It is the time of year for gatherings and gratitude, forgiveness and transitions, revelry and redemption. It is after all the holidays!
While we have certainly ushered in the craft beer era in Maryland over the past decade, the joy of a new brewery opening can be bittersweet when mingled with another brewery closing. COVID-19 had a deleterious impact on many breweries, with their recovery often dependent upon the jurisdiction in which they resided. The suspension of enforcement, coupled with the 2021 legislation allowing many of these courtesies to continue until the end of 2022, mitigated much of the fiscal damage for brewers. Not all however, could persevere. Some were already vexed by non-pandemic related issues and succumbed.
Additionally, NIMBY has taken hold as farm breweries have seen tremendous growth, fomented by a pandemic that embraced social distancing, outdoor gatherings and the warming glow of fire pits. Despite the common sense economic benefit of value added agriculture, Harford County councilmembers pandered to the “not in my backyard mentality,” introducing a moratorium on farm breweries. After 18 months of planning and expense, AleCraft Brewery was forced to relocate their planned farm brewery, complete with hop farm, biergarten, and gastro pub across the border to Railroad, Pennsylvania. Sadly, they have also chosen to move their primary 5,000 sf, seven barrel production facility to Pennsylvania as well. This is a huge loss for Harford County and Maryland craft beer, but apparently a victory for an irritable neighbor.
With the pandemic in our rear view mirror, it is a blissful season to reacquaint ourselves with beer festivals like the Baltimore Craft Beer Festival in Canton. Over fifty breweries were in attendance to share their tantalizing creations. It was also an opportunity to sample tasty offerings from up and coming breweries like Joyhound Beer and Abbeywood Brewing, while rediscovering some old favorites like Oliver Brewing. This was not the first festival of the year, but definitely the place to be for a vast range of styles from the largest collection of Maryland brewers assembled since COVID struck. Kudos to Abby Cassarella, Jim Bauckman, Kevin Atticks and the whole crew at the Brewer’s Association of Maryland for putting on another exceptional event!
Pub Dog Brewing was in fine form at the festival, showing off a brilliant Vermont style IPA that kept fans wanting more. This was celebratory as friend and owner George Humbert was eager to share how busy he has been now that he re-opened Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse in Columbia, nearly two years after the gas explosion that closed the pub. The gourmet pizza is as good as you remember and the beer is sublime. A grateful crowd lined the block in March to welcome Pub Dog back to the neighborhood.
Another anticipated opening, Burnish Beer Company was also met with much fanfare in late October. Randy Mills, former co-owner and brewer at RaR Brewing in Cambridge created a destination in Salisbury that welcomes thirsty beer travelers year round. In addition to the delicious food options, a cocktail and wine menu is available for the folks that may not have come over to the brew side of things just yet. After two years in planning, a global pandemic could not stop Mills on this most welcome endeavor.
Crooked Crab Brewing in Odenton announced they are expanding operations at Telegraph Road. The expansion will be completed in 2022, nearly doubling the size of the brewery to 15,000 sf. Crooked Crab has certainly garnered a vast following with staples like Haze for Daze and seasonal Vespa Werewolf. Craft beer drinkers are excited by the news and intrigued by the possible expanded offerings once the construction is finished.
This heartwarming news is only tempered by the loss of an Eastern Shore brewery- Backshore Brewing (formerly known as Shorebilly), and the legendary Wharf Rat in Fells Point. In a tearful video message, Uncle Nate of Backshore informed patrons that owner Danny Robinson has decided to close the brewery at the end of November 2021. After pivoting to tea-based alcohol production in 2015 for beach goers, Robinson expanded his footprint to several others states including Florida. This closure comes as a surprise to many, although Uncle Nate has promised to try and buy the brand to continue operations on the shore.
Farther north in Baltimore, the Wharf Rat permanently closed on November 6, 2021. It was the founding home of Oliver Brewing before both the brewery and Pratt Street were sold to an outside investor. For more than 30 years the Wharf Rat was Baltimore’s favorite place for locals, overflowing with history. The English ambiance and malty ales transported patrons back to the Age of Sail when English vessels were moored in the harbor and offloading cargo on the docks. The Wharf Rat was sold at auction for nearly one million dollars in October with the buyer remaining anonymous- for now.
In case you missed it, the Pinks Boots Society Greater Maryland Chapter collaborated on a decadent new brew. Tit’s Up is a New England Style India Pale Lager in honor of breast cancer awareness month. This collaboration between Checkerspot Brewing, DuClaw Brewing and TenEyck Brewing Company reminds women to stand strong in the face of adversity. Participating breweries as well as several regional package stores have this consequential brew on shelves now. Don’t miss out!
In other collaboration news, I am thrilled to announce the latest historical collaboration between myself and Judy Neff of Checkerspot. Admiral Buck is launching on Thanksgiving eve! Admiral Buck is a recreation of late 19th century imperial Bock from the brewery of Edward Stiefel. It is aged in barrels provided by USN, Ret. Scott Sanders, Rear Admiral of Tobacco Barn Distillery. Mark your calendars and make a trip to the brewery on November 24th where I will be giving a talk on the full history of the beer and brewing in the 1800’s. Judy and I will be sharing other tantalizing tidbits about upcoming collaborations that you won’t want to miss! Don’t forget to grab a couple of bottles of Admiral Buck, a once in a lifetime historical brew to share at Thanksgiving!
Sláinte and Happy Holidays!
Beer for thought