The Greater Baltimore region has a thirst that seemingly can’t be quenched when it comes to craft beer.
Fewer than a dozen breweries operated in the entire state 10 years ago. Now, more than 70 are open, with approximately a third of those located in Greater Baltimore. In 2016, The Brewer’s Association named Baltimore/Washington D.C. as one of the top five fastest-growing markets in the country for craft beer sales.
“The industry has just exploded around here. It’s unbelievable,” says Randy Marriner, president and CEO of Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City as well as the craft beer-focused Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia. “We started making production beer in June 2015, and now we’re in distribution in about 1,000 locations, which is crazy. I can’t make enough beer to meet the demand.”
Marriner is far from alone. Union Craft Brewing in Hampden has grown so much since opening in 2011 that it is moving into a larger facility in nearby Medfield this spring. The new space will be three times larger than the original 15,000-square-foot facility and will include a 60-barrel brewing system (up from the current 20 barrels), a 7,500-square-foot taproom and private-event space. The expansion allows for an initial production capacity of 30,000 barrels, with the ability to increase to 70,000 barrels. Company officials say they expect to create more than 100 new jobs over the next 10 years.
In addition, Union Craft will be the anchor tenant of a new 10½-acre commercial project called Union Collective. Eight additional commercial tenants – all local, independent businesses – will occupy 87,000 square feet of space next to the brewery.
“You’re seeing the growth in craft breweries kind of kick-start the revitalization of certain areas” says Phillip Rhudy, founder and Chief Fermentation Officer of Bel Air’s Independent Brewing, which recently installed two additional fermenters to increase production. “The property vacancy rate goes down and new businesses like clothing stores and coffee shops open up. There are small towns throughout Maryland that are trying to attract a craft brewery because they see what’s happening in other cities.”
The growth of craft brewing in Greater Baltimore is part of a larger nationwide trend emphasizing local products, especially when it comes to food and drink. For example, Marriner says he recently opened a new restaurant that serves beer produced only in Maryland.
“There’s enough variety coming from the Maryland brewers to fulfill the needs,” he says.
This desire for local libations is one of the reasons for the recent rise in farm breweries such as Manor Hill. Both beef cattle and crops are raised on the 54-acre farm. Then the corn, berries and four varieties of hops that are grown at Manor Hill are used in the beer production.
“Our beer is not pasteurized. It’s not filtered. It’s just delicious,” says Marriner, who expects to double the number of employees at Manor Hill within the year to approximately 25. “We have about 40 different recipes that we’ve developed in the two years we’ve been open, which has helped us build an unbelievably good following.”
In addition to providing some sensational suds, Rhudy says small craft breweries also become important components of their communities, providing a popular gathering place that he says often translates “into a sense of ownership” by the customers.
“We’re not just taking dollars. We’re creating an environment that’s part of the community, and people connect with that,” Rhudy says. “People will ask questions on our Facebook page, and a lot of times our regular customers will reply before I can.”
One of the most obvious indications of craft brewing’s growth in Greater Baltimore is the popularity of the annual Baltimore Craft Beer Festival, held in October at the Canton Waterfront Park. More than 40 breweries participated in the 2017 festival, and related events are held at local restaurants and bars throughout the area.
“It started out small, but it’s already become a huge deal,” Marriner says of the festival. “It’s really helped focus the whole Baltimore beer scene, to the point that craft brewing is becoming a real economic engine.”