Beer Made Here?

February 04, 1994

One of the most astounding trends in changing consumer preferences is the stagnation and decline of many major brands of beer. Only a decade after it threatened to eradicate smaller rivals, Budweiser is among the beer labels seeing its market share plummet. A number of one-time premium brands -- Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon, among others -- are being sold at bargain basement prices.

The new growth leaders, meanwhile, are light beers and the formerly little-known products of some smaller breweries. Yingling, a Pennsylvania brewery reputed to have been the first to get its brew out after Prohibition, raised its price in recent years, limited its distribution and is now considered prestige suds. Boston's Samuel Adams and New York's Brooklyn are other brands much in demand beyond their regions.

A quite different growth category are local microbreweries and their little cousins, brew pubs. They represent a minuscule share of the nation's beer market, but each year seems to bring more microbreweries and brew pubs.

Those monikers are often used interchangeably but that's inaccurate. A brew pub is an operation that brews and sells its product on the premises. A microbrewery, in contrast, brews its specialty labels under its own name or under a contract to others and sells them through distributors.

Maryland's pioneering post-Prohibition microbrewery -- known today as Oxford Brewing Co. -- opened in 1988 in a Glen Burnie industrial park and operated under a regular brewery license. A number of brew pubs -- which can make 2,000 barrels of beer annually -- have since opened, mostly in Baltimore City.

But as demand for these individualistic brews has increased, many operators realize they need a microbrewery license, which would allow them to brew 10,000 barrels -- or 310,000 gallons -- of the foamy stuff a year.

Now comes news that three local businessmen want to establish Howard County's first restaurant that brews and serves its own beer. They are seeking legislation from the General Assembly that would enable Howard County to create a new category of licenses for microbreweries. Meanwhile, another bill before the legislature seeks to create a new license category in Anne Arundel County that would allow tavern-based microbreweries in the historic capital city.

All this activity might just make life here a little tastier.

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