become widely known via scientific studies that have been conducted in recent decades. This is something the medical community knew even before Prohibition. Studies have demonstrated that one or two beers a day offers tremendous health benefits:

  1.  Mitigates symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women
  2.  Helps prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes
  3.  Increases bone density to stave off osteoporosis
  4.  Slows the decrease of good cholesterol , while lowering bad cholesterol
  5.  Prevents heart disease – moderate beer drinkers have a 42% lower risk of getting heart disease
  6.  Flavonoids found in hops help prevent the onset of Dementia, Parkinsons, and Alzheimer’s disease
  7.  Those same flavonoids (Xanthohumol) are also key preventing Prostate and other cancers
  8.  Lowers Blood Pressure
  9.  Thins the blood, acting to prevent the formation of clots
  10.  Reduces risk of kidney stones
  11.  Reduces risk of gallstones
  12.  Stouts have strong antioxidants that act to prevent the formation of cataracts
  13.  Hops contain Humulone which cures the common cold

Truthfully the list is far longer, but this will suffice to demonstrate that if we want to have a real discussion about public health issues surrounding beer, this might be the place to begin. The editorials are false flags and should be dismissed without merit. Please go forth and research, find the answers for yourself on health benefits of beer,  Maryland’s record of alcohol enforcement, and the legislature’s voting record and list of campaign donors. That is the best way forward to determine where you stand on Maryland’s craft brewing industry, and whether to throw your support behind them. I have done the research and know where I stand- it is overwhelmingly in the corner of Maryland craft breweries.



MLK/BAM Update

January 15, 2018
Today is a doubly good day indeed. First and foremost, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born on this day in 1929. Dr. King forged a path of non-violence at a provocative and difficult time in American history that literally changed the world. That is no small feat. His message of unity and equality have become a part of the fabric of our society.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This is one message that has personally resonated with me. Everyone will have a different takeaway from Dr. King. Think about his message. Take a moment today and ruminate on Dr. King and his legacy, and perhaps raise a glass to this incredible humanitarian and the gifts he has given to civilization!

Secondly I want to take a moment to share with you the results of the Brewer’s Association of Maryland election for the 2018 Board of Directors. On January 14, 2018 the following Board was chosen:

• President: Cindy Mullikin, Mully’s Brewery – Prince Frederick, Calvert Co.
• Vice-President: Tom Knorr, Evolution Craft Brewing – Salisbury, Wicomico Co.
• Treasurer: Phil Bowers, Brewer’s Alley – Frederick, Frederick Co.
• Secretary: Brett Snyder, Waredaca Brewing – Laytonsville, Montgomery Co.
• At-Large: Hugh Sisson, Heavy Seas – Halethorpe, Baltimore Co.
• At-Large: Adam Benesch, Union Craft Brewing – Baltimore City
• At-Large: Julie Verratti, Denizens Brewing – Silver Spring, Montgomery Co.

Cindy Mullikin may not be a name everyone is familiar with, but they soon will be. Mullikin is a strong, business savvy, no-nonsense, straight shooter. She is measured certainly, but has no trouble speaking up for the Brewers Association of Maryland, and understands how to negotiate the best path moving forward. In such uncertain times as these for Maryland breweries, she is poised to lead. I have absolutely no doubt she will navigate this treacherous path with clarity, and sound judgement. She will persevere for BAM.

Complimenting Mullikin’s ascent is Tom Knorr of Evolution. Knorr’s experience with BAM and the industry in both Delaware and Maryland will be infinitely useful, and often called upon. His willingness to work for legislative changes to benefit breweries will buttress the efforts already underway. Unflinching determination is a keystone to his success.

Longtime member Phil Bowers of Brewer’s Alley will also be an asset, having witnessed the ebb and flow of the Association over the years, along with the changes in legislation, and growth in the industry. He has ridden many storms, and is definitely an asset for BAM.

Brett Snyder of Waredaca is one of the newest members to BAM and the board. The farm brewery opened just over two years ago, and is focused on environmental stewardship, and great beer! This will be another great addition, providing a well-rounded perspective.

Our At-Large members are ones well known to most every craft beer drinker in the state. Adam Benesch of Union, Hugh Sisson of Heavy Seas, and Julie Verratti of Denizens. Benesch is business and beer smart, but his true gift is his ever-calm, ever-attentive presence that invites pleasant/rational conversation even in the midst of the most volatile discussions. Shall we call him Buddha? Perhaps. Hugh Sisson of course broke the mold in Maryland brewing in the 1990’s, and continues to understand the shifting tides of the industry. A steadfast member of BAM to utilize for his wealth of knowledge and experience. Julie Verratti- lawyer, activist, advocate. Outspoken when she needs to be, always fighting doggedly to improve the industry, the beer, and society for that matter. A champion we all want in our corner!

The future is uncertain. We can all be sure that this is a powerful group that has been chosen to helm the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, and I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings!

2017 Beer in Review

2017 has been quite the transformative year for craft beer both in the United States and here in Maryland. Since the calendar nears 2018 with a mere turn of the page, I thought it fitting to review the peaks and valleys, and the impact 2017 had upon the industry.

January 2017 roared into Maryland and the nation with craft beer on the upswing, garnering even greater market share. Several breweries were slated to open with a multitude of others in planning. In a tumultuous year of catastrophic weather events, American breweries stepped up to selflessly aid hurricane victims from Texas, to Florida, to Puerto Rico. Nationally breweries were nearing apogee with notable shifts in ownership, prompting action from the Brewer’s Association of America. The number of craft breweries in the United States started at 5,301 on January 1, 2017, and crested beyond 6,000 by December. From 2010 to 2016 many of them were purchased (in whole or in part) by AB-InBev for their High End Beer Division. Those acquisitions continued in 2017 when they took ownership of Wicked Weed in May, and Aussie brewery Pirate Life in November. This occurred despite AB-Inbev laying off 90% of their High End employees after promising “No more Craft Beer Acquisitions”. (1)  Some of the larger craft brewers in America stepped up to assist the smaller, independent plants, and stop them from selling to the monopoly. Brooklyn Brewery purchased minority stakes in both Funkwerks and 21st Amendment in 2017, ultimately leaving control (and distribution) in the hands of the brewers, keeping them (mostly) independent.

This activity was the impetus for the Brewer’s Association of America to take a shot across the bow, singling out craft breweries with a distinctly ‘Independent’ seal. The purpose was to provide an easily recognizable symbol for consumers, delineating the beer they were drinking as truly independent. To participate, the majority of ownership {75%} had to be held by the craft brewery (defined as 6 million or less barrels per year) and not a conglomerate. Some brewers thought the added restrictions were onerous and limiting to freedom of expression, while others (Lagunitas) were no longer considered independent craft breweries and could not partake of the seal. Since July 2017, just over half (2,835) of the craft breweries in America have adopted the seal.

On another independent note, a new campaign was launched to release the world from the fetters of the monopoly known as AB-InBev: Take Craft Back. In reality this was a stunt perpetrated by the Brewer’s Association of America to ‘buy’ AB-InBev and stop them from consolidating all of the little craft breweries that have cut so deeply into their market share. The crowd funding campaign garnered over $3 million in pledges, which was not nearly enough to purchase the monopoly ($213 billion). It served however to reinvigorate the craft beer debate, and increase support for the use of the Independent Craft Brewery Seal promoted by the BA. A clever marketing ploy most certainly, a realistic proposition- not even likely.

More good news for the industry came in the form of the 2017 U.S. hops report. 2017 was a record breaking year for hop production, rolling in at 56,738 acres, roughly 98 million pounds of hops! This was the largest of any nation in the world. U.S. hop acreage combined with Germany’s 48,293 acres to account for ¾ of the world’s total hop acreage. This was very good for craft breweries that chose only locally sourced ingredients, fomenting regional agricultural development, job growth, and economic stimulus. The flip side of this fabulous news was the decline (29%) in malting grain production in the United States, harvesting the smallest barley crop since 1934. Primarily this was due to the weather, which contributed to lower yields in the top producing states (Montana, North Dakota, and Idaho.) Canada also saw substantially lower yields as well. This has sparked the planting of more malting grains nationwide. Conditions are beyond suitable for planting these grains in several states, and the need to expand acreage offers not only a greater supply to our craft brewers, but another avenue for job creation as well.

The crowning achievement for the industry arrived in the shape of the historic, bipartisan Craft Beer Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) that was part of the tax reform bill which passed both houses of congress December 20, 2017. This sweeping bill transforms the industry, and attempts to level the playing field for the craft brewer by reducing excise taxes on those producing less than 2 million barrels per year, while simplifying labeling, and other cumbersome and costly processes.

That brings the conversation around to Maryland. Although 2017 started off with a bang for Maryland breweries, it quickly deteriorated, leaving many considering relocation to the legislatively friendlier climes of Virginia, or closing up shop all together.

High notes included the expansion of malting efforts across the state with the opening of Dark Cloud Malthouse in Howard County. This supplemented Chesapeake (Harford), Amber Fields (Carroll), and the growing number of malt houses planned across the state, along the Eastern Shore, and Delmarva Peninsula. The beauty of this goes well beyond locally sourced malts, and to the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, as the planting of malting grains actually saves the Bay. These plants hold harmful toxins like nitrogen within the pulp, instead of releasing them into the soil, which then leeches into the Chesapeake Bay and damages the fragile ecosystem. This is a fabulous alternative (or additional lovely winter crop) for farmers hampered by debilitating planting restrictions.

Other great news on the brewing front came in the form of Union Craft Brewing announcing the purchase of an old, abandoned warehouse that will be transformed into the Union Collective. This space allows for the expansion of brewing operations with the added bonus of housing Earth Treks, Vent Coffee Roaster, Charmery (ice cream), Huckle’s Sauces, and the Baltimore Whiskey Company. The collective’s incredible venture will be an economic lynchpin in the Medfield/Hampden neighborhood, and is already spurring both neighborhood revitalization, and job creation prior to its 2018 opening.

Other big Maryland brewing news included the parting of ways at Duclaw. After 18 years brewmaster Jim Wagner bid adieu to the brewery, and owner Dave Benfield. His search for greener pastures led him to open his very own operation in Hunt Valley with partner Richard Mak. Balt County Brewing is on schedule to open to the public in February 2018. Shortly after Wagner’s departure from the plant, Benfield found another partner and head brewer. Ernie Igot will be dually responsible for Duclaw’s operation while maintaining his position as brewmaster at Peabody Heights. Raven Beer founder Stephen Demczuk has moved operations out of Peabody Heights and into the Duclaw facility in Rosedale, in a shakeup many did not see coming. Benfield and Demczuk remarked that this was only the beginning of this prosperous new partnership.

In addition to these surprising revelations, a host of other breweries opened in 2017 including Attaboy (Frederick), Hysteria (Columbia), Saints Row (Rockville), Suspended (Baltimore), and the big one known as Guinness (Relay). The announcement (January, 2017) that Guinness would be opening in Baltimore County was indeed welcome news, at least for a few months. That was when the earth shifted and the corner stones were pulled from the foundation of many Maryland breweries.

A brief look at the Reform on Tap  page will quickly inform any reader of the deleterious legislation (HB1283) that was passed in the 2017 legislative session by the Maryland General Assembly. This bill was passed to incentivize and favor the opening of the Guinness Brewery, while keeping other Maryland breweries ‘in check’ by destructively limiting the ability to manufacture and sell their products. HB1283 killed jobs, and destroyed economic opportunities right along with the businesses it purported to help. Two major breweries (Ballast Point and Stone) halted their planned relocation to Maryland due to the passage of the bill. Flying Dog (Frederick) also placed their $60 million expansion plans on ‘permanent hold’ citing legislative issues as the cause.

Since then the Comptroller of Maryland put together a task force addressing the true nature of the bill, how breweries were impacted, and what could be done to fix it without damaging the supporting tiers of the industry. It was an eye-opening lesson on what little regard the legislature had for its constituents (in their entirety) when making (un)informed decisions on their futures. The task force ultimately recommended the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 to restore the balance. This landmark legislative proposal removes arbitrary limits stifling the manufacture and sale of craft beer in Maryland, while protecting the integrity of the three tier system, thus allowing craft breweries to thrive, unencumbered by loathsome, needless, outdated regulations, and inept Franchise Laws. As the third largest job creator in America, breweries provide incredible economic opportunities in every neighborhood they operate within. Of course increased beer production requires a rise in hop and malting grain acreage, resulting in a healthier Chesapeake Bay! That is a win for everyone.

What will 2018 have in store for craft beer? I don’t know yet. I do know that the forces of opposition have already begun their march against The Reform on Tap Act.  I also know that breweries like Checkerspot (originally slated to open in 2017) will be operational in a few short months. Full Tilt is expected to open their very own plant in the B-More Kitchen complex. Jailbreak wlll have a fully functioning restaurant accompanying their brewing operations, and Balt County Brewing, along with a host of others, will open their doors to the public. What are my hopes and dreams for 2018? A world without limits, and a lot of great Maryland craft beer!


P.S. If you haven’t done so yet please sign the petition to #SaveMDBeer
Every Signature Counts

  1. Tara Nurin, “AB-InBEv High End Beer Division Lays Off 90% of Its Sales force,” Forbes, Sept.7, 2017.

Beer Unites (Except in the Maryland State House)

To borrow from my friends at Union Craft Brewing, beer unites us all. Take for example the United States Congress. It could not be more divisive, or partisan. It is akin to warring factions from distant galaxies fighting for control of the Universe at all costs. Despite these disparate agendas, they have still found a way to come together over beer. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, better known as CBMTRA has united both factions of our bicameral congress. This legislation, well covered by Tom Cizauskas at Yours For Good Fermentables, is a once in a generation legislative reform act for the United States craft brewing industry that also provides benefit to wineries and distilleries.
Here are the nuts of bolts of what it does for breweries:

  • Reduces excise taxes from $7 per barrel to $3.50 per barrel for domestic breweries producing less than 60,000 BBLs per annum.
  • Reduces excise taxes from $18 per barrel to $16 per barrel for domestic breweries producing 60,000 to 2 million BBLs per annum.
  • It simplifies beer formulation and label approval by expanding the list of ‘common beer ingredients’ (like fruit).
  • It encourages collaborations by removing regulatory hurdles like enabling tax free transfers, removing restrictions on both inventory and expansion for packaging and storage.
  • It levels the playing field between domestic and international producers.
  • It expands TTB program integrity to crack down on those circumventing the rules.

With 54 Senate co-sponsors, and 299 House co-sponsors this Bill had incredible bipartisan support, and was heavily promoted by both the Brewer’s Association of America, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Beer Institute, among several other industry associations. Since the wording of the Bill was exactly the same in both houses of Congress when approved, there is little doubt it will make it through the conference committee and be signed into law in coming weeks. This will be a grand and much needed victory for craft beer manufacturers across the country. Apparently beer was the only thing capable of uniting this most combative 115th Congress.

Perhaps the political factions within the Annapolis State House should take note. If the federal government is willing to sit down and listen to the concerns of craft brewers, and their need for the modernization of existing, incredibly antiquated laws, why shouldn’t the elected representatives serving in Annapolis? Say what you will about swampy, pay to play Washington politics, but nothing holds a candle to Maryland particularly if the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 does not get a FAIR and IMPARTIAL hearing before the legislature this session. Politicians must pay at the polls in 2018 if they do not heed the demands of their constituents (as a whole); not just the select group lining their campaign coffers.

Make your voices heard! Call your representatives and tell them (as a voter) what you require of them. If you have questions ask your local craft brewer, the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, or the Comptroller. Sign the petition HERE to make the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 a crucial component of the 2018 legislative session in Annapolis. Always remember they serve at OUR pleasure.



A brief jaunt through the Repeal of Prohibition in America.

In honor of the 84th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition it seemed fitting to take a stroll through the dry years, revisiting some of the motives and debacles of a failed experiment. The Volstead Act was brought before the United States Congress to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States. It was ratified on October 28, 1919 despite a presidential VETO, and went into effect as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. One has to question how this got traction, and why the government would support it.

Initially the movement was known as ‘temperance’, indicating a lessening of manufacturing, sales, and consumption. This in no way was originally intended to ban alcoholic beverages. The early intent of the temperance movement involved improving the troubles within society. The mindset of those (predominantly women) supporters was that men would become better citizens and husbands if they limited or even suspended their alcohol intake. This bloomed into a vast and incorrect conviction that ALL of societies’ ills would be cured if alcohol were removed from the equation. The list is extensive but includes the belief that:

1) Domestic violence would end
2) Penury would cease as all men would be employed
3) Divorce rates would drop substantially
4) Literacy rates would skyrocket
5) Crime would diminish drastically, and the list went on, and on…

We were in for a true Utopia if the Volstead Act passed. Adding fuel to the temperance (now Prohibition) fire in the early 20th century was the anti-German sentiment sweeping the United States (and the world) because of the Great War. In Maryland, and much of the USA, a vast migration of Germans in the 19th century equated to a cataclysmic rise in the number of breweries. Prohibition certainly would have an impact upon German interests across the nation. German societies and newspapers were silenced along with the US Brewers Association when they dared speak in opposition to the proposed legislation. The KKK also supported Prohibition as they too were both anti-German (anti-immigrant), and anti-Catholic. The Catholic Church of course opposed Prohibition, as the body and blood of Christ is taken in the form of a wafer and wine as an intrinsic part of ritual.

What was never truly factored into the equation was the loss of jobs, and revenue. It wasn’t just the breweries, wineries, and distilleries that would be impacted, it was all of the affiliated industries that would feel the loss, over 200 to be precise. Coopers, glass manufacturers, sign painters, liveries, cork manufacturers, and a host of others were deleteriously affected by this legislation. Fiorello La Guardia of New York served in the US House of Representatives, and as Mayor of NYC during Prohibition. He commented on the loss of local, state, and federal revenues particularly when alcohol was still being manufactured, sold, and illegally distributed across America. He also noted that the Federal Government KNEW this and accommodated it by printing large bills ($5,000, and $10,000 bills) in much greater quantities than ever before. Why? This was done specifically because bootleggers only dealt in cash, hence large bills. This was just one glaring witness to the failure of the experiment. Another came in the form of job loss. This was wide spread. The Federal government was told by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, the Anti-Saloon League, and other Prohibition organizations that job loss resulted from machines replacing humans, not Prohibition closing businesses. A federal study was commissioned, followed by hearings in 1926 that proved otherwise, yet the 18th Amendment remained.

Challenges were made across the country, and in Maryland by our Governor Albert Ritchie, who never employed dry agents at the state level, leaving enforcement entirely up to the feds. The veil was finally lifting on the reality of the experiment: IT FAILED. Literacy rates did not rise, nor did divorce rates decline. Domestic violence continued, and crime flourished. Most know that organized crime and the ensuing bloodbaths like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre brought attention to the widespread illegal trafficking of booze. In addition, during the dry years people were drinking alcohol that was much more potent (often deadly) than they had been drinking before 1920.


The Crusaders were just one of many organizations that demanded the Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Concern over the deaths of young people due to deadly, illegal booze coupled with the anger at the increased, unceasing bloodletting between rival crime factions in New York and Chicago. Many notable and powerful people across the country supported the Crusaders. Albert Ritchie ran for President on a platform of Repeal. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initially did not run in support of wet party efforts, eventually came around to Ritchie’s way of thinking, even asking him to run on the same ticket. Ritchie refused and Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. On April 7, 1933 3.2% beer was legalized, ushered in with the signature of FDR. Not all states immediately took advantage, but most, including Maryland did. Globe Brewing Company’s Arrow Beer was served just a few minutes after midnight at the Rennert Hotel in Baltimore. In attendance was another wet party advocate, H.L. Mencken.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution was proposed to Repeal the 18th Amendment. It would be the ONLY Amendment created to repeal another. It took 36 states (a 2/3 majority) to ratify it, thus making it law. Utah became the 36th state on December 5, 1933. This week, grab a nice beverage of your choosing, a locally crafted Maryland beer perhaps, and raise a glass to Utah, FDR, and the 21st Amendment! Happy Repeal Day!