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!