State law spurs farm brewery boom

Associate Editor

BROOKEVILLE, Md. (Nov. 24, 2015) — Things are moving pretty fast for Phil Muth these days. Last week, as he and a work crew tore apart the inside of an old nursery on Georgia Avenue that will house his brewery and tasting room, thousands of pounds of brand-new, bubble-wrapped brewery equipment had been delivered from China and was sitting outside.
It’s all part of a half-a-million-dollar investment that Muth said wouldn’t exist were it not for recently passed state legislation allowing for the creation of farm breweries.
Since the bill passed in 2012, farm breweries have slowly dotted the Maryland landscape, reaching 12 either in operation or about to come online, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland in Baltimore.
Muth’s Brookeville Beer Farm, set to open early next year, is one of the newest. Local governments are jumping in too. Harford County is set to pass legislation next month that would encourage and regulate farm breweries.
“It’s a very vibrant time in Maryland beer,” Atticks said.
The farm brewery bill created a Class 8 farm brewing license that allows farmhouse breweries to brew up to 15,000 barrels a year provided the beer is made with Maryland-grown ingredients — grain, hops or fruit. The breweries are allowed to sell their beer to drink at the facility or off-site, and they can also apply to have special events at the farm. Some breweries can produce more beer because they’re not strictly “farm breweries” but, instead, breweries that just happen to be on a farm with a more typical brewery license.
Muth, the brewery’s co-owner, has five acres adjacent to the brewery site where he grows hops, herbs, spices and fruit such as raspberries, blueberries and honey. The honey’s been particularly troublesome, he said, and they’ve lost bee colonies.
But getting through the regulatory process has been one of Muth’s biggest challenges, he said. He’s waited more than 150 days to receive a federal brewing license.
He said he sold his previous business as a produce wholesaler several years ago and wanted to get back into something agriculture-related and local.
“Small farming,” he said. “Small piece of ground.”
Muth said he’s seen a resurgence of interest in local food and believes people in his region will embrace farm breweries and start more — provided they’re not hampered by local and county regulations, which can make it even more difficult to start a farm brewery.
Some pass more restrictive acreage ordinances requiring large parcels of land, which can be tougher in regions were land is more expensive than it is, say, on the Eastern Shore, Atticks said. So, the association lobbies counties to make their regulations more brewer-friendly.
Still, others have grown quickly. Calvert Brewing Co. in Prince Frederick grew out of Running Hare Vineyard more than a year ago after the legislation passed, said Sam Riley, the company’s operations manager. The farm brewery is currently building a new production facility on 20,000 square feet in nearby Upper Marlboro, and the brand already has four full-time employees. It offers everything from a Flapjack Maple Milk Stout to a Wye Rye and a Route 4 IPA. It’s available at restaurants, bars and several retail locations across the state
“We’ve been pretty busy,” Riley said. “We’ve been lucky and had a really good reception to everything.”
Muth said he anticipates taking advantage of the local food and agritourism movement on his plot of rural land just north of Olney. The brewery building is unique with a large steeple, and he said he’s trying to keep an old farm feel to the facility.
He’s brought on a full-time brewer to manage the brewery’s 10-barrel system, and he said he hopes to make 1,000 barrels in his first year when the brewery opens, likely sometime in February or March.
And hopefully, he said, others will follow.
“I want to see a lot of competition because that’s going to raise the quality of the market,” he said.