Beer for breakfast? Depending on your point of view, that's either the height of indulgence or the depths of depravity.
But if you get to the seventh Maryland Microbrewery Festival at the Union Mills Homestead when the gates open at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, you will at least be able to say you had a Maryland-brewed beer or ale for brunch.
Kidding aside, the Union Mills Homestead's state-sanctioned beer festival is less a refuge for over-indulgers than it is a haven for discerning beer drinkers and dedicated beer makers who take their suds very, very seriously.
At the festival, attendees will have the opportunity to taste modest-sized samples of more than 30 different styles and brands of ale and lager produced by a dozen different microbreweries and brew pubs.
Steve Kranz, secretary and founding member of the Carroll County-based Midnight Homebrewers' League, is in charge of this year's home brew competition, the final rounds of which will be judged at the festival.
He said there were 39 entries last year, and this year he expects even more.
After all, the winning recipe will be brewed and sold commercially by Westminster-based Dog Brewing Co., and — for the first time — the best-of-show brew will also be offered on tap at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, one of the festival's sponsors.
"The number of home brewing entries have grown exponentially over the years," Kranz said.
"In earlier years we really didn't want to open the contest up to too many of the sort of wild variations of beer that many home brewers like to get involved with," he said. "Instead, we limited it to a pretty narrow range of mainstream-style beers. That's because we needed the winner to be a commercially viable beer that Dog Brewing Co. could sell, so we limited the style selections."
But as beer drinkers and home brewers have gradually expanded their palates and become more adventurous in their tastes (think fruit beers, wheat beers, wood-aged beers, barley wine-style ales, etc.), the Midnight Homebrewers' League has expanded the stylistic perimeters of its competition to accommodate this adventurous spirit.
This year, the competition is open to any and all lager and ale styles of beer, as long as they are between 6 percent and 10 percent in alcohol content. The only styles that are still off limits are smoked beers and sour beers, which, according to Kranz, represent the extreme when it comes to acquired tastes.
"We took the idea of expanding the range of acceptable styles to Buffalo Wild Wings and they were all in favor of it, because they had just begun introducing craft beer menus in their restaurants," Kranz said. "They were excited about having something more dramatic to introduce to their customers and to add to their craft beer menu.
"This year we also have a category in the competition called `specialty beer,' which basically is a catch-all for beers that don't fit anywhere else, whether it's in terms of unusual ingredients or elevated levels of alcohol, or hops or malt," he added. "We already have quite a few entries in that category. So we can expect some pretty off-beat kinds of beers, I think."
Kranz says the original concept for the annual Maryland Microbrewery Festival started nearly a decade ago with the folks at the Union Mills Homestead, including the Shriver family.
They sought, and obtained, official state sanctioning from the Maryland Legislature. Thus, the festival has a lofty distinction of being "an official state event."
"From the very beginning, the Shrivers came to our homebrewers' league because they wanted the home brewing community to be part of their festival," Kranz said. "Since the first year, Midnight Homebrewers has always had a home brewing tent where we've offered information, demonstrations and discussions on different ways to home brew."
Maryland's microbrew industry will be well represented at the festival. Heavy hitters like Heavy Seas brewery in Baltimore and Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick will offer samples, as will brew pubs such as Johansson's and Pub Dog, both in Westminster; Ellicott Mills Brewing Co., in Ellicott City; and Brewer's Alley, in Frederick. All told, a dozen brew pubs and microbreweries will be on hand.
"It's a good line-up this year," Kranz said. "Ruhlman Brewery, from up in Hampstead, will be also there. They just started, so I'm interested in tasting their beer."
Above all, Kranz said he and his fellow festival organizers are keeping a close eye on the weather. Over the years, the elements have not been kind to the festival. It was rained out last year.
"Oh yes, we're definitely crossing our fingers that the weather will be nice," he said, "even though we know the beer will be great."
The Maryland Microbrewery Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Union Mills Homestead, 3311 Littlestown Pike, Westminster.
In addition to samples of more than 30 different brands and styles of beer, the festival will include craft, merchandise and food vendors, along with live music and entertainment. There will also be seminars, presentations and literature on home-brewing and the art and science of beer brewing in general.
Tickets for adult beer sampling are $18, and $5 without beer sampling tokens. There is no admission charge for children under 12 when accompanied by adults.
For more information, call 410-848-2288. To purchase tickets on line or for additional information, go to http://www.marylandmicrobreweryfestival.com.