Coffee and Beer: Annapolis' Lifeblood

February 04, 1994

Isn't it wonderful how history repeats itself? A description of Annapolis life circa 1775 relates how the "Annapolis coffee-house was the resort of the gentry," while the ordinary people gathered at the Duke of Cumberland, the Indian King and a Church Street tavern popularly known as the "Three Blue-Balls." Apparently referring to their most popular brews, the chronicler observed that "there must have been a 'golden horse,' a 'black bear' and a 'white swan' creak in concert of a stormy night."

Well, last year was a boom time for new gourmet coffee houses which cropped up like mushrooms after rain in Annapolis. And, if pending legislation clears General Assembly hurdles, this year might give existing taverns the right to brew their own beer, as long as they get the authorization of local liquor boards. What a cackle of foaming suds and happy customers that might produce.

One of the most noticeable trends in the national brewery trade in recent years has been the stagnation and decline of many conventional major brands. Only a decade after it threatened to eradicate smaller rivals, giant Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser is among labels seeing its market share plummet. Various light beers are experiencing growth as are heavily discounted brews.

Another growth category are local microbreweries and their little cousins, brew pubs. Those monikers are often inaccurately used interchangeably. A brew pub is an operation that makes and sells its product on the premises. A microbrewery 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 an Anne Arundel industrial park in 1988 and operated under a regular brewery license.

The legislation now pending before the General Assembly would create a new license category in Anne Arundel County that would allow tavern-based microbreweries with an annual capacity of 10,000 barrels -- or 310,000 gallons -- of beer.

Brew pubs have become increasingly popular in Baltimore City, where several exist. They are the boutiques of beer drinking. They would surely work well in the Annapolis tourist area, although concerns about drunkenness in the historic district will no doubt be a part of the legislative debate.

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