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DuClaw's president has big plans for new Havre de Grace brewery location

It was important for DuClaw President David Benfield to stay in Harford County when he was looking for a new site to expand the popular brewery. After all, the 41-year-old businessman has lived in the county his whole life.

In the beginning of December, Benfield signed a deal that will put a 165,000-square-foot brewery at an industrial park in Havre de Grace, hoping to amp up DuClaw's craft beer manufacturing and distribution, as well as make it a place for various events.

The microbrewery, which began in Harford in 1996, has four restaurant and pub locations — the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover, in Bowie, at BWI airport and Bel Air. The site in Havre de Grace — the old Collins and Aikman Auto Plastics site at 1601 Clark Road — will solely be used as a brewery. There's no official date for an opening, Benfield said, but is aiming for October

"We need more space," Benfield said of the reason for expansion. "To make beer, you need more fermentation tanks." The microbrewery's location in Bel Air is only 10,000 square feet, Benfield added.

DuClaw's distribution of 12- and 22-ounce bottles only reaches select areas along the I-95 corridor, most in Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties, as well as a few in Baltimore City. Benfield hopes to change that with the new location, planning to reach farther into Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Delaware and eventually going to New York and North Carolina.

For these operations, Benfield said Havre de Grace was a great location.

"Havre de Grace is a very nice, waterside town," he explained. Benfield said the city's expansion in the last 10 years, but keeping a vast majority of its green space, was a big factor. His parents also have a house in Havre de Grace.

DuClaw also looked at locations in Prince George's County and White Marsh, but Benfield found that Havre de Grace had a more inviting feel that would bring in visitors to tour the brewery and attend festivals the company hopes to host on the site.

"You can go into areas where there are pure industrial parks, and that might be more cost effective, but people don't want to visit," he said of the area. "This invites people to visit from bed and breakfasts and golf courses. People can come in and feel it's cool to be in a brewery." He added that Harford is "a reasonable county" as far as property taxes, referring to Baltimore City's high property tax rate and recent 2-cent tax on bottled beverages.

Benfield also feels the Havre de Grace name also sheds a positive light on his company.

"Wherever we reside, the town name has to be on our [bottle] label," he said. "You don't want to be in a town that their name doesn't carry respect or coolness." He added that "a good bit" of his current staff resides in Havre de Grace, taking pride in DuClaw's roots in Harford.

It's because of this and his love for the place he grew up in that Benfield wants to make the Havre de Grace brewery location a destination for tourists, as well.

He hopes to "pull in people from other states" with brewery tours and beer festivals, similar to that of fellow craft brewers, Flying Dog, in Frederick.

"[Visitors] can take tours of the brewery, stay at bed and breakfasts and eat at restaurants," Benfield said. "It's [the site's potential] limited only by our imagination."

For the brewery's grand opening, Benfield wouldn't give anything away, but did say he had "ideas for something special" to mark the occasion, including a special beer that will be launched. Whatever it is, he promises to pull out all the stops. "If nothing, we've never had a problem with putting on a big show."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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