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For local breweries, a heady time

Dining and DrinkingBars and ClubsLaws and LegislationDistilling and Brewing IndustryRestaurant and Catering Industry

Cousins Dan Baumiller and Nick Fertig launched Full Tilt Brewing in December, brewing beers in the basement of Baumiller's Sykesville home.

Now, less than a year later, Full Tilt beers are on tap at more than 180 bars and restaurants and sold at more than 500 stores across the state.

"We're just two home brewers who are trying to go into business," Baumiller said. "There's so much interest in local beers right now. We hope to open our own brewery in a couple years."

It's heady time for Maryland brewers like Baumiller and Fertig. Interest in local beer is at an all-time high, with restaurants and bars seeking a frequently rotating selection of unique and seasonal brews, according to industry leaders.

"People like local beer because it's accessible," said Ben Savage, president of the Brewers Association of Maryland. "You can actually shake hands with the person who brews your beer."

A decade ago, a dozen brewers were members of the association. Today, there are 28 breweries, said Savage, who is also the chief marketing officer for Frederick's Flying Dog Brewery.

The association lobbied hard in recent years to relax the state's laws for breweries, many of which dated back to the period just after the end of Prohibition, Savage said. Now customers can buy a glass of beer at local breweries, which was illegal a few years ago, he said.

Sales of craft beer in Maryland grew 18 percent by volume in 2012, according to the association. That growth came as total beer sales grew just 0.9 percent by volume nationwide.

Representatives from many of the state's breweries attended the Maryland Brewer's Harvest at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Saturday. Attendees were given a small tasting glass and plastic coins to trade for beer samples. Some of the state's top chefs, such as Bryan Voltaggio of Frederick's Volt restaurant, offered small plates of food to accompany the beer.

Jon Zerivitz, 34, a co-founder of Woodberry's Union Craft Brewing, said interest in small-batch breweries is linked to the increasing desire for locally grown foods.

"There's a whole generation of young people who are growing up without Coors Light, who are just into craft beers," he said.

Union Craft's sales have grown rapidly since June 2012, when it became the first brewery to open in the city in 30 years, he said.

The brewery is about to begin canning its third beer, Black Wing Lager, and now offers Thursday and Friday happy hours as well as Saturday brewery tours, Zerivitz said.

Eli Breitburg-Smith, 27, a brewer for recently opened Peabody Heights Brewery in Waverly, said he sees the potential for more breweries to open in the state, particularly in the Baltimore area.

"There's a lot of room in Baltimore for more beer," Breitburg-Smith said. He formerly brewed beer in an Oregon town about a sixth of the size of Baltimore that supported 20 local breweries.

Breitburg-Smith currently tends 15 beers at Peabody Heights, a large facility that allows smaller breweries to rent space.

Full Tilt, the company started in December by Baumiller and Fertig, is among the breweries that use space at Peabody Heights.

The cousins, who are both 29, have full-time jobs, but spend nearly every free moment brewing or promoting their beers.

"We've been hitting every bar we can" with samples, Baumiller said. "One night we drove out to Frederick. Another time we went to Ocean City."

The cousins tap into the demand for new flavors by creating seasonal brews such as a rich, spicy Patterson Pumpkin ale and a slightly sweet Fleet St. Raspberry Wheat. They plan to introduce a Berger Cookie Chocolate Stout, brewed with the iconic local flavor, later this month.

Many of those who attended the Maryland Brewer's Harvest said they experimented with home brewing, which Tanya Janish, 30, of Laurel, described as a "messy and time-consuming," but ultimately rewarding hobby.

Her husband, Scott Janish, also 30, found the profusion of local breweries inspiring.

"Every homebrewer wants to be the guy behind the table," he said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

twitter.com/juliemore

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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