Until recently, Brewer's Alley has produced its own beer in-house or contract-brewed out of Frederick's Flying Dog, the state's largest brewery — about 900 barrels a year, or about 1,600 kegs. Careful to avoid the missteps of the '90s, it had been biding its time to expand.
"Out of the wineries that went bust, came out wineries that did know what they were doing, and they built the base for much more enduring and persistent growth of California wine today," he said. "In craft, now we've got this second wave, and it's building on the foundation of the clearing-out that happened in the '90s. The only people who get in the game now are people who are really good."
The brewers bought a former ice cream factory 10 minutes away from downtown Frederick six months ago, and opened Monocacy in September.
With its five tanks, it can brew 20 to 25 barrels at a time for an estimated annual output of 1,000 barrels. It has enough real estate, though, that Flores said could accommodate enough tanks to produce as many as 20,000 barrels a year, or about 40,000 kegs.
"Come next spring and into summer, we'll step into the accelerator to get to the point where we can sell all over the state," Flores said.
An uphill battle
The new batch of breweries is a surprising development for veterans of the regional industry, who describe Maryland as hostile to brewers. The state forbids brewers from self-distributing, a challenge for small businesses because it puts them at the mercy of wholesalers.
The state's franchise laws also make it costly to sever ties to a distributor if the relationship isn't working. In states with laxer franchise laws, like California and Oregon, the craft beer industry has flourished, Gatza said.
And brewers also say the increase of the sales tax on alcohol by three cents on the dollar, which is expected to raise as much as $87 million for school construction and other educational programs, makes them less competitive to other states in the region with robust beer audiences, like Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Advocates of the sales tax argue it will create more competition and perhaps even lower prices for consumers.
Still, these laws haven't stopped new brewers from getting into the business and craft beer sales from escalating. The Mid-Atlantic has seen sales grow faster than any other region in the country except the Southeast, about 16.4 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to the Brewers Association.
Brewers acknowledge that the current laws won't put anyone out of business. But they say a change in the law — like allowing micro-breweries to self-distribute — would encourage more to get into the business.
"We're succeeding in spite of Annapolis," Flores said.
A more pressing matter is whether the current boom will be a repeat of the last one. Franklin said the new brewers are better equipped to survive because they're less capital-intensive than their '90s counterparts, with costs staying under a million dollars in start-up funds.
"If they can gradually build their business while supporting themselves with something else, then they'll have a different outcome than the first wave," Franklin said. The brewers of the '90s were also less beer-savvy than those now, who are coming out from semi-professional backgrounds, and produced more mediocre product.
But, a boom is a boom. "What will happen is the same thing that happened in the last wave. Some will survive; others won't," Franklin said. Referring to the market at large, he said it "probably won't be able to support them all."
Flores plans to cultivate Monocacy just like he does his beer – with patience, and an eye toward the future.
"It took us 15 years to get to this point. I think that says we're not in it for a quick buck," he said. "We fully appreciate that this is going to take a while to make a return."
His first brew for Monocacy will be a rye-based India pale ale, an extension of a project with a Frederick farm to grow his own barley. Eventually, he wants the farm to be its own brewery as well.