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Plans underway for Baltimore County's first nanobrewery

Tiny brewery operation would be a first for Baltimore County

Baltimore County is home to the oldest craft brewery in Maryland. But there has never been a nanobrewery, which produces beer in smaller batches.

That may soon change, if legislation defining zoning regulations for such tiny brewing operations is approved by the County Council.

A bill is scheduled to be introduced by 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Arbutus, Catonsville and Lansdowne, during the council's March 2 legislative session that would change Business, Local (B.L.) zones to allow nanobreweries.

Nanobreweries are defined by the legislation as establishments that will produce and bottle onsite no more than 3,000 barrels of malt beverage annually for self-distribution, and no more than 500 barrels annually for on-site consumption.

A barrel of beer is the equivalent to 31 gallons, or just more than 330 12 oz. bottles of beer.

Clipper City, founded in 1995 and the oldest craft brewery in Maryland, according to the Maryland Brewer's Association website.

The legislation for nanobreweries is being introduced with one Baltimore County resident in mind, who has Arbutus in mind for his location..

Mark Grall, 56, a business consultant with a background in the food industry, said he has been planning to open the county's first nanobrewery for the past three years.

If all goes according to plan, Grall expects his small beer operation to be open for business this spring within the commercial revitalization district in Arbutus.

"I already have a business plan built. I'm funding this myself — I'm ready to go," Grall said. "I'd love to open by June."

Grall, a self-described "foodie" said his love for craft brews began with a home brew starter kit given to him by a friend nine years ago while he was living in Washington state.

"It was quite fun and the beer was good, and I didn't think much of it," he said. "But the last six years, I've been consulting and I really wanted to do a different type of business."

He chose the craft beer business because its a growing industry, he explained.

The Maryland Brewer's Association currently has 35 breweries as members, their website says.

"It's a burgeoning movement in the country — craft beer is, because it's moving away from being industrialized production of beer, and the craft industry is one that is very supportive and collaborative," Grall said.

Recent state legislation is making regulations more friendly toward craft brewers.

Grall cited a bill that went into effect last October that allows owners of liquor licenses to sell draft beer in refillable take-home containers, known as growlers. Another bill introduced in the state Senate on Feb. 27 would increase the number of barrels brewery licensees can sell each year from 500 to 1,500 barrels to be consumed in house.

Grall said he plans to sell the beer to local restaurants, brewpubs and the public, which is why he wants to be located near downtown Arbutus where other restaurants and shops are located.

Deborah SeBour, a local real estate broker and owner of Re/Max New Beginnings on Sulphur Spring Road, has been working with Grall on finding a space for his business.

"It will be good for business — it's something new and different," said SeBour, who lives in Catonsville.

Grall said he has developed a following with private tastings in Catonsville and in Timonium. "I know I have a huge fan base in Catonsville and that's two miles away," Grall said. "I think there will be a similar fan base in Arbutus and I'd like to make it a neighborhood pub."

But at the same time, Grall said he wants to bring foot traffic to the area from other parts of the state, such as craft beer fans from nearby Anne Arundel and Howard counties and Baltimore City.

"I think Arbutus is a little hidden gem, with its great proximity to the city," Grall said. "It has a great history and I love the architecture of the old homes."

"Arbutus makes itself available because of the revitalization district and because of the lower cost of rent," Grall said.

Grall said he wants to integrate the business in with the local community.

"It's going to be fun, it's going to be delicious — this is the heart and soul of craft brewing — it's about people, it's about great flavors, it's about collaboration and sharing," Grall said.

Cathy Engers, senior legislative aide to Quirk said she's been waiting for a brewpub to open near Catonsville.

"There are a lot of brewers around Arbutus," said Engers, who lives in Catonsville. "I would love to see a brewpub open near Catonsville."

The closest brewery to Arbutus, Clipper City Brewing Company located on Hollins Ferry Road, produces nearly 50,000 barrels of beer each year making it a much larger scale operation.

Fred Crudder, director of marketing for Clipper City Brewing Company known for its Heavy Seas Beer, said the company welcomes the new operation.

"The opening of a new brewery in our backyard is absolutely welcomed and encouraged. Anything that raises awareness about real beer — made locally by real people —is good for the craft brewing industry as a whole. I mean, think about how many people will see this new brewery in downtown Arbutus, and then realize that Heavy Seas is right around the corner? Craft beer still only has a 10 percent market share in this country, so raising awareness is still very important to the growth if the industry," Crudder said.

Grall said he won't need much more than 1,200 feet of space for his operation, which will have a seating area and retail space.

Fermenters at his location will hold between 15 gallons and 50 gallons, because "when you're working on a recipe, you want all of your mistakes to be small," Grall said.

"The idea is to produce about 250 barrels in the first year," he said, adding that the distribution can be done from the back of a pickup truck.

He will open with eight beer styles to choose from — a Scotland strong ale, an English India Pale Ale (IPA), a Hefeweizen, a coconut Hefeweizen, an American Imperial IPA, American Stout, Belgian ginger Saison and a Belgian witbier.

Grall said at the beginning, he will be doing the bulk of the work himself.

"I will be doing all the brewing. I will be the chief brewing officer and chief bottle washer," Grall joked. "I'll be producing the beer, managing the production schedule, overseeing the kegging — everything in the beginning."

He plans to hire four people in the second year — two for production and two to assist customers.

"We want to grow, but slowly," Grall said. "We're not in any hurry."

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