Be Like Acorn: Part 2

The update on our hero squirrel Acorn, and how he inspires and emulates our craft alcohol producers during this pandemic.

When I last took pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard as it is in the modern world, I shared the inspirational story of Acorn- a wee squirrel who overcame insurmountable odds to survive a harrowing injury. I equated it to our craft alcohol producers during this pandemic and their fight to come out the other side financially viable. An Acorn update was requested, and I am overjoyed to comply.

I am happy to report that although it was a bit touch and go at points since that posting, Acorn has improved tremendously and is on the mend from the worst aspects of his trauma. The featured Acorn image (above) was taken April 23rd, and if you look closely you will see not only the healing- but the faintest hint of a sweet smile. Make no mistake, he still has some healing to do before calling him 100%. For those of you wondering- yes medical experts have been consulted, and they are pleasantly surprised and equally inspired by this wee hero!

Inspired Squirrel Acorn, overcoming injury to thrive
Acorn on April 19th when things were not looking so good. Fortunately, it was just
another stage of healing.

Again, I will draw parallels to our craft alcohol industry in Maryland. It has been a rollercoaster, most notably when the first round of Federal SBA loans were dispersed and Maryland received less than 1% of those monies. Watching small business loans being handed out to publicly-traded multimillion dollar corporations was a slap in the face of our hardworking entrepreneurs. Some of these companies- Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris to name two- returned the funds after gaining notoriety with a side of public shaming. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that there will be a “clawing back” of the funds from those large companies that received monies intended to save small businesses. Round two of federal SBA funding is underway currently. We shall see how this turns out, and whether or not those promises will be kept.

The upside to all of this is the innovation and fight we continue to see from our Maryland small businesses- and yes I am pointing in large part to the craft alcohol manufacturers. I have watched companies completely overhaul their business plans to survive this pandemic. A prime example of this is Checkerspot Brewing Company. They just added a canning line and are now distributing to retail stores in the Baltimore region. This is a drastic shift from the taproom sales (and select bars/restaurants) centric plan they opened with nearly 2 years ago. They have also begun to sell masks alongside produce baskets, fabulous beer (canned and crowled) and delicious farm fresh cuisine.

Checkerspot Brewing Company’s new canning line.

As mentioned previously Biermi, the beer delivery app created by the brilliant True Respite team, has catapulted in popularity and use across Maryland and the nation. Over 120 breweries nationwide are using the app to deliver fresh local beer at a time when folks are prohibited or unable (or both) to leave their homes.

In Hagerstown Stone House Urban Winery has become a bit of a social distance tourist destination of sorts. How? Soda Pup- the curbside wine delivery dog! Place your order, indicate what car you will be arriving in, drive up to the winery (don’t exit your vehicle of course) and Soda Pup trots out with wine filled saddle bags to deliver your order. Genuis!

Soda Pup delivering wine and reminding folks to obey social distancing guidelines!

New releases along with collaborations are also still happening (with social distancing in place) between breweries, distilleries and wineries, continuing to temp our taste buds and delight our palates- leaving us yearning for what comes next. Virtual Happy Hours- many hosted by the Brewers Association of Maryland in coordination with the breweries have introduced us to these new brews in an intimate yet social distanced setting, setting a trend that should continue even after the pandemic fades. Hopefully- so many of these innovations we once believed unnecessary will stick around- they are pretty fantastic!

As difficult as times may be right now, remember to to draw on inspiration and keep fighting.

Be Like Acorn!

Sláinte

Be Like Acorn!

Strange times we find ourselves in this year- unprecedented in fact.  Coronavirus, COVID-19, global pandemic or whatever your personal choice of names, we have breached the unknown, and Lord knows we are all trying to survive and adjust.

For many, figuring out how to stay financially afloat is second only to remaining healthy and virus free. When a proliferation of businesses are closed and deemed non-essential it becomes a daunting task.

Meet Acorn- a mighty warrior squirrel that lives in my yard. Wee Acorn has had a rough go of it. A little over three weeks ago- yes back when things were somewhat normal comparatively- I came home from work to find a maple branch had snapped from our tree and landed on poor, unaware Acorn. Needless to say he was completely confused- dazed in fact, just sitting up on his hind legs trying to grasp what had happened. Not wanting to startle him, I observed him before attempting to whisk him off to the vet. He regained some semblance of himself in a few minutes and began searching the ground for food. I thought, “OK, maybe he isn’t as injured as he appears.”

I proceeded to cut up an apple and gently toss cubes in his direction. Initially, fear sent him hobbling straight up the tree before realizing delicious Honey Crisp awaited him (after my departure of course). I fretted over this poor quadruped, but was delighted to see him out and about six days later, eating scattered birdseed.

It was also the time I finally saw the left side of his head and face fully, and it was gut wrenching. He clearly had a fractured skull, missing ear, and wound on his back from where a jutting section of branch made contact. No I am not a vet but apparently I play one on the internet. It was unbelievable that he survived, and frankly I wasn’t sure he was long for this world.

A few days ago I caught sight of Acorn, much healed compared to my previous sightings. He was actively eating at a tree feeder. What was more interesting were the three squirrels Acorn shares a nest with readily giving him a wide berth so he could eat his fill. I was gobsmacked. What a pivotal moment. Each day since, I have witnessed his munching heartily at the feeder, regaining strength.

Acorn recovering day by day. March 28, 2020 M. O’Prey

Why am I sharing Acorn’s story? Because Marylanders need to be like Acorn- resilient against overwhelming odds!

We are all facing an uncertain future. This virus and its fallout present not only life threatening dangers, but the potential destruction of livelihoods, and financial security. That is really scary- particularly for business owners and for those they employ.

Many provisions, exceptions, and strategies have been put in place to try and help consumers and businesses survive this pandemic. Importantly, federal and state tax filing and payment deadlines have been extended. In Maryland, enforcement was suspended on taproom sales, distribution, delivery and carryout of craft alcohol for manufacturers, bars and restaurants.  Licenses of all types will not expires until 30 days after the state of emergency has lifted.

Loans, grants, and incentives were made available at the state level from the Department of Commerce. At the Federal level the $2 trillion stimulus package offered aid to businesses small and large in the form of forgivable loans, tax credits, deferrals, and other programs, along with a stipend for individual taxpayers.

This is a great start, but ultimately is it enough? As we have already witnessed- operationally things have to change for many businesses to survive. Innovation is the key and companies have responded.

Clothing manufacturers like Under Armour are making protective gear known as PPE Personal Protective Equipment. Distilleries like McClintock and Patapsco (and so many more) have converted to making much needed hand sanitizers to supply to hospitals and first responders.

Brandon O’Leary, co-founder of True Respite worked in concert with web developer Brian O’Connor to create biermi– a beer delivery app.

In only two weeks it is becoming a nationwide phenomenon and the go-to for breweries trying to stay alive long enough to come out the other side of social distancing. Beer tenders and your favorite brewery personnel are your smiling beer messengers- so tip well!

Your beloved pubs and restaurants, that might never have delivered are now offering curbside pickup and delivery of not only your favorite foods- but your favorite drinks. If it is a fully-loaded Bloody Mary you crave, it is just one click away.

This new era of marketing and remote service specialization has emerged and crafty, clever entrepreneurs are finding ways through this decidedly difficult time.

It is also up to us to help one another. Together we can find a way to the other side. Buy local, pick up or get delivery, and know that every dollar spent keeps a business open, staff employed, and families fed.

If you have a great idea- don’t sit on it- make it happen. If ever there was a time- it is now!

Defy the odds!

Be resilient!

Overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges…

Be like Acorn!

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.

The Baltimore Craft Beer Festival 2018

The 2018 Baltimore Craft Beer Festival has come and gone once again. Earlier in the week the weather looked to be of great concern as a tempest raged Friday night. By Saturday morning the worst of the storm was over, having left a grim reminder of man’s inability to conquer nature. As dawn broke, the clouds parted and the sun peaked through, offering a crisp albeit windy day on the waterfront for craft beer lovers, and their furry friends.

P1060247
Brad and his 3 year old Leonberger Meike enjoying the festivities.

The check-in line was long, but moved quickly and efficiently uniting festival goers with their wrist bands and glasses in minutes. A cornucopia of Maryland craft breweries were spread across the park with host of styles to sample. Accompanying them were a variety of food trucks offering a little something for everyone. There were a handful of non-craft beer vendors on hand selling nuts, portraits, tchotchkes, and the like, but they were few and far between- this truly was a craft beer festival…not a festival with craft beer. There is a distinct difference between the two. One of the more intriguing vendors included Valencia glass-blowing, a mobile glass blower in the tradition of the Italian glass blowers of Venice, on the island of Murano. The demonstrations were mesmerizing, and the audience rapt. This certainly kept festival goers sampling at that end of the complex, and headed home with hand blown ornaments, vases, and gifts.

P1060254Glass blowing demonstration with Founder Phillip Valencia using his mobile furnace.

There were some notable beers to sample while watching the demonstrations like the Brewer’s Art 7 Beauties locally sourced with Dark Cloud malt, or Lot 54 a blonde ale from Inverness Brewing, and Cult Classic’s take on a NEIPA using only Mosaic hops. The breweries were well spaced to manage the throngs and close enough to help one another keep the tents on the ground on the extremely windy side of the park. Make no mistake, the gusts did not hinder attendance, and certainly helped to keep the beer cooled.

P1060258Volker Stewart founder of The Brewer’s Art toasting 7 Beauties on cask.
P1060289Co-Founders Ray and Sandy Frank of the new Baltimore farm brewery Inverness Brewing with Comptroller and Industry Ally Peter Franchot, and Kevin Atticks, Director of the Brewer’s Association of Maryland and Grow & Fortify, toasting another successful year for Maryland Craft Breweries.

On the other side of the complex, festival goers were equally enchanted by the live bands that graced the stage. They weren’t just good- they were fantastic. Get Steady was spot on not only with the musical selection, but the dulcet tones of their lead singer that kept everyone singing along. The majority of brewers were located at this end of the park offering the expected styles, and what I like to call ‘adventure styles’. Most craft beer goers are willing to sample any beer in hopes of discovering something new and wonderful to tempt and tantalize the palate. There was quite a bit to choose from in this regard. A personal favorite came from Waverly Brewing’s own Gregory Lee in the form of Horni-Issac a play on the origins of this delightful ale. Greg got back to his Norse roots embracing a Hornindal yeast which fully complemented the hop profile across the palate in a beautiful marriage of its Norse and English origins.

P1060266Roy and Greg of Waverly Brewing in front toasting Horni-Isaac.

No matter where you started, you ended with great craft beer and got to know a collection of newly opened breweries and breweries in planning. I was thrilled to see True Respite, Cult Classic, Balt County Brewing, Checkerspot, Crooked Crab, Brawling Bear, and Inverness Brewing– all newly opened in 2018 pouring at the festival. The breweries in planning included Mobtown, opening in Canton in 2019; Ironweed opening in Ocean City in 2019; and an absolutely delightful surprise- Ten Eyck a completely women owned and operated brewery opening in Queen Anne’s County in 2019.

P1060262Bailey and Brendan O’Leary, Co-Founders of  True Respite Brewing. 

The usual suspects that we all know and love were also in attendance including Union Craft, Heavy Seas, Manor Hill, Jailbreak, Monocacy, Oliver, Flying Dog and a slew of names like Denizens that every beer drinker in Maryland has tasted, and probably has in their beer fridge right now! A complete list of participating breweries is available through the Brewer’s Association of Maryland. Every participating brewery had at least one (if not several) high-quality, well-crafted brews to offer- a promise (of sorts) that a drive to their brewery would not disappoint. They also served as inspiration to the myriad homebrewers contributing to the Nepenthe homebrewing event of just what is possible if you have the drive and the patience to make it happen…. A lesson for us all.

P1060273

All in all it was a brilliant day on the waterfront sampling Maryland craft beer. It also got me thinking about a few things. Recently I have read articles touting the demise of beer festivals using words like ‘ubiquitous’, and ‘tired’. Hmm… No- not at all. I humbly agree to disagree. Craft beer festival like this one (very well planned and executed) provide the PERFECT place to gain an audience and a consumer base. This is where a beer drinker will be introduced to a new brewery, or an old brewery with a new offering. This is where it begins, or in some cases where the flame is reignited and we fall in love all over again with a brewery or a beer we let slip away for a time. There is no better place to bring the family, the dog, or a friend and spend the day in a scenic park enjoying a brisk fall day discovering what talented artisans we have in our midst.

Sláinte!