Heady times are brewing for state's beer drinkers

January 05, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Beer aficionados can expect more Maryland brew to pour from bottles and taps in the coming months as the popularity of small, specialized breweries continues to spread.

The most recent of these tiny -- at least by Anheuser-Busch's and other national breweries' standards -- operations opened in Frederick -- the Frederick Brewing Co., offering its Blue Ridge line of beer.

"We're seeing an emergence of small specialty beers in Maryland," said Lou Berman, an investigator with the state comptroller's office, which licenses breweries. "Maryland used to have a tradition of local beers, and the idea is catching on again."

The Frederick Brewing Co., which began bottling its Blue Ridge beer in November in a renovated building in downtown Frederick, joins Oxford Brewing in Linthicum and Wild Goose on the Eastern Shore in providing Marylanders with their own regionally brewed and bottled beer.

"A hundred years ago, there was a brewery located in every town," said Dan Adams, an assistant administrator in the comptroller's office. "For one reason or another, they fell by the wayside.

"Now we're seeing a proliferation of little breweries."

Small breweries, producers of distinctive, quality beers, have long been a fixture in West Coast cities such as Seattle and Portland, Ore. Maryland and the East Coast were largely untapped markets.

"It's breaking all regional barriers now," said Lori Tullberg-Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Institute of Beer Studies in Boulder, Colo. "There are quite a few breweries now in New England and on the East Cost. People are demanding more from their beer."

There was a time when more than 1,500 breweries operated in the United States, Ms. Tullberg-Kelly said. But Prohibition, World War II and the mass marketing of beer killed a lot of local breweries.

Today, there are 423 breweries of various sizes and varieties in the United States, including brew pubs and micro-breweries, she said.

"People are learning more about beer and becoming more curious," Ms. Tullberg-Kelly said. "The beer industry is where the wine industry was 15 years ago when most people didn't know there was more than just white or red wine. People didn't know there were merlots, cabernets and pinots."

Besides the state's three small breweries and the much larger Heileman Brewing Co., Maryland is home to Oliver Breweries, a brew pub in Baltimore, and two micro-breweries: Baltimore Brewing Co. and Sisson's Restaurant, and the South Baltimore Brewing Co., both in Baltimore.

These small brewers have opened in Maryland in the past five years. Mr. Adams of the comptroller's office said licenses are pending for a brew pub in Gaithersburg, Montgomery County, and for a brewery near Heileman's.

"There's a ton of people out there wanting to start breweries," Mr. Berman said. "We get inquiries from all around the state. There's interest in a lot of these older towns."

Dean Aubel, a retired radio station owner, hopes to bring beer brewing back to Cumberland with the Queen City Brewing and Baking Co., which is already brewing beer under contract in Baltimore.

Cumberland's previous brewery closed in 1974.

"Cumberland has no business like this," Mr. Aubel said. "Interstate 68 is a very popular east-west highway and a lot of traffic comes through Cumberland. There's a lot of focus on tourism here. I think we're at the right place at the right time."

The Frederick Brewing Co.'s operators, Kevin Brannon and his wife, Marjorie McGinnis, traded respective careers in law and psychology to brew beer in Frederick.

The Shepherdstown, W. Va. couple, after nearly two years of research and raising $750,000 in financial backing, chose to brew in Frederick because of its thriving downtown and proximity to Baltimore and Washington. Frederick's previous brewery closed 54 years ago.

So far, the response to Blue Ridge beer has been favorable, Mr. Brannon said.

The company can brew about 3,600 gallons of beer a year, but is already looking to expand its operations to meet demand.

"We have our capacity sold out to January," Mr. Brannon said.

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