A Toast to FeBREWary

Photo: Mary Bell Photography

By Keri Luise & Molly Weeks Crumbley

The world of craft beer has exploded. Never before have we had so many options to slake our thirst. February is the time to explore the growing local market of craft beers.

Dubbed FeBREWary by the Brewers Association of Maryland, this month showcases the Old Line State’s growing brewery industry, home to over 120 breweries supporting 7,100 full-time jobs and $956 million in economic impact. Particularly in the last decade, more and more craft breweries have been established in Chesapeake Bay Country, each with its own unique flavors and styles.

The Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM) is a non-profit trade association representing licensed breweries and breweries in planning throughout the state. According to Jim Bauckman, BAM director of communications, “The association’s mission is to protect and promote the brewing industry in Maryland” through legislative advocacy, events, and general promotion of the industry.

And so along comes the month of FeBREWary, also known as Maryland Craft Beer Lovers Month, to celebrate the growth of local beer both in popularity and quantity. The beer-imbibing community is invited and encouraged to visit local breweries, participate in beer events, and seek out Maryland beer at local retailers.

“FeBREWary is our state’s opportunity to celebrate and enjoy Maryland-made beer,” Bauckman says. “This includes the 147 licensed breweries operating in the state, hundreds of local retailers focused on Maryland beer, and a growing complement of local wholesalers wishing to represent and sell locally produced beer.”

As the beer industry matures so have consumer expectations. Breweries have become an anticipated part of many tourism experiences and according to Bauckman, these breweries help to shape culture in their communities and contribute to the local “vibe.”

Anne Arundel County

Anne Arundel County has a few brewing companies contributing to that local vibe and working hard to grow both in the industry and the community.

Forward Brewing is one brewery with a focus of growth directly in their name as they are constantly getting ready for the future. This nano-brewery and restaurant in the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis opened in May 2020 even though owner and founder (and new father) Cam Bowdren says the idea of this brewery was conceived 12 years before opening.

“But Maryland was a little behind in creating opportunities for small breweries to open and prosper in smaller downtown areas at that time,” Bowdren says. “That eventually changed and we were able to finally pursue this dream.”

As the only brewing company in Eastport, Forward Brewing focuses on being uniquely local.

“We try to remain consistent in being inconsistent in style…we rarely brew the same beer twice,” Bowdren says. “Since most of our beer is brewed in house and then sold through draft, we are also not necessarily held to super tight margins and so we don’t have to skimp on ingredients.”

The taproom is also a full restaurant—something a bit uncommon within the brewing industry. According to Bowdren, “it brings another level of challenge running a restaurant, but at the same time we are glad to not have to rely on food trucks and we are able to serve more of our customers’ needs.”

In Forward’s planning stage, they sought help and guidance from BAM as they began to deal with licensing through the state, Bowdren says. “In many ways, the only way we were able to make Forward happen when and where it has is due to BAM and other breweries working to change and update Maryland code over the past years.”

For the month of FeBREWary, Forward has several new beer releases coming out. First, they have Steamy Windows, a steam beer, being released on draft and in cans with artwork by a long-time regular and Forward Run Club leader. They also will be releasing an imperial IPA, a lagered IPA, a barrel-aged Belgian tripel, and an orange-chocolate sour throughout the month.

In the northern portion of the county sits another thriving and vibing community brewery: Pherm Brewing Company in Gambrills, founded by two friends based on their love of art, live music and quality beer.

Co-owners Billy Abbott and Henry Jager met at a Phish concert in 2013 through mutual friends and instantly clicked over their love of beer and music. According to Abbott, they chatted daily about opening a brewery until one day they finally decided to go through with it, raised enough money and signed a 10-year lease in February 2020. And then the entire world shut down. They built their brewery throughout quarantine and opened in December 2020 when the county was still at 25 percent capacity.

“I call it the softest soft opening ever because we didn’t even have a bar top, we did all crowlers to-go,” Abbott says. “And it’s still our biggest day that we’ve ever had.”

Learning to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbot says they quickly realized they needed a canning line. Abbot says, “If people couldn’t come into the brewery to sit down and have a beer then we had to get it to the people somehow.” Pherm’s beer is in all major craft beer package good stores throughout Maryland and Delaware.

Pherm has a 12-tap system, always with unique beer styles from their dry hop pilsner and double gose to their barrel-aged beers with local barrels from Sagamore Spirits and Great Wolf Distilling. “We like to collaborate with a lot of other local businesses like Rise Up coffee,” Abbott says. “We do a Mallow Out Marshmallow Coffee Stout with Rise Up coffee in it. That is one of our most popular beers.”

Pherm Brewing focuses on supporting everything local from live local music on the weekends and open mic nights to artwork on their walls by local artists. “We are all part of this community and that really means a lot to us,” Abbot says.

Pherm Brewing Co. is also a part of the BAM and has valued their assistance with establishing their brewery to be what it is today.

“They have been amazing to us since day zero, way before we knew what we were doing,” Abbott says. “We cannot stress to anyone who is looking to open a brewery in the state how much they mean to the brewing industry and how much they helped us along the way.”

For the month of FeBREWary, Pherm is participating in Pub Night in Easton, Stews and Brews Festival on the Eastern Shore, as well as their first-ever Valentine’s Day beer dinner event in partnership with Underground Pizza Co. Pherm will also have a few new bottle releases including one called Norwegian Wood and another called Rye-Stikk.

Crooked Crab Brewing Company founders.

Just a few miles up the road is Crooked Crab Brewing Company in Odenton, the brainchild of three Maryland natives and University of Maryland graduates: Earl Holman, Alex Josephs and Daniel Messeca.

“We were inspired by the idea of starting a brewery that would make Marylanders proud,” Holman says. “We opened in February 2018 as the first Class 5 production brewery in the county.”

Crooked Crab anchors their mission on diversity as Holman says they don’t specialize in any one thing or any one style. “As a community gathering space, we recognize that everyone’s tastes are different and people’s preferences are different, as such we strive to have a very diverse set of beers on tap at all times in order to accommodate every single person who walks through the door,” Holman says. “No matter what you like, we will have something delicious and fresh for you.”

The Odenton brewery constantly produces new seasonals almost weekly to keep their clientele of locals and beer enthusiasts excited.

“We also strive to have a very family friendly atmosphere in our taproom,” Holman says. “We offer board games and a chalkboard wall to keep children entertained, we have dog treats for the dogs. We see a lot of local regulars keep coming back and have almost created a family within our community, which was one of our main goals.”

Crooked Crab has been linked with BAM ever since they joined them as a brewery-in-planning, and according to Holman, “they have been instrumental in helping us navigate federal, state, and county legislation. BAM has been lobbying the state legislature on our behalf to help modernize and update many of the laws governing breweries.”

It just so happens that the month of FeBREWary is also Crooked Crab Brewing Co’s anniversary, and they will be celebrating their 4th birthday on Feb. 19 with a release of multiple new beers in cans and also some special barrel-aged brews in bottles.

A close neighbor to Pherm Brewing Co. is the quaint brewery and taproom Chesepiooc Real Ale Brewery, which opened in February 2018 as the first production brewery and taproom in Anne Arundel County.

“We are a tiny brewery, doing small batches of a large variety of beers,” says Jon Esposito. “We also offer a range of cask conditioned real ales,” beer that is neither filtered nor pasteurized, making it carbonated and ready to drink straight from the cask.

         Esposito says Chesepiooc Brewery does not chase trends but instead focuses on “brewing a range of both traditional and fun, untraditional beers and styles served on both draft and cask. We are a draft-only brewery and we don’t distribute outside of the brewery taproom.”

“The idea of ‘traditional and untraditional’ beers and styles in small batches on both draft and cask lets us be creative in ways others just can’t be—as we can take risks on small batches that other brewers may hesitate committing a large batch to,” Esposito says.

         Being a small brewery also allows for Chesepiooc to offer a unique guest brewer program in which people can come in and brew beer and have it on tap later. One surprise at this Crofton brewery: Chesepiooc has a line of Dog Beers (safe, non-alcoholic, non-toxic) for their four-legged visitors.

“Our goal is to be the neighborhood brewery and taproom for the Crofton community and we keep our focus on Anne Arundel County in general,” Esposito says.

Calvert County

In the past decade, the brewing scene has started to fully emerge in Calvert County as well, beginning with the 2013 founding of Mully’s Brewery in Prince Frederick. Co-owner Cindy Mullikin explains that she and her partner Jason Mullikin “began as homebrewers and really fell in love with the brewing process, the variety of beer styles, and the balance between art and science that is needed for brewing beer.”

Mully’s beer flight.

Once they decided to turn their hobby into a business venture, they divided and conquered, with Jason pursuing formal education from the World Brewing Academy and the Siebel Institute of Technology and Cindy taking on the business side of operations. Then, as Cindy says, they “found our current location, took a deep breath and a leap of faith, and have been brewing ever since!”

In addition to being the first production brewery in Calvert, Mully’s is one of the few women-owned breweries in Maryland. Cindy is currently serving her fifth year on the board of the Brewers Association of Maryland, where she also previously served for two years as the first female president.

Mully’s has two different size brewing systems on their premises, as well as an on-site taproom and outdoor seating. Cindy says, “I think our customers like seeing the brewing equipment, knowing that the beer they are drinking traveled a total of 50 feet.” They also run their own canning operation and offer them for sale to businesses around the community. Coming up February 9 through Feb. 13, Mully’s will be offering a chocolate and beer pairing, which can be enjoyed on-site or to go.

In the northern end of the county, Owings microbrewery Scorpion Brewery opened its doors to the public in October 2014. Scorpion, open Thursday through Sunday, is uniquely family and pet friendly, boasting kid-favorite activities like foosball, Frogger, and a cozy fire pit. They host different food trucks each week and also offer free musical performances for customers to enjoy. Beers can be enjoyed to stay or to go, as they offer growler and crowler fills.

Owner Brian Dailey, originally a hobby homebrewer, says that Scorpion’s biggest success is the community they have built over the past few years. “We have been able to build a very loyal set of customers who are willing to help us out when we need it and help provide a welcoming environment to all who visit. Oftentimes if we are busy, some of our Stein Club members can be seen bussing tables for us.”

Like the Mullikins, Dailey is also an active member of the Brewers Association. “They were instrumental in helping pass legislation that allowed us to succeed,” he says. He adds that his association with BAM is also “a great way to get together with other brewers to form bonds over great beer.”

To further that bond in the greater community, Scorpion also hosts an active homebrew club that encourages others to explore the art of beer production. In the past, they have held homebrew competitions and given brewers the chance to have their creations on tap for customers to try. Scorpion tries to release new beers each Thursday, and Dailey says that they will be releasing their famous vanilla porter on Feb. 10 in time for Valentine’s Day.

Elsewhere in Calvert County, two newer home-based breweries have emerged: Gypsy Brewing Company and Greenspring Brewing. Though neither has a dedicated taproom yet, they have nonetheless become mainstays in the community through their presence at local events, restaurants, and liquor stores.

Gypsy, a veteran-owned production brewery based in Huntingtown since 2017, specializes in historic beers and local ingredients. Gypsy’s brewer and owner Eric Christensen explains “We brew in small batches using Maryland grown and malted grains and fruit whenever possible. We brew beers that you don’t find in other places.” Currently, he is in the middle of what he has dubbed the Winter of Smoke, as he is working on making four different smoked beers using beechwood and alder.

He and his wife Heather got hooked on homebrewing after taking a class in Oregon in 1993. From then on, he shares, “I was hooked on beer culture and community. I brewed at every duty station and continued to refine recipes, learning from others through membership in local homebrew clubs and competing both regionally and nationally. The name Gypsy Brewing Company came from the fact that we moved around a lot, but brewing remained a constant.”

He and Heather run the two-barrel production out of their home, with her managing social media and creating their labels and him brewing and making deliveries and appearances at local events. In addition to running Gypsy, Christensen is a member of BAM as well, serving on their Events Committee.

Greenspring Brewing Company, based out of Chesapeake Beach, has gained a solid customer fan base thanks to their appearances at events and farmer’s markets throughout southern Maryland. Before COVID-19, they had a seasonal tap at The Wheel House Beer Garden in North Beach, and their brews can currently be found on tap at JesseJay’s in Churchton and Hook & Vine in North Beach. Cans, growlers, and crowlers are also available for delivery.

“It’s an exciting time to be a brewery in Southern Maryland,” says owner Joe Puttlitz. “There is a lot of interest in craft beer here and the community is very supportive. It’s just great to be a part of that type of environment.”

         The pandemic had an impact on brewery operations across the board, and all the businesses had to pivot and adapt to stay open. At Mully’s, the owners had to invest in more equipment to accommodate a shift to to-go sales. Additionally, Cindy explains, “We then had to manage the aluminum shortage and supply chain issues so our ordering process needed more lead time. We needed to find new vendors and unfortunately we had to pay more for all of our ingredients and packaging supplies. Even the price of carbon dioxide went up…the cost of bubbles!”

At Scorpion, Dailey and his staff were able to successfully adjust their site to be a safe place for customers to grab their orders. They created a to-go area in their garage and portable tap system, purchased outdoor stand heaters and fire tables for the winter months, and built out a patio for outdoor seating. Now that regulations have changed, Dailey says, “We offer inside and outside service to ensure customers can visit us in whatever way they feel safest.”

Both Gypsy and Greenspring have been able to connect with customers during the pandemic through beer deliveries in Calvert and Anne Arundel Counties. Gypsy, which originally only bottled some of their products, began bottling everything they made to get their beers out for delivery and retail more easily, an operational shift that accounted for a 20 percent growth in production in the last year.

Whether you’re seeking a taphouse tasting experience, a growler fill, or home delivery, breweries in Calvert and Anne Arundel Counties are ready to help you celebrate FeBREWary by drinking local.