Howard County beer enthusiasts may soon have another reason to raise their glasses.
On Aug. 29, the county's Planning Board approved a proposal to allow farm breweries on some county land with rural zoning.
Farm breweries, similar in concept to farm wineries — which received zoning approval in 2011 — would involve local farmers growing ingredients necessary to make beer, such as hops and barley, and then producing their beer on-site.
The proposal would create another option for brewing in the county, which recently approved zoning for microbreweries in manufacturing districts. Farm breweries would be permitted in rural conservation and rural residential districts.
The farm brewing amendment will now be passed on to the County Council for consideration. A public hearing will be scheduled for citizens to testify on the proposal.
Victoria Gastro Pub owner Randy Marriner is hopeful the new zoning will pass. Marriner, who has run his beer-centric Columbia restaurant for the past six years with his wife and two daughters, said he was eager to bring some local brews to the tap.
"Craft beer is just starting to come alive," said Marriner, who serves beer from 24 rotating taps and carries more than 250 brands of bottled brew at Victoria.
On their Ellicott City farm, which is about 10 minutes from the restaurant, Marriner and his wife already grow herbs and vegetables to serve in their dishes – this year, they have heirloom tomatoes, rhubarbs, blackberries and squash blossoms, which they wake up early every morning to pick and bring to the restaurant.
"We were firm believers in farm-to-table even before it was popular," Marriner said. "We said, 'OK, how do we take that and do it with creating craft beer?' "
Marriner envisions creating about six different beers to have on tap at the restaurant. He plans to put most of the beer in a keg rather than bottling it, a process he says is less intense than bottling wine.
To be eligible for farm brewing, lots would need to be at least 5 acres, grow at least one primary beer ingredient and have a suitable access road that won't unduly disturb traffic. All farm brewery operations would have a setback of at least 75 feet from lot lines.
Farm breweries would also be permitted to hold tastings on their property, with up to 50 guests. But to serve the beer elsewhere, farmers would need to work within state regulations, which would require them to first sell the beer to a distributor.
Marriner said he isn't rushing to create a big operation. "This isn't going to be a 24/7 operation," he said. "We'll make some beer and sell it and then we'll make some more.
"We're trying to maximize our property and do something that is unique and different and good and sustainable," he said.