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!

Autumnal Splendor and Things that Inspire

As the weather turns cooler, and the leaves crunch beneath your feet thoughts often stray to hearty stews, cozy fires, and good company sharing a delightful libation. Fall often evinces thoughts like this, inspired no doubt by the splendor of the season, and the crisp breeze carrying the scent of autumn through the air. I find that I become more selective with regard to the beverages chosen to mark the season, and those moments that take on a greater significance. Many people intentionally pair their beer with the evening’s planned victuals, and often do so with painstaking precision. I am perhaps not that particular, but I do enjoy the process of merging flavors in a way that elicits the best qualities of both the food and accompanying brew. What I have more recently taken note of is the story behind both, and how much that factors into my decision.

Cooking heals, and the process has an almost meditative power. Selecting a recipe is more than meeting a list of dietary restrictions, and flavor preferences; it also involves the history of the dish. How, why, and for whom was it created? Granted there are not always answers to these questions, but it certainly is intriguing to embark on the voyage to uncover them. The national dish of Cuba, Ropa Vieja is a perfect example of this. Legend has it that a peasant had no meat to feed his family, so he decided to take his old clothes and put them in the stew pot. While it cooked, he thought about how much he loved his family. When he uncovered the stew, the threadbare garments magically transformed into the delicious shredded beef stew (resembling tattered clothing.) Miracles, inspired by love, created this dish. Fanciful? Perhaps. Delicious? Definitely!

This wee tale leads me back to the accompanying beverage. What inspired a brewer to make a particular beer? Was it love? Was it history? Was it something more? Not all brewers share the muse behind the conception of a brew, but when they do I find myself intrigued and more inclined to give it a go. Make no mistake, a well told story behind a creation will not make up for lack of quality, or cleanliness in the process. Will consumers select beers with no significant story? Absolutely- if they are well crafted. Often however, one can tell when a brew was uninspired, as it shows on the palate. Similarly, a thirsty connoisseur of malted beverages can taste the inspiration behind it. Brewer’s Alley Wedding Alt is an example of an extremely well-crafted alt beer with an equally inspired story. Brewer Tom Flores created this very personal beer to mark the most auspicious occasion of his very own wedding. It was brilliant, and so well received that it became an (annual) seasonal offering, much in demand.

Other breweries in Maryland have also created beers motivated by personal stories, or historical events; just take a gander at Union Craft Brewing’s Duckpin Pale Ale. Duckpin bowling was invented in Baltimore, and neared the point of extinction (if you can use that terminology for a dying sport) when Union Craft released their homage to the Baltimore institution. The sport was invented around 1900 by a couple of Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famers while drinking beer in a billiards hall (although the specifics of this are open to historical debate.) Union wanted to get in touch with what made Baltimore great, and its rich history of craft brewing was a perfect analogy to the once thriving sport of Duckpin bowling. The sport and the beer have both surged in the past five years, and it would be impossible to separate the revival of one from the success of the other!

To have a muse behind the crafting of a fantastic beer may not be a significant factor to some consumers, but for many it will most assuridly lure them to open their wallets and give it a try!

Beer for thought!

Craft Brewers of Maryland Welcome Guinness

October 20, 2017

The arrival of Guinness in Baltimore was met with mixed emotion, instead of the expected anticipation of a new brewery opening in the state. In large part this jubilance was muted due to the legislature in Annapolis cutting backroom deals at the behest of special interest groups while ignoring the welfare of the craft brewing industry in the state. This was carried out with absolutely no regard for the breweries and their role as a driving economic force in so many communities across Maryland. Despite the legal wrangling, the brewers of Maryland rolled out the welcome mat for the new Guinness Brewery in Relay on Friday for their (pre-opening) Industry Night. Union Craft, Denizens, Pub Dog, Monocacy, Jailbreak, Checkerspot, Key, Heavy Seas, and a host of others were represented. The event revealed a first look at the taproom and the sampling of what Hollie Stephenson (Head brewer) and Peter Wiens (Brewmaster) had in store for those experienced palates in attendance.

The evening was a success, and the brewers of Maryland demonstrated their generosity of spirit, and the brother (and sisterhood) that Maryland breweries are so well known for. The offerings ranged from expected staple beers Guinness Stout, and Guinness Blonde Lager, to the rare and small batch. These special delights included the dense, luscious Foreign Extra Stout on draft (apparently for the first time in the USA), and the small batch Golden Series #1. This blonde ale was exceptional, a favorite for most in attendance. It comprised a beautiful compilation of hops (Mosaic, Amarillo, and El Dorado) that complimented Guinness yeast as the ale was fermented at higher temperatures. This brought out an abundance of aromas and a distinct, yet not overwhelming note of peach that married the flavors beautifully. To the credit of Diageo, they have brought together a winning team in the brewery. Maryland is looking forward to what they have in store for future brews in their Golden Series, and beyond.

The taproom is clean, industrial, and spacious. The expected barrel tables accompanied stools for a brief respite while sampling. This however is merely the beginning. Guinness plans to finish off the taproom, and construct an expansive beer garden that can accommodate several food trucks. Additionally a small hop farm is planned for a sensory experience, along with a pub style restaurant on the third floor of the facility where beer and food pairings will take center stage. Of course much like the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin, tourists will be guided through the history of Guinness, and the brewing process with substantial displays, and a retail store from which to purchase remembrances. The 100 hectolitre brewery will be housed in a separate facility, to accommodate the needs of the anticipated 300,000 tourists per year. Coincidentally, Greg Norris of GEA Brewery Systems (formerly the owner of Clay Pipe Brewing in Westminster) happens to be responsible for supplying this brewing system to Guinness.

With a 10 hectolitre system (in addition to the 2 barrel test system) there is much room to experiment with new brews from a hazy New England IPA, to a Belgian, and a host of other brews. It also provides the perfect opportunity for collaboration brews. In just a few hours, collaborations between Guinness and a few different Maryland breweries were already lined up. There is quite a bit in store for beer aficionados in Maryland and beyond! Guinness will no doubt draw a large tourist population, but all of our breweries should benefit. Collaborations will bolster that. Beer tourism was already thriving in the Free State due to our incredible craft brewers, and the arrival of Guinness will foment that trend. All we need now is an adjustment to the legislation and Maryland will become the premier destination for breweries in the United States!


“Women Brewing in Maryland”  Left to Right Julie Verratti of Denizens, Judy Neff of Checkerspot, Lynn Pronobis of Union Craft, Hollie Stephenson of Guinness. Photo by Author.

Breweries and Neighborhood Revitalization

There is much excitement surrounding craft beer in Maryland. Over the course of the past two decades the number of craft breweries in the state has risen dramatically, along with a growing foundation of not just local, but regional and national fans of the Free State’s malt beverages. Coming off of the most recent Great American Beer Fest (GABF), many turn their thoughts towards medals and the ability to place ‘GABF award winner’ next to their beers in the taproom. That is all well and good, and Maryland has many GABF champions among her ranks; but is it the most important thing?  It would be easy to digress and discuss quality beer, and the varying palates as I have in the past, but that is not where this post leads. Instead, it is time to discuss what the breweries are doing on the ground, in your local community, and what benefit the average citizen (beer drinker or not) derives.


The phrase ‘economic impact’ sounds exciting, full of promise, and pleasing, particularly if you throw in a figure over $800 million. Often those numbers are viewed (and ogled or challenged as the case may be) from a somewhat esoteric and detached frame of reference. It all sounds good (or bad) but what does it really mean for the people living there? The easy answer is that breweries are building and rejuvenating communities. When Union Craft Brewing announced the Union Collective opening in 2018, the anticipation was great. Why? Primarily because of the impact they were already having upon their community since opening. Union Collective will extend its economic tentacles well beyond the initial brewery. Yes a larger space equates to more craft beer produced, more equipment to buy, more sales, more jobs that need to be filled, and more people visiting the taproom.  The oft misunderstood part of this is what it does for the neighborhood at large. Union is taking a vacant, deteriorating structure in a forgotten part of town and revitalizing it. Many partners have signed on to operate within the collective including Baltimore Whiskey Company, Earth Treks, and Charm City Creamery. This will not only draw a diverse market of consumers, it will also continue the critical process of revitalizing the community. Money coming in via jobs and tourism feeds the regeneration of the neighborhood. This includes buildings undergoing repairs, remodeling, and repurposing to attract businesses and new residents. It forces improvement in vital infrastructure like roads, schools, and utilities. Often property values rise once the first dominos (like the building of a new brewery) have fallen. Additionally, the purposeful community outreach and philanthropic work breweries across Maryland engage in must also be factored.


Recently NPR covered the opening of a small craft brewery in a remote town in Nebraska where they detailed a dying town looking for a way to breathe life back into it. The answer was a brewery.


“If your town isn’t growing, it’s dying.”[1]


No truer words have been spoken. It must also be said that the demographic that breweries tap into (pun intended) includes a younger crowd that is often the impetus for change. This was witnessed with the yuppies of the 1980’s that purchased and renovated older homes in moribund neighborhoods, improving entire community (and property values) right along with it. On any drive through Maryland and her cornucopia of towns and cities, detritus can be spotted in each and every one. It might be the old abandoned grocery store in Easton, or the long dormant Sellers Mansion in Baltimore, or a boarded up Mom and Pop corner store in Carroll County, but they have a common element- potential. If a brewer has a vision, these buildings can provide a home, and that can start a revolution.


We all want our cities and towns to thrive, with a reduction in crime, and greater participation in the work force for its inhabitants. Breweries are a critical driver toward that goal. To achieve this, our voices must be raised in concert and heard through the statehouse in Annapolis to change the laws and allow our great industry to flourish. Foment the brewing industry and we are all partnering in the rejuvenation of our forgotten communities and people.




[1] Kirk Siegler, “Tapping Rural America: Craft Breweries Breathe New Life Into Small Towns.” NPR, October 7, 2017.


The fine art of Coopers

For over 2,000 years barrels have been crafted to hold liquid gold of varying types. The science behind the construction is fascinating, but the craftsmanship is exceptional and has evolved since Rome ruled the western world. The Romans adopted the method of storing and transporting beer in wooden containers instead of amphorae from the Celts. The process has changed little over the course of two millennia, but the nuances have become more refined, adjusted not only for technological advancements but the expertise and preference of the master coopers constructing them.

Coopers are artists, and each one operates on known, standard practices, but that is where the similarities end. Some coopers prefer uniform size staves for example, while others prefer alternating widths. Like many of the arts, it comes down to the preferences of the master craftsmen, and their own specialized techniques. The starting point is always same- the selection of the wood, traditionally oak. The wood will be weathered (aged) in preparation, and then both steamed to enable bending of the staves for construction (mise en rose), and fired (toasted) to specifications determined by the brewery, winery, or distillery. The characteristics of the wood comes through the process and into the brew, making it the most crucial decision before the first cut is ever made, or the first stave planed. It ultimately constructs the flavor profile of the liquid in the barrel to varying degrees based upon toasting, and length of ageing in the barrel. Master coopers always choose wisely, as that is part of their craft.

An intriguing aspect is the natural water tight seal achieved in the process, without seals, adhesives or other artificial methods. Dowels are used, notably for the head, along with metal hoops to secure the staves, but really nothing else. It all boils down to the craft. This harkens back to the ancient technology of boat building. Ancient shipbuilders also followed a similar process in achieving near water tight construction, but unlike coopers they chose to slather bitumen (pitch, or what is commonly known as tar today) on the finished vessel to procure (and perhaps guarantee) a completely water tight seal. Even when the Romans instituted the Celtic invention of barrel making to store beer and wine, they did not adapt this new ‘bitumen less’ technology toward their seafaring vessels.

Many of the Maryland breweries prior to Prohibition had coopers on site crafting barrels for their touted brews from John Frederick Wiessner to National Brewing. 10,000,000 barrels were in service in United States breweries prior to Prohibition. The invention of steel kegs coincided with Repeal, and threatened coopers traditional role in American breweries. Fortunately it would be another few decades before metal would completely supplant wood. When breweries did decide to turn away from wooden barrels, coopers remained the premier option of wineries and distilleries. All was not lost for coopers and breweries however, as they have seen a much welcomed resurgence in recent decades, not as the primary container for transport, but instead as the vessel to age and enhance golden, malted libations. Although it seems unlikely that barrels would unseat modern metal kegs as the choice for delivery, they have been lauded for their craft, their history, and their contribution to the renaissance of cask ales in America.

All hail the return of coopers to the brewing industry, like Free State Cooperage of Maryland, demonstrating a tradition thousands of years strong, and only getting better and more in demand.