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Diamondback Brewing Company plans to open first brewery in McHenry Row

From left: Colin Marshall, Francis Smith and Tom Foster — founders of Diamondback Brewing Company — pose at McHenry Row, where they plan to open the company's first brick-and-mortar location this fall.
From left: Colin Marshall, Francis Smith and Tom Foster — founders of Diamondback Brewing Company — pose at McHenry Row, where they plan to open the company's first brick-and-mortar location this fall.(Handout)

Diamondback Brewing Co. plans to take its next step as a young beer company this fall, when it will open its first brick-and-mortar brewery at McHenry Row in South Baltimore.

The Baltimore company, which tapped its first keg in December 2014, now contract-brews out of Virginia's Beltway Brewing Co., but because local competition is tougher than ever, the time is right for Diamondback to establish its own location, said co-founder Colin Marshall.

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"Contract-brewing is extremely expensive, and while it's worked to build a brand, it only allows you to grow to a certain extent before you're capped," said Marshall, a native of Baldwin in Baltimore County.

The 6,800-square-foot location in Locust Point will feature a tasting room, where Diamondback plans to test new styles of beer before committing to wide production, Marshall said. Diamondback — which Marshall founded with friends and Loyola Blakefield classmates Tom Foster and Francis Smith —makes six types of beer, including 3:30 Amber Ale and Citranova Session Ale.

Diamondback is just the latest to join a growing roster of new beer companies popping up in Baltimore and around the state. Key Brewing Co. opened in Dundalk in August, and Waverly Brewing Co. in Hampden followed in November. Oliver Brewing, which has made beer in the basement of Pratt Street Ale House since 1993, also opened a standalone brewery and tasting room in November.

They join longtime stalwarts like Clipper City Brewing Co., which makes Heavy Seas beers in Halethorpe, and DuClaw Brewing Co. in Bel Air, as well as other newcomers such as Union Craft Brewing Co. in Woodberry and Peabody Heights Brewing Co. in Abell.

While industry analysts wonder when the recent craft-beer boom will hit its saturation point, Kevin Atticks — executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland — said there remains "a huge demand" for beer made in Maryland.

"We've heard from folks that with so many craft breweries opening up, there has to be a limit," Atticks said. "But we're finding the contrary to be true. There's an unmet demand for local beer."

More than one of five dollars spent on beer in the United States is now spent on craft beer, which has become a $22.3 billion market, according to the national Brewers Association. Production of craft beer has surged nearly 13 percent last year, to more than 24 million barrels, while overall beer production slipped 0.2 percent to under 197 million barrels, according to the national group.

The Maryland organization currently counts more than 50 breweries as members, and three more — Hysteria Brewing Co. in Columbia, Maryland Beer Co. in Elkton and Midnight Run Brewing in Frederick — are scheduled to open this year, Atticks said.

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Diamondback is currently going through the state and federal permitting processes, Marshall said. The company is "fully confident" the schedule will remain on track to open in the fall, he said.

Production goals still need to be finalized, Marshall said, but tentatively, the company hopes to produce approximately 2,000 barrels of beer annually at the new facility.

Already underway, construction will be completed in two to three months, according to Marshall. He said Diamondback is renting the space from Mark Sapperstein's 28 Walker Development, which has developed McHenry Row and Canton Crossing. Through a publicist, 28 Walker Development confirmed the agreement at 1215 E. Fort Ave.

The location was once a facility operated by Philips Seafood, and the plan is to keep some of those touches, he said. The tasting room's bar will be built around the seafood company's old exhaust stack, Marshall said.

Another detail that excites Marshall is the layout of the building. The production facility will be subgrade to the tasting room, which will allow visitors to look out over the production floor, instead of the typical eye-level view.

"It provides a very unique experience," he said. "We haven't found [another] one yet."

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In the near future, Atticks said, he expects more breweries to follow in the footsteps of Waverly and Diamondback, which established brick-and-mortar locations in neighborhoods.

Such neighborhood breweries would mark a shift in the craft-beer industry.

"Breweries that used to be contract brewers are now finding homes not necessarily in industrial parks, which has been the tradition of craft beer," Atticks said, "but they're finding them in communities, in places that will be good homes for them with residences nearby."

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