Ode to 2019 and welcome to a new decade of brewing in Maryland

A reflection on 2019, and a look forward to what is coming in 2020 for the brewing industry in Maryland.

2019 came in with a rush for the craft brewing scene in Maryland. Amid the plethora of new breweries, we welcomed favorable changes in legislation for craft alcohol manufacturers in Maryland and the nation. Sadly, we also witnessed the closure of local breweries and other beloved institutions that helped bring attention to industry in its nascent stage of revitalization.

2018 left us a bit shell shocked legislatively as the muckraking revealed the lopsided, antediluvian alcohol laws and the lengths the entrenched beneficiaries were willing to go to in order to hang on to their empires built upon the backs of craft alcohol manufacturers in Maryland. It was instructive and served as a platform for change in 2019. The close of the 2019 Maryland legislative session witnessed the passage of the Brewery Modernization Act and Beer Franchise Law reform. All in all this was a resounding victory and most craft breweries could breathe a sigh of relief, as profitability would not be nearly as restricted for most with an increase in taproom sales;  the elimination of the buy-back proviso; an increase in taproom hours;  and increases in both production and self-distribution limits among other favorable changes. Barriers to profitability had been lifted for most, and many brewers that were operating on thin margins could finally rejoice.

For others the joy was somewhat muted, particularly for older breweries stuck with a dunce of a distributor. Although franchise law reform enables breweries to terminate a relationship with a distributor in 45 days without cause for fair market value, the cost of extricating from those franchise contracts is often cost prohibitive, thus they remain in a bad “marriage” indefinitely. For those breweries a bad distributor is already hemorrhaging profits due to the lack of consistent and reliable deliveries, making a payout of “fair market value” a nonstarter. Overall however there was far more to celebrate than decry.

Patuxent Brewing Label

We witnessed the opening of long awaited breweries like Patuxent Brewing- Charles County’s 1st brewery, which opened this June. They are a welcome addition to a community that was incredibly thirsty for quality, locally produced brews.  This minority owned Southern Maryland brewery has certainly created a buzz and should be a planned stop for any beer traveler.

In Carroll County Brewery Fire opened to much acclaim from craft beer lovers and an extremely supportive chamber of commerce excited for the increase in beer and agro tourism. 1623 also settled on a location in Eldersburg at the Liberty Exchange, which will contribute to this swell of good beer in Carroll County.  

Montgomery County saw its share of new breweries with Elder Pine in Gaithersburg and Silver Branch in Silver Spring. These are two can’t miss breweries that could not be more different: Silver Branch for the truly authentic German beers they produce and Elder Pine for the locally-farmed ingredients in lesser known styles. Another Montgomery County staple- Denizens- expanded into Prince George’s County with their new Riverdale Park production brewery and taproom.

Pooles Island opened in Baltimore County, keeping it local and interesting. In addition to the standard fare one would expect they have host of surprises, including  Le Blanc Fort- a hybrid beer with Sauvignon Blanc resulting in a crisp, dry, delightful drink.

These were just a handful of the new members joining the 100+ Maryland breweries. 23 more are slated to open in 2020.

Unfortunately, 2019 observed upheaval in the industry as well. Rubber Soul, House Cat Brewing, and Barley and Hops all shuttered their doors this year. For some like House Cat- experimental yeasts led to their undoing, while others suffered from financial woes.  Smoketown Brewing in Brunswick was ripe for expansion into Frederick and took advantage of House Cat’s closure by moving into the facility next door to Attaboy and a stone’s throw from Idiom- an ideal location for beer tourists.

For those of us that have been around for a bit, we were left feeling bereft at the loss of Baltimore Beer Week. This annual institution started by Joe Gold, formerly of Heavy Seas Brewery, and Dominic Cantalupo together craft beer lovers to Baltimore for a decade, with engaging events that introduced novices and aficionados alike to the best Maryland had to offer in craft beer. It bolstered the industry at a time it when it was just starting to take off, when folks really weren’t envisioning Maryland as a craft beer destination. In fact, although hard to believe now, in 2008 many were still hesitant to embrace craft beer at all. My how times have changed, and oh how I will miss the beer history walks (and breakfast beers), the passports, and the awesome shirts among the numerous other things that made is so special. The impact of Baltimore Beer Week forever remains. Some of the traditions- including the homebrew extravaganza, the race at Max’s, and a host of other events have been resurrected. The legacy of BBW, and of Dom and Joe and what they created will live on.

The industry has also learned to be incredibly adaptable. Jailbreak in Laurel for example, changed their classification to better serve patrons by opening a kitchen, and serving wine and spirits. Many breweries have included other craft alcohol options in house to reach a wider audience, including Elk River in Cecil Waverly in Baltimore, and Silver Branch in Silver Spring.

Full Tilt opened their new facility in Govans, serving other local craft beers in addition to wine while transitioning production over from Peabody Heights. In recent weeks, they transitioned to both a brand new general manager; Marshall Lilly, and head brewer- Jordan McGraw, formerly of Hysteria in Columbia. They still serve wine, but with the new brewmaster upping their game, they will see quite a bit more demand.

The devastating floods in Ellicott City have taken their toll on the town, and upended plans for many businesses. One creative solution has emerged from the devastation- Ellicott Mills Brewing Company has been purchased by the Phoenix Emporium, providing a secure future for both in what have certainly been trying times for success.

2019 Heavy Seas Logo

Heavy Seas has rebranded to usher in the new decade and appeal to a larger demographic of craft beer drinkers. They have also introduced a host of new offerings to tempt and tantalize, including a hazy IPA that launches January 10th – Hydra’s Haze.

Ministry of Brewing

There is much  to look forward to look forward to in 2020. A slew of new brewery openings including Ten Eyck in Queenstown- a woman owned brewery and taproom ( made up of Veterans and First Responders); and Ministry of Brewing- a brewery in the historic St. Michael’s German Catholic Church in Fells Point… and that is just January!

Burnish Beer is slated to open in Salisbury with Randy Mills, former partner and brewmaster of RaR Brewing, at the helm.  Sapwood Cellars in Columbia is expanding with three new 20 bbl tanks in 2020 just to meet demand. The Wine Co-op at Union Collective will also open in 2020 leading to a trifecta of craft alcohol manufacturers in one location. More historical recipe recreations are on tap from yours truly in combination with the fabulous Judy Neff and team at Checkerspot.

There is of course much more to say, and a plethora of breweries to cover.

It was a great decade for brewing in Maryland and I can’t wait to see what happens in 2020!

Happy New Year!

A look back at the Maryland craft brewing industry in 2018, and glimpse of what is to come in 2019.

Welcome to 2019! After a brief hesitation I decided to open the year with a recap of 2018. There was much to celebrate:  several new breweries opened in Maryland- many to rave reviews for the high quality brews they were turning out; the rise of the sour to heretofore unseen proportions- with literally a sour in every brew kettle (completely NOT attributable to Budweiser despite claims to the contrary from Ab-InBev); a sharp rise in Veteran owned breweries across the Free State; and a developing appreciation for the NEIPA in nearly every brewery.

Unfortunately accompanying the triumphs came a pall of darkness cast over the brewing industry in Maryland like a malevolent trespasser. Some breweries closed, others read the tea leaves and chose friendlier climes across our borders to craft their beer. There was also much hullabaloo about a ‘contraction’ coming in the craft brewing industry to which I will comment upon later.

Most that have read this blog for the past few years have become well acquainted with the changes taking place in the industry- particularly those in Maryland. This also assumes most are familiar with the battle raging in Annapolis to adjust the antediluvian, obsolete portions of the laws governing craft breweries. Please note that I did not say ‘all’ breweries which is the relevant point here, and an important distinction.  I will be the first person to suggest that mega breweries[i] can wreak havoc upon distributors (and retailers) without specific franchise protections in place. History bears witness to this fact. For smaller craft breweries however those protectionist statutes, from franchise laws to taproom sale limits can spell an end to a craft brewery wasting the funds and life blood spilt in the quest to make their dream a reality. Despite the incredibly vocal support of the voters for these statutory changes, and a Comptroller bent on helping the brewers at all costs- the 2018 legislative session devolved into a mud wrestling competition that unmasked the naked, ugly truth of politics, “power is the great aphrodisiac.”[ii]  Much of the wrangling taking place had absolutely nothing to do with craft beer and everything to do with a power struggle.

The epicenter of that power struggle was the entitlement of a handful of career politicians in the legislature and the vigorous influence of the distributor’s lobby throughout halls of Annapolis. This push for corrective legislation deteriorated even further when those legislators not only tossed aside proposed legislation without consideration of the benefits to the majority of Marylanders, but chose instead to examine alcohol regulation in the state as a means of stripping it from said Comptroller’s office. That examination has since turned into a procession of neo-prohibitionist troglodytes (with their entourage of acolytes) trying to return us to the dry days of the Volstead Act. Not surprisingly they are accompanied by many of those bloviating self-important legislators that just love to try and manipulate witnesses in an effort to defend their indefensible shenanigans.

In the midst of this stage show behold our champions- Cindy Mullikin (President of the Brewers Association of Maryland) and Hugh Sisson (Founder and proprietor of Clipper City/Heavy Seas) interjecting relevant commentary on behalf of the breweries complete with supporting documentation, statistics, and above all –common sense- something that seems to be missing from many of the actors involved in the hearings. They have represented Maryland craft beer extremely well in the face of these unscrupulous narcissists.  The findings of this task force have yet to be released- and honestly I don’t know what they are going to suggest. If pressed I believe they will advocate for at the very least another increase in alcohol taxes, and at the worst- state control of all alcoholic beverage sales, which would be as dismal as one imagines for the industry.

This is where it becomes important to focus on 2019 and what we should be celebrating. The Brewer’s Association of Maryland is doing a fantastic job on behalf of the more than 80 breweries across the state. Every craft brewery regardless of size should be proud they are so well represented- because they are! No matter what the findings of the task force is not law- it is just a recommendation. Those findings would need to be crafted into proposed legislation and taken to the appropriate committee, debated, and voted upon first- before making it to the full house and senate for a vote. Hmmm…It almost sounds as if I still have a bit of faith left in the process…I do. Trust me I am almost as surprised by this revelation as you are! Let me share another brilliant quote from Henry Kissinger, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.” When it comes to craft beer in Maryland these words have never rung more true.  

I still believe that most humans will heed the advice of their better angels and make the right choices for all the right reasons. Hopefully this applies to more than the ten percent of the legislature in Maryland. Only time will tell of course.

So, what do we have to celebrate in addition to our great team at BAM? Well let me start with Patriot Acres, and Checkerspot, and Valhalla, and Maryland Beer Company, and Cult Classic, and B.C. Brewery, and Inverness, and House Cat, and True Respite, and Full Tilt (it was a long time coming gentleman), and Guinness, and oh so many more that I haven’t mentioned. In addition there are several breweries in planning set to open in 2019 and beyond from Patuxent to Ten Eyck….

Which brings me back to that contraction… what contraction? Union Craft has expanded (the Collective) right along with Heavy Seas, Frey’s, and B.C. Brewery, and many others. Let us not forget the expansion plans of Dark Cloud Malt House which is yet another reason to fully embrace 2018 as a stellar year- the rise of malt houses once again in our region. It is finally time to reclaim our rich heritage of growing and malting our own grains for Maryland craft breweries.  Don’t forget that drinking locally crafted beer made with locally grown malting grains saves the Chesapeake Bay! After the Conowingo Dam debacle that should certainly make malt and the craft brewing industry a priority for everyone in the state. It also serves as a reminder that if you look, there is always a reason to celebrate and support Maryland craft breweries!

I don’t know what will happen in 2019 but I do know Maryland craft beer has not even come close to reaching its zenith.  There are many industry-centric bills headed to legislative committees in the Maryland General Assembly beginning on Wednesday January 9th. There is also a wealth of support from voters for this industry that has revitalized Maryland communities and consistently strengthened its powerful voice with action. For now I am enjoying the delicious fruits of our craft brewer’s labor- always mindful of their sacrifices, determination, incredible skill and dedication to this ancient and enduring craft that we love.

 Sláinte

P.S. ***Please continue to be a vocal advocate for your craft breweries and ask your representatives about the industry share with them how they can help ensure their communities success by supporting craft breweries.


[i] My personal definition of ‘mega’ includes any brewery producing over 500,000 bbls annually. Others choose to use the Brewers Association of America definition of craft as any brewery producing more than 6 million bbls annually (along with other caveats).

[ii] Henry Kissinger, NY Times January 19, 1971.

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!