Empty bottles waiting to be filled at the Evolution Craft Brewing Company in 2009.

Empty bottles waiting to be filled at the Evolution Craft Brewing Company in 2009. (Algerina Perna)

Evolution Brewing Craft Company will move to Maryland from Delaware next February, the company has confirmed.

The move is a coup for the Maryland craft industry. Since it opened in April 2009, Evolution has become one of Delaware's major microbreweries. Over 4,500 barrels of beer are expected to be brewed this year, according to the company. 

Along with five new microbreweries that have opened or will open by next year in Maryland, Evolution's move brings the total of craft breweries in the state to at least 20, according to the Brewers Association of Maryland.

Evolution president Tom Knorr confirmed talk of the move this week. He said the company has maxed out the Delmar, Delaware brewpub where it's operated from since the brewery's start.

"We've grown fast and people seem to really like our beer," he said.

Knorr said real estate and government funds attracted Evolution to Maryland, which has been criticized in for being hostile to the craft industry.

In Salisbury, the company found an old ice plant that was affordable and, at 40,000-square feet, can accommodate significant growth. The place is in the heart of the city, on U.S. Route 13.

While it expects to increase production to at least 8,000 barrels in the near future, Knorr said the new facility has enough space to accommodate a 50,000-barrel brewhouse.

The company also received a Maryland Economic Development Assistance Fund that it will use in the construction of the new facility.

Knorr said construction has already started and the new brewery and brewpub should be functional by February.

Craft breweries have said Maryland's franchise laws and July's alcohol sales tax increase have discouraged the industry's growth. Franchise laws, designed to protect beer distributors, make it cost-prohibitive for brewers to sever contracts.

Knorr said friendlier franchise laws would make Maryland competitive with Delaware and Washington D.C.

The sales tax has not been a preoccupation for Evolution. "It just stinks for consumers," he said. Evolution's sales are likely to be affected only at stores on the border between Maryland and Delaware.

He is more concerned about an excise tax, which some legislators have suggested is again a possibility next year.