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!

Under the Oak

What is in store for craft beer lovers at the new brewery breaking ground in Queen Anne’s County?

Sunday marked the official groundbreaking of a new brewery in Queen Anne’s County- Ten Eyck. The name is familial, drawn from founder and brewmaster Nicki Sener and her father, affectionately known as “Gangster Ten Eyck”. The Ten Eyck family emigrated from the Netherlands during the Colonial era and planted roots throughout what eventually became the United States of America.  Etymologically, it is derived from the Dutch and translated as ‘under the oak’ or ‘lives at the oak’. Charming most certainly, but not the most interesting aspect of this new brewery.

It is the women behind the brewery that provide the most intriguing story behind this venture- veterans and first responders. Nicki Sener is not only the founder but both a veteran and a first responder (law enforcement). Sharon Horgan and Shayne Sewell both served in the Air Force along with Michelle (Mo) and Jennifer Barrett. Jessica Hammond Graf coached women’s rugby at the Naval Academy, while she and her wife Yancy Hammond Graf both played for USA Women’s Rugby. What brought them together? Rugby and craft beer, and a common set of experiences.  It was actually Yancy that first delved into mash tun of homebrewing while playing rugby, and from that point forward it became an integral part of the group dynamic.  Although quite talented, Yancy has since passed the mash paddle off to Nicki, and for good reason,

 “It was easy to believe in the vision of Ten Eyck, because we enjoy the creativity that emanates from this woman.” Yancy Hammond Graf, speaking of founder Nicki Sener.

Nicki’s mash paddle.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, these women are close- they not only support one another, but perhaps more importantly build and invest in each other. They champion strengths while helping buttress the gaps. They are a united front, one that not only understands the magic of teamwork, but the essential role of allowing individual character to shine.

The brewery is situated on a patch of land ideally suited for local patrons and travelers. Ten Eyck is just off of Grange Hall Road and Rte. 213, within spitting distance of Route 50 (Blue Star Memorial Highway or Ocean Gateway- you choose.) The location also happens to be directly across from Chesapeake College and the nearest gas station. Between beach goers and the college crowd, foot traffic should not be a problem for Ten Eyck no matter the time of year.  The 4,244 sf facility will house a 10 bbl system from Oregon, with three 10 bbl bright tanks and a 20 bbl fermenter. Foeders are also in route. For those of you unfamiliar, they were created predominantly for wine although other craft creations from spirits to beer have incorporated these enormous wooden vats in the maturation process. The high liquid to wood ratio provides a perfect environment for the beer to develop, while imparting oak, vanilla, and other mellow characteristics into the alcohol without threat of acidification that is often a product of smaller barrel ageing. The vast height of the vessel allows for greater capacity with a smaller footprint than standard barrels. Lagers and stouts are ideal for Foeders, and if dedicated- can make a particularly sublime sour.

The taproom will have 12 taps of myriad styles. The goal is to offer a little bit of everything to the consumer from lagers, to IPA’s to sours. For the non-beer drinkers they are also crafting both soda and cider. There will not be a full kitchen, so food options include a picnic lunch, or available food trucks. Ten Eyck will have a full bier garden, complete with dog pools for your waggy-tailed quadruped, and perhaps a hitching post for your thoroughbred. They have literally thought of everything!

I have sampled Ten Eyck’s offerings before, but on a 94 degree day filled with bright sun I was curious how my opinion and my palate might be informed. I will begin with the one thing I rarely drink- cider. It was quite perfect for such a warm afternoon. The blueberries and blackberries were all locally grown and handpicked, lending themselves to a lingering and immensely refreshing mouthful of bright, full flavors that would have been lost in mass harvested berries, but were not overpowering.

The Blackberry Rye IPA offered a similar profile in that it was fully flavored, yet impressively balanced between the hop profile and the expected bite of the rye.  My favorite however was the Tail Dragger IPA. This little beauty was named after Hanna, who not surprisingly is a pilot who was gracious enough to actually wear a t-shirt with her plane imprinted upon it. This cunning craft was a merger of Galaxy and Citra hops, producing an IPA that brought forth every nuance of malt underneath the hop profile that was not at all overpowering, but brilliantly complex.

The brewery is slated to open no later than January 2020, although they are hoping for an October debut. This remarkable group of women are building something incredible together…..stay tuned and don’t forget to thank them for their service!

Prost!