The legislative session is underway in Annapolis, and it is time to bring our thoughts back to beer. Coincidentally, last week’s issue of Bay Weekly covered this very subject, brewing.
Over the past year a rather intense debate has illuminated craft brewing in Maryland, blinding us from some of the more crucial issues surrounding this industry. I have often been asked why those who do not drink beer should concern themselves with HB518, also known as the Reform on Tap Act of 2018. It is quite simple, really. Maryland craft breweries save Main Street, and they save the Chesapeake Bay.
Every time a craft brewery opens, it acts as a catalyst, and a predictable chain of events follows. It may begin with craft beer, but by no means is that where it ends. Craft breweries are one of the top job creators in the nation. Maryland’s craft breweries are responsible for 6,541 jobs. Those salaries are fed directly back into the local economies at gas stations, retail shops, grocers, restaurants, hotels and housing developments. They are the match igniting the flames of neighborhood revitalization.
Most breweries choose to locate in economically underserved areas. Breweries help rebuild these depressed, nearly forgotten towns through jobs, infrastructure, money and ultimately an infusion of people acting as good stewards. We have already witnessed this phenomenon in several neighborhoods across Maryland.
For environmentalists, the best part of supporting HB518 is the indelible, positive impact it will have on Chesapeake Bay. The beauty of supporting (and drinking if one so desires) local craft beer is the need for malting grains to brew the beer. Any local brewer will tell you they prefer to use local malts and hops but are forced to buy grain outside of Maryland due to the limited availability. Malting grains, specifically barley and rye, are excellent crops for the farmers and for the Bay. These plants actually hold harmful nutrients (like nitrogen) in the pulp of the plant instead of allowing them to leach into the soil, and eventually the Bay. Nitrogen is one of the leading agents destroying the fragile ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Farmers have been seeking more Bay-friendly crops to help save their farms but were hindered by the dearth of malt houses in the region to process the harvested grain. The number of area malt houses has tripled due to the overwhelming demand by Maryland breweries for local grain.
Maryland has reaped the benefits of craft breweries from the $228 million in annual wages that save each brewery town, to the demand for locally grown malt that will save the Chesapeake Bay. This is why you should care about craft breweries in Maryland. This is why each and every one of us should support HB518 and remove the shackles constraining this industry’s growth.
This legislation is truly about growing our economy and saving the Chesapeake.