Faster than a pulled pint or the crack of a pop top, the regional beer scene is growing—and how. Maryland now boasts over 35 breweries extant, with new businesses opening at a steady rate.
We want to introduce you to six breweries that weren’t even around when Beer Week started in 2009. From urban brewers to local farmhouse operations (with a suburbanite or two in between), this sudsy sextet is embracing local ingredients and local community to carry on the long tradition of Maryland beer.
Monument City Brewing Company
Began Production: 2014
Founders: Kennith and Matthew Praay
Head Brewer: Matthew Praay
“What would we brew if we had a brewery?” That was the question brothers Kennith and Matthew Praay used to challenge each other with over long Skype conversations. Matthew, stationed overseas as a government contractor, had little access to the microbrews Kennith would describe from his new hometown of Baltimore, so the two would trade tasting notes and memories of beers they had homebrewed together after college. “It was a fun exercise,” recalls Ken Praay.
In 2013, on the brothers’ annual hike of the Appalachian Trail, they realized that all their brainstorming looked a lot like a business plan, so they decided it was time to move forward accordingly. Setting up operations at Peabody Heights Brewery Co-op in Waverly, Monument City Brewing released its first bottled brews—a rye IPA and an American brown ale—in October 2014. “We’re going to focus on traditional, American styles and then work from there,” explains Matt Praay, who, as the company’s brewer admits that there’s a bit of a learning curve in transitioning from brewing 20 gallons to 2,000 gallons.
Working with Peabody Heights allowed the brothers “to get to market a little quicker and build brand recognition,” though the plan is to open their own facility eventually, says Ken Praay. “We want to brew the best beer that we can and hopefully make Baltimore proud.”
Jailbreak Brewing Company
Began Production: 2014
Founders: Justin Bonner and Kasey Turner
Head Brewer: Clay Baines
What do you call a kosher brewery with five brewers whose best-selling beer is an IPA brewed with jalapeños? Try “a resounding success.” Founded in 2013 by Justin Bonner and Kasey Turner, Jailbreak Brewing Company in Laurel has blazed their own course with a unique set-up and some one-of-a-kind brews.
The business partners chose to keep the brewery kosher, Turner explains, because they believe “it shows discipline and an adherence to process and the highest standards of cleanliness.” The combination of five brewers, who bring experience from other established breweries like Flying Dog and Dogfish Head, allows for innovation and even a touch of “wizardry,” says Turner, with lots of room for experimentation. (Look for a seasonal carrot cake beer to join the flagship IPA, orange hefeweizen, and amber ales available now). Even their tasting room model is unusual. Patrons can observe brewing operations, watch sports on large screen TVs or relax in a lounge area. But Jailbreak’s license as a classified production brewery prohibits the company from owning a restaurant and making food, so the brewery invites food trucks to visit the premises. BYOF, anyone?
Manor Hill Brewing
Began Production: 2015
Founders: Randy & Mary Marriner and daughters, Rachael and Tori
Head Brewer: Ben Little
Location: Ellicott City
Randy Marriner admits he likes to be first. He was an investor in Iron Bridge Wine Company, Columbia’s first wine bar. His family’s restaurant, Victoria Gastro Pub, which opened in 2007, set the bar for other Howard County taverns with its impressive selection of craft beer on tap. And now, with Manor Hill Brewing, Marriner has established Howard County’s first farm brewery.
In 2011, after purchasing a 54-acre farm in Ellicott City that was equally dedicated to field crops and cattle, the Marriners learned about Denver’s Oskar Blues Brewery, a comparably sized Colorado farm with similar agricultural output that also produced beer. Inspired, the family—husband and wife, Randy and Mary, and their daughters Rachael and Tori—decided to pursue the then-relatively new Maryland farm brewing license.
In 2014, Manor Hill Brewing became the first farm brewery in Howard County, beginning production in 2015 under the direction of Ben Little, who has a background in both brewing (PUSH American Brewing Company) and beer sales (Flying Dog Brewery). “Making beer is very precise,” says Marriner. “Ben is like a chemist.” Little’s brewery includes a 15-barrel brewhouse where he can experiment with at least four homegrown hop varieties to make a variety of beers, including two India Pale Ales, a farmhouse-style saison, and Farm Fuzz, a Belgian-style witbier made expressly for Randy Marriner.
With Manor Hill beers available at Victoria Gastro Pub and on draft at locations throughout Baltimore and the region, Marriner couldn’t be happier. “We’ve caught the wave,” he says confidently. “We’re riding the craft beer explosion.”
Union Craft Brewing Company
Began production: 2012
Founders: Jon Zerivitz, Adam Benesch and Kevin Blodger
Head Brewer: Kevin Blodger
When Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger and Jon Zerivitz started Union Craft Brewing in 2012, they had no idea they would be at the vanguard of new craft breweries in Baltimore. True, theirs was the first new brewery to open in Baltimore in 30 years, but at the time, they were more concerned about being young fathers leaving stable jobs to embark on a dream project. But in just a few short years, Union Craft has led the way for a whole new generation of breweries with their German and American-style beers in the distinctive cans with the Baltimore-based names, like Duckpin Pale Ale and Balt Altbier.
“What defines us is that we make beers the beer snobs and beer geeks can appreciate and enjoy, but we also have something accessible for someone new to craft beer to enjoy,” explains Blodger, the brewery’s head brewer.
The brewery has already undergone several expansions at their Woodberry location and is anticipating another in the near future. Though unsure where they might move, is emphatic that the brewery will remain in Baltimore City. “The community here has been really, really great and we are so very happy and proud to be part of it,” he says. “We want to keep on growing and keep brewing great beer for Baltimore.”
Key Brewing Company
Began Production: September 2015
Founders: Spike Owen and Mike McDonald
Head Brewer: Mike McDonald
One of the Baltimore area’s newest breweries is in one of the oldest neighborhoods: Dundalk. Located off of Wise Avenue, near the Sparrows Point Country Club, Key Brewing, a collaboration between Mike McDonald, a longtime brewer at White Marsh’s Red Brick Station, and restaurant consultant Spike Owen, began production in September. The two bring over 25 years of brewing experience to the table. “We’ve been in the business long enough to know craft beer, and it isn’t going anywhere,” says Owen. “It’s only growing.”
Along with kegs, the partners at Key are offering their flagship version of a West Coast-style amber, in cans. An Octoberfest-style beer will follow in October.
Although it’s early days for the brewery, the plans have been in the works for a long time. “This has been our dream for five years,” explains Owen. “We want to contribute great, drinkable beer to Maryland’s great brewing scene.”
Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm
Began Production: 2013
Founders: Tom Barse and Carolann McConaughy
Head Brewer: Thomas Vaudin
Location: Mt. Airy
Milkhouse Brewery owner Tom Barse was a lawyer, high school teacher and farmer before becoming a full-time brewer, so it’s not surprising that his Stillpoint Farm multitasks as well. The farm produces hay and hops. There’s an apiary on the property, as well as a pumpkin patch. And the wool that’s sold in the brewery tasting room? That’s from the herd of Leicester Longwool, a rare breed of sheep known for their lustrous fleece.
But Barse’s traditional-style beers are the main draw for visitors to Milkhouse, which became Maryland’s first farmhouse brewery in 2013. This particular designation demands that the beer be produced on a licensed farm with at least one ingredient from the state of Maryland. Not a challenge, according to Barse. “The way we look at it, the brewery is just one aspect of farm life,” he says. “We grow our own grain or get it from neighbors. We use our own hops. We even use chamomile and honey that we produce ourselves.”
Though Barse has several decades of homebrewing under his belt, he’s hired Thomas Vaudin, formerly of Growlers Brewpub in Gaithersburg, to be his head brewer. “He’s very serious about his craft,” Barse says of Vaudin. “I feel fortunate to have him.” The two men began by using Barse’s recipes for classic English-style beers like porter and extra special bitter, but now collaborate on brews. Two new beers will be made from fruit from Maryland orchards, something that excites the brewer-farmer. “I want our beer to reflect our local agricultural roots.”
Baltimore Beer Week
Dust off your pint glasses and vintage steins! The 7th annual Baltimore Beer Week (baltimorebeerweek.com) runs Oct. 9-18 in various locations throughout the city. Co-founded by Dominic Cantalupo and Joe Gold in 2009, Beer Week, says Gold, a sales manager for Heavy Seas Beer, “raises awareness and re-invigorates the local beer community.” Each year, the event has grown and “gotten more mature,” he adds, as beer drinkers have become more knowledgeable about their craft beverage of choice.
Beer Week kicks off with a luncheon at Union Craft Brewing in Woodberry catered by their neighbor, Birroteca. Other events include a gruit tasting (gruit is beer made without hops) by a local home brew club, a class at Baltimore Clayworks where students can create their own drinking vessels, and a derby race of beer can cars sponsored by Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar in Federal Hill. Even the Baltimore City Department of Public Works is getting in on the fun: The department will display kegs of Baltimore drinking water at several events to showcase the quality of the water which is the base of all Baltimore beer (natch).