The latest upheavals and successes in the world of Maryland beer. Who is staying? Who is expanding.
Summer is here and things are sizzling! Maryland has seen some drastic shifts in the world of brewing. In a matter of six weeks Guinness announced plans to close the Baltimore Brewery, moving operations to Chicago; Flying Dog sold to FX MATT, closing the Frederick plant; and DuClaw was sold to River Horse, leaving Heavy Seas as the largest (and longest) Maryland independent brewery standing. The dominoes falling for the three of the state’s largest producers certainly was not welcome news for most, but there was quite a bit of good to glean from the industry as well.
Let us begin with Guinness, the shutting down of brewing operations in Baltimore does not come as a great surprise. With the announcement of the opening of Guinness Chicago it was pretty easy to read the tea leaves. Sustaining two operational plants in the U.S. on the heels of COVID was not part of the strategy. Although Diageo (parent company of Guinness) beat expectations in January 2023, on the heels of strong sales in Europe where Guinness saw a 71% increase in sales in Ireland, growth in North America was paltry, coming in at 3%. Combined with increased inflationary pressures, Diageo (and thus Guinness) was primed for belt tightening, not expansion. Additionally, it is far easier to distribute nationwide from the Midwest than the East Coast. As a salve for the Guinness Baltimore Blonde fans that recoiled at the thought of the locally crafted favorite shifting production to Illinois, Hugh Sisson, founder of Heavy Seas and merchant of the industry’s growth in the region since 1996, offered to brew the Maryland flag draped Blonde at Heavy Seas. Alas, nothing has yet come of the offer and astute shoppers might have noticed the labeling has conveniently removed the Maryland flag.
A little more than a month after Guinness revealed the closure, Flying Dog announced they were ‘joining forces’ with FX Matt Brewing (AKA Saranac). Uncapped Podcast broke the story May 22, leaving many stunned. A quick reminder – Flying Dog intentionally chose not to reopen the taproom after COVID was no longer a threat. The bottom line was never about selling pints and giving tours, but large scale production. Tea leaves anyone? Yes they will open a taproom and ‘innovation’ brewery (aka small batch experimental) in downtown Frederick while production moves to New York this summer before closing the plant completely. A bit of history here for those that forgot or might not have known Flying Dog was a Colorado based brewery before relocating to Frederick. Much like Guinness, they were a transplant to the Free State. Once they set up shop they absolutely embraced Maryland, from flag and blue crabs to Old Bay, wending their way into the refrigerators of many Maryland natives. We will see if the Maryland themes continue once they have relocated.
On June 1st, news broke that another Maryland brewery had been sold- DuClaw. This time however, it was a Maryland original. From the very first brew pub in Bel Air in 1996, to the Yellow Brick Road production facility in Rosedale, DuClaw has always been a Maryland brewery. Plagued by nagging issues at the production facility limiting tasting room opportunities among other problems, DuClaw was openly looking for a buyer for years before COVID showed up. The solution for Benfield and crew came in the form of River Horse Brewing out of New Jersey. Sweet Baby Jesus- the iconic flagship (yes I recall just how much they revile the term) beer will be brought to life in a new manger a few hours north. A long time ago, Benfield told me in an interview that he hoped the brewery would discontinue Sweet Baby Jesus, as the goal was always to provide new beers that would capture consumer’s attention and palate, usurping the holy porter. That never came to pass despite their best efforts. Even the illustrious and effervescent Unicorn Farts could not topple the king.
On a somber note, True Respite out of Rockville is up for sale as a turn-key brewery for $1.5 million. The O’Leary family (owners) has mentioned that times are extremely difficult for breweries- more than we know and that we all should double down on buying local. The nearly $13k per month rent (usury in my book- but it is Montgomery County) is certainly indicative of the financial challenges breweries face, particularly when they do not own the plant operations are housed within.
Over the past decade we have witnessed the closure of several breweries in Maryland including Astro Lab, Full Tilt, House Cat, Homaide, Baying Hound Aleworks, Growlers, and more. COVID certainly played a hand and not everyone survives the financial difficulties created by lockdowns. Maryland is nowhere near saturation, and we are well behind most states in breweries per capita according to the Brewer’s Association of America. With the closure of these breweries, our numbers will continue to wane. Craft alcohol laws in the state have reformed, paving the way for new breweries to stand on more solid footing. A cautionary tale remains however for anyone interested in opening a brewery to do their research and talk to those in the industry who have succeeded and critically those who have not. Vital information can be gleaned from those willing to open up the conversations with those who came before.
Opportunity awaits for those wading into the brewing business, but quality is key and the craft beer consumers are particular. As the number of breweries has grown, buyers are less forgiving of unremarkable brews, thus raising the bar. Negotiating finances like steep rents and excise taxes, inflation and supply chain issues coupled with finding trustworthy, reliable distributors is just as crucial to the success of a brewery as crafting consistently excellent beers. A misstep on any of these can sink even the most sought-after brand.
So what have we lost? Jobs… and beer Guinness, Flying Dog and DuClaw will continue to produce the beers that have lined our fridges for decades. What becomes of the contract brewers that relied on these facilities to produce their Maryland grown brews? We will have to see how this plays out, but the ripple effect of these consolidations might deprive us of the smaller start-ups we were just beginning to discover, and others we have known for quite some time.
There is good news to report however, as we are seeing growth and expansion in our Maryland originals from Heavy Seas to Mully’s to Rockwell to Checkerspot. The Free State has a long history of expansion and contraction when it comes to craft brewing. We are just in the process of dialing it in adn teh summer is going to sizzle!
A brief overview of Women’s history Month and the incredible women in the Maryland craft brewing industry.
March is a month that represents a diverse range of things to many folks, but it also happens to be women’s history month. This month in particular has been an active one despite the pandemic still continuing to shift the paradigm for an abundance of us. The month kicked off in fine fashion, harkening back to the days of yore with a women’s brew on March 8th.
As most of you that have read the book or participated in the beer history walks know, brewing was the purview of women historically. It was our responsibility to make beer and cider for the family along with myriad other tasks like tending the hearth and the kitchen garden. Many have also heard of Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer, or Saint Brigid who turned dirty bathwater into beer for both leper and cleric alike, and the list goes on and on.
This is not to say that men were not brewers prior to the colonial era, as they were, but it was a household chore (hardly an appropriate word) that fell to the females of the domicile. The shift away from women as brewers can be seen in colonial America with the build up to war. A need to supply our Revolutionary troops with daily rations of beer (1 qt. of spruce beer per day to be precise) required a scaling up in production. Once brewing was removed from the household it was placed in the hands of men. Do not misunderstand, some women continued to brew and a few of them brewed on the industrial level until the death knell of the Volstead Act rang its discordant tune.
After Repeal, it was still part and parcel a realm for men, although a new understanding would emerge by the 1940’s, in no small part due to the changing role of women in WWII. They became a target consumer for breweries, and by the 1950’s Maryland breweries like Gunther were completely redesigning workspaces to accommodate female employees. But a return to brewing was a still a ways off for many.
Enter Terry Fahrendorf, and the narrative completely changes- and history along with it! Terry was a female brewer at a time when the industry was male dominated and the Swedish bikini models were still considered a viable default marketing gimmick. Fahrendorf traveled the nation engaging in collaborative brews at each stop. She met very few women in the industry, but those she came across forged an immediate bond and a revolution- a Pink Boots revolution. This was the genesis of the Pink Boots Society, an organization founded by Fahrendorf to not only provide a sisterhood of females in the industry, but educational opportunities and advocacy for women vastly outnumbered in an field that once belonged to us.
Pink Boots has grown exponentially since 2007, as have the number of women returning to this profession. The society provides a strong foundation not only for seasoned industry experts, but those wishing to start their own breweries, or further their new found careers in all aspects of brewing. It is also the basis of the March 8th collaboration. Annually, the Pink boots Society selects a blend of hops in advance of the annual collaboration (usually October), sending the information out to chapters in each region across the nation to plan. This year the hops chosen were: Ahtanum®, Cashmere, Citra®, Loral®, and Sabro®, creating a blend with tropical, herbal, citrus & woody aromatic qualities.
This year, with the greater Maryland chapter reformulated, Judy Neff, owner and head brewer of Checkerspot Brewing Company played host for the event. The hops would be used in a cold India Pale Lager that also happen to be a little hazy! The socially distanced brew day was a complete success! What set it apart from the other annual collaborations is the team behind this greater Maryland chapter (Amethyst Tymoch & Rachel Bradley) working to put together something exceptional, a collaborative brew day with breakout sessions- making the most of the day.
The first session, diversity and inclusion, was extremely impactful. Women in the industry from broad range of backgrounds (Tranice, Courtney, Crystal, Hannah, Kara, Jordan, Diane) shared their experiences and advice on how to improve the relations and make it more inclusive for everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference and believe it or not- make it beer centric. This session was open, vulnerable, true and honest, and like a fine wine will continue to have legs- promising depth, character, and complexity for years to come. This session was an eye opener for some, a moment of solidarity for others. Regardless, it forged a path forward to navigate the complexities of a world that is challenging, painful, exclusionary at times, but inherently capable of becoming diverse, inclusive and healing.
One of my favorite quotes came from Tranice Watts of Patuxent Brewing, “Your only limit is your mind.” Straight forward and undeniably powerful (like the woman herself). People often limit themselves and perhaps need to be reminded to go beyond their self-imposed limits. Change happens with one mind at a time and,
“Diversity is beautiful” Jordan, Waredaca
The second session shined the spotlight on Crystal Rivera, co-owner (with her father) of Puerto Rico Distillery in Frederick. Crystal shared her story starting out as homebrewer at FIU, before recapturing her family history. Her father (retired Navy) was considered a Puerto Rican mountain “hillbilly” with a rich culture of making distilled sugar cane (rum) moonshine known as Pitorro. Crystal shared the challenges she faced not only entering an industry that was filled with machismo, but opening in the midst of a pandemic. Although she found herself making hand sanitizer out of the gate, she eventually created something most Americans had no experience with unless they had traveled to Puerto Rico themselves and were fortunate enough to sample it. Much like brewing, Pitorro wouldn’t be Pitorro without the women. Crystal shared with us that although men historically distilled the rum, the women were the ones infusing it and making it exceptional! She was also kind enough to bring samples of her absolutely delightful creations. I must say the almond was exquisite, balanced and warm, and I cannot wait to make the drive to Frederick for a bottle!
The third and final session brought with it much fun and technical expertise- the art of beer photography. In this modern day of social media as a prime mode of advertising, great photos are critical to audience engagement and retention. Rachel Bradley of DuClaw shared her expertise, tools and lightbox tips to a successful beer photo creation. This light, fun, yet incredibly helpful session topped an already fabulous day, the rewards of which are ongoing -as witnessed in the improved posts you have probably already seen!
The Pink Boots collaborative brew will be available to consume in April. Two Pink Out release events have already been scheduled at Full Tilt and Ten Eyck. Get your tickets while you can!
I was honored to participate with so many new and many known Pink Boots members that came out to brew (or showed in spirit) on March 8th :
Cameron – 1623 Brewing
Carrie – 1623 Brewing
Emma – Astrolab Brewing Company
Jim Baukman- BAM (Wait a Man?????-LOL! Yes happily invited to cover the event)
Why the list you ask? Take a good, long look at this list and realize this includes only a fraction of the women in the industry in Maryland. The tide is shifting…
That by no means wrapped the month however. After a year of waiting Pernicious Mary was finally bottled! Who is Pernicious Mary? In case you missed it (perhaps because of a global pandemic), last March 2020, I collaborated with Judy Neff of Checkerspot Brewing to recreate a 200 year old recipe by a female brewer. This historic old ale was a special occasion brew- requiring an extremely large grain bill, a lot of time, and exceptional attention to detail. Mary, the brewer was a stickler for quality beer, finding standard offerings at taverns to be lacking in quality and quite ‘pernicious”. Hence the name! After a year of barrel aging, Mary was finally ready to be bottled….but Mary requires one more year of cellaring in the bottle! Yes patience is a virtue- but is well worth the wait, as the beer is capable of cellaring for 10 years! Stay tuned event detail will be forthcoming for this limited release.
The brand new podcast Brew LaLa was released by Pink Boots chapter leader Amethyst Tymoch, who you might know as the @beerdashian on Instagram, or perhaps she poured you a pint at the spot. Why another Maryland beer podcast you ask? Diversity is beautiful after all and quite frankly it is different from the other brewing podcasts you might watch. Highlights include the science behind the brewing segments with Dr. Judy Neff, and some fast facts on brewing history with yours truly. This is in addition to myriad other topics and a cavalcade of guests making it both fun and informative!
On Sunday March 21, I once again was the lucky recipient of an invite to participate in another women’s collaborative brew day. This grapefruit Hefeweizen was brewed for a Mother’s Day 2021 release at Patuxent Brewing Company in Waldorf Maryland in May. This small group brought together experienced brewers with those dreaming of becoming brewers, along with others in the field. It was an inspired choice for not only the style of beer, but the collection of women. Both ideas were the brainchild of Diane R. (Patuxent Brewing Co. videographer and brewer in training). The day was a captivating mixture of soulful conversation, lighthearted fun, and a splendid feast. A special thank you to Davie Feaster (head brewer) for hosting us and sharing his extraordinary BBQ talents! I look forward to the reunion on Mother’s Day ladies!
On March 22, the latest Revenews podcast hit the airwaves! If you are not familiar with this financial podcast from the Maryland Comptroller’s office, I implore you to tune in. Co-hosts Alan Brody and Samantha Igo keep audiences informed about the latest happenings from the agency with special guests covering a wide array of topics. They keep their listeners engaged with wit, wisdom, and laughter- a must listen! Spoiler alert- I was invited on as a guest (on St. Patrick’s Day none the less) to talk about women in beer and history. It was a perfect combination for the day and as you will hear- we had grand time. Be sure to check it out!
Speaking of things you need to know… did you know that Manor Hill Brewing changed hands shortly before the pandemic? In December of 2019, Rachel Marriner Mull took the reins from her father Randy. Rachel is a power house who happens to be imminently qualified- and she also happens to be crushing it! Rachel is President and CEO of Manor Hill Productions, Manor Hill Farm LLC, and Victoria Restaurant Group as well as the brewery. She is an unstoppable force not only in the industry, but in the state! I am hoping to garner a more in depth interview for an upcoming future article.
Whew! It has been a busy month and rightfully so. Still, I want to leave you with one last thought, or more of a rule of thumb. When you go to a brewery, or a bar, a distillery, or a winery, a sheet metal fabricator or any business at all, remember one thing:
If a women is the brewer, or the welder, or the distiller, the vlogger or the beertender -assume she is there because she knows what she is doing. She is the expert. Don’t look around for a male counterpart. Instead, assume she knows what she is doing- because she does. She shouldn’t have to work ten times harder because she is a she, but she does, and she knows her stuff- you count on it!