The farm brewing scene in Maryland has a few strikes against it. Much of that has to do with environment—the climate here simply doesn’t grow hops as well as Washington, which produces about 75% of the country’s hops, according to the Hop Growers of America. Still, the Free State has something the established beer bigwigs don’t: proximity.
“In Maryland, one of our liabilities, which is development pressure, becomes a potential competitive advantage, and that is that we have major markets within 40 minutes of most of our farm breweries,” said Kevin Atticks of the Brewers Association of Maryland.
Maryland boasts nearly two million acres of farmland outside its web of compact cities and sprawling suburbs. The agricultural abundance means that Baltimoreans can experience delicious locally produced food and beverages—including craft beer.
Like axe-throwing and arcade bars, farm breweries exemplify the growth in the “experiential” beer drinking market, said Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson.
“People aren’t interested in just going to drink anymore,” he said. “They want to go do something and then drink.”
Maryland is one of a handful of states where special licenses have been created allowing farmers to brew and sell beer on premises. The requirements differ from state to state, but in both Maryland and neighboring Virginia, the laws specify that farmers must use products grown on the farm in their beer.
Since Maryland’s law went into effect in 2012, nearly two dozen farm brewery licenses have been issued, according to State Comptroller records. Atticks says another dozen or so are in development “all around the state.”
With hops and grain on the brain, we visited four nearby farm breweries—Farmacy and Inverness Brewing in Baltimore County, and Falling Branch and Slate Farm Breweries in Harford County—to learn more about this growing segment of the state’s brewing scene.
Our experiences illuminated the changing tides of American agriculture, as a new generation of farmers embrace the industry. They opened our eyes to the increasing popularity of what Watson called “farm to glass” brewing (and our taste buds to the many delicious beers beyond the city lines). Learn more about these farm breweries, in the order they were established.
Falling Branch Brewing
A decade ago, Allen Galbreath would never have imagined that his 95-year-old family farm would have another life as a craft brewery. “I would’ve told you you’re crazy, right?” the 64-year-old former dairy farmer said. His son Alex has taken the family business in a new direction by launching Falling Branch Brewery in 2016, making it the first farm brewery in Harford County.
When the 2012 bill passed, Alex, now 28, was still an environmental science student at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“I saw that as a great opportunity to continue my family’s agricultural history,” he said. “We’ve been farming for almost 100 years, and I knew that I didn’t want to do dairy farming. So I started brewing at home. I planted hops that year—they take about two or three years to establish the root system and produce a crop—and we got a brewing license in 2015.”
Visitors can see the hops, which head brewer Grant Pfeiffer incorporates into every beer they make (even if they’re not the only hops), growing in the distance from the large barn that houses the taproom. They contribute to what has become the farm’s largest revenue stream, although the Galbreaths still have school groups come to learn about farming. The family sells soybeans, pumpkins and corn as well. “At this point, the brewery is definitely the future,” the younger Galbreath said. “It pays our health insurance, and it’s my full time job now."
What to order: If you’re still holding out for a real fall through November, you’ll love the Pumpkin seasonal ale ($6), with autumn-appropriate nutty notes courtesy of the cinnamon, ginger and, obviously, pumpkin incorporated during the 6.6% ABV beer’s brewing. Lighter ale fans will love the Journey’s End ($6.50), a 4.4% ABV session IPA with a light but still bitter taste. Leaning towards the dark side? Try the 8.4% ABV Black Market ($6.50), an imperial stout with a middle-of-the-road hoppiness.
Take-home options: Falling Branch currently offers the Evoker farmhouse IPA and Amber Waves Belgian Amber Ale in 16-oz cans ($13 for a four-pack). Growler and crowler fills are also available ($9-$11 for a 32-oz fill; $16-$18 for a 64-oz fill).
Slate Farm Brewery
Located right off of Harford County’s scenic Route 136, Slate is the kind of place road trip dreams are made of.
The 12-acre Whiteford, Md. farm, just a few minutes away from the sprawling fields of Falling Branch, looks like a local farmer’s market at first glance, with a fruit and vegetable stand in the front.
Stepping into the taproom on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a stack of board games sat on a shelf near the back entrance; outside, hens flocked around the corn maze and playground; in the horizon, fall foliage from neighboring farms provided a postcard-perfect backdrop for our flights of beer.
“It’s very much trying to be a home away from home,” said Kiel Brown, who owns and operates Slate along with his brother and head brewer, Sam Brown, mother, Denise Cangialosi, and uncle, George Metzger.
The family, who purchased the land from a friend in 2016, grows their own hops as well as seasonal crops, which they use as ingredients in their brews or sell to customers.
“We try to do the styles that we like … but also make other interesting beers that might be someone else’s favorite beer,” said Kiel Brown.
Case in point: Pete’s Pickled Pils, a 5.5% ABV Pilsner ($6), which they brewed for the Big Dill Pickle Festival at Power Plant Live in September. As Brown tells it: “This guy calls me out of nowhere and is like, ‘Hey, listen, I want you to come sell beer at my festival. But I got one catch: it’s gotta be pickle beer.’” Challenge accepted.
Slate also hosts local artists on most weekends, as well as a daily food truck.
What to order: Christine’s favorite was the Strawberry Cream Ale ($6), brewed with lactose and farm-grown strawberries, while Sameer enjoyed the Black & Blue Brut ($6), an IPA with blackberries, blueberries and champagne yeast. We both loved the Galactic Hammer ($7), a dangerously delicious 10.5% ABV IPA, and, on the safer side, the 5% ABV Swagger Kölsch ($6), a German-style ale. Several of Slate’s beers are brewed to be gluten-free.
Take-home options: Growler and crowler fills available (prices vary).
Baltimore County’s first farm brewery has a storied past: once home to a stable of prize-winning racehorses, the 100-acre Monkton, Md. farm was also Clark Gable’s summer home and, for six years, a CIA training camp, said Sandy Frank, who now owns Inverness with her husband Ray.
A lifelong love of entertaining, coupled with a desire to preserve the land—part of the historic My Lady’s Manor district—prompted the couple to apply for the farm brewery license.
“This farm should be able to sustain itself,” said Sandy Frank. As a brewery, it now can.
Since opening their doors in the fall of 2018, Inverness Brewing has become a social hub for the local community, she said. A 40-minute drive from downtown Baltimore, it’s also a good option for city folks looking to check out the farm brewing scene.
We’d visit Inverness for the scenery alone. The restored barn, where the main taproom is located, overlooks breathtakingly beautiful fields. An area with additional seating a short walk away feels straight out of an old western film—complete with black Angus cattle grazing nearby.
But Frank, herself a home brewer, is adamant that people come for the beer, not just the rural landscape and live music shows.
“We either want it [the beer] perfect or we’re not doing this,” she told head brewer Tom Davidson, who joined Inverness from Baltimore’s Waverly Brewing Company.
Inverness’ menu includes seven year-round brews, including the popular Lot 54 blonde ($6.50), named for the parcel on My Lady’s Manor the farm originally occupied; the Quite Frankly Lager ($6.50), a nod to Rhett Butler’s last words in “Gone with the Wind,” Gable’s most famous role; and the There’s Always One IPA (ask Sandy for the story behind that one, $7.75), plus a handful of rotating beers.
Fiercely committed to their “Crop to Keg” tagline, Inverness brews all of its beers with hops grown on site and the farm’s own well water.
The next step? Growing barley, so they’ll have all the ingredients they need for a fully farm-brewed beer.
What to order: IPA lovers will appreciate the hoppy options, including the Monkton Madness ($8.75), a double IPA. For easy drinking, get the Inverness Light ($6). For something special, try the Black & Blue Deliciousness ($8.75), a seasonal sour brewed with blackberries, blueberries and lactose.
Take-home options: Growler ($21-$22) and crowler ($12-$14) fills available, as well as six-pack cans of the Quite Frankly ($12.75) and There’s Always One ($16).
The story behind this young brewery’s name feels only slightly less obvious than what the name suggests: Justin Harrison is a farmer, while his fellow founder and brother-in-law Craig Bryant is a pharmacist.
“We spent months really trying to come up with a name that would stand out,” Harrison explained. “And then, one day, we were just talking and it was just like, ‘What if it was Farmacy, with an F?’ It made sense to us.”
It also made sense to the 1100 people that the pair said turned out for Farmacy Brewing’s grand opening party in early September. And the crowds keep coming from beyond Baltimore county, filling the cozy tasting room and sprawling grounds in Butler every weekend.
Those grounds sit on Willowdale Farm, an active 180-acre farm with horses, cattle and greenhouses. The farm has been in the Harrison family for multiple generations; Justin’s father Michael is a veterinarian, partner in the brewery and owner of the farm, where he also breeds thoroughbred horses.
Bryant, who also grew up in an agricultural family, and the younger Harrison started the long process of securing the right licenses back in 2015, soon after the 2012 farm brewing law passed. They emphasized the agricultural element as an important part of both the visitor experience and the beers themselves.
“We had produce available, and I was like, ‘Dude, why don’t you throw something into this batch of whatever you’re brewing?” Harrison recalled. Bryant’s chemistry experience helped them devise flavors from the different ingredients they put into beers. For instance, brewing the Norwegian Woods farmhouse ale ($6.50) involved putting branches, fallen leaves, Eastern red cedar and spruce clippings into the mash tun (the chamber where grain starch is converted to sugars) before adding malts. The resulting beer, like much of what Farmacy makes, is both refreshing and evocative of the surrounding ecosystem without being overwhelming.
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“We want you to be able to taste that ingredient, but not only that ingredient,” Bryant said.
The experience also compliments the variety of activities available on the brewery. Local or regional musicians play every weekend, and at their harvest festival the weekend before Halloween, attendees could take their children on a hayride to see most of the farm.
Business, while booming, is still so new that Bryant and Harrison are still scaling up. They recently acquired a keg washer, after a period of using one at The Brewer’s Art (whose used kegs they also bought), and hope to start selling bottles and cans out of the taproom (where you can now get tumblers and growlers to go).
What to order: Other than the Norwegian Woods ($6.50), get the Valkyrie hazy IPA ($7), which uses the same Nordic kveik yeast strain as the farmhouse ale along with fresh peaches and peach puree for the haze; the Triple Thai ($7), a dangerously smooth 8.9% ABV Belgian-style tripel beer with Abbey Ale yeast from The Brewer’s Art; and the ginger table beer ($6), which clocks in at a refreshing 3.9% ABV and uses ginger root to add a little spice on a cold day.