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Owner Henry Ruhlman pours a cup of milk stout at Ruhlman's Brewery in Hampstead Sept. 7.
Owner Henry Ruhlman pours a cup of milk stout at Ruhlman's Brewery in Hampstead Sept. 7. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

Craft beer has experienced a revolution in the United States during the last 25 years, growing consistently by about 15 percent annually in volume, according to J.T. Smith, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland. And Maryland is right in line with that.
"I think the demand for craft beer is directly aligned with the slow food movement, the locavore [eating local food] movement, and I think the broader consciousness of folks being more aware of what's going into their food," he said. "At the end of the day, beer is a food product, so just as much as people are thinking about possible hormones being put into their beef or milk or chicken ... they're doing the same with their beverage choices."
Smith said he believes consumers are also more interested in supporting small, independently owned businesses that are active in their community, including breweries. There's also the wider range of styles and the artisanal quality of craft beer.
"It's not the mass-produced, homogenized liquid that for years Americans were used to and expecting," he said. "There's now something new, interesting and unique, and I think people enjoy that from their beer down to their culture."
The Brewers Association of Maryland has more than 30 licensed breweries from the state in its membership, as well as another 18 that are in the process of opening a brewery. Ten years ago, there were only 18 breweries in the state.
Maryland's brewing history dates back to when the state was still a colony, Smith said, but the modern era of craft beer began in the mid-90s when brewpubs opened, such as Brewer's Art in Baltimore and Brewer's Alley in Frederick.
Gradually over time, laws were changed to make it easier to open a brewery, and multiple licensing distinctions were created to allow different types of brewery businesses.
"In Maryland, we have three different classes of brewing companies," Smith said.
There are the brewpubs, which serve their products on-site only; then the production companies, like Flying Dog in Frederick and Heavy Seas in Baltimore, which can distribute their products off-site; and the recently created farm breweries, which were created last year by the Maryland General Assembly. Farm breweries must grow their own grains to produce their beer, which can then be sold on-site.
"It protects Maryland farmland and family farmers for generations to come, securing food sources as well as economic staples to our state," Smith said of the farm breweries classification. "We're pretty excited about seeing those guys come on board, and that has a direct connection to some smaller, boutique industries at this point."
For example, the Maryland Hop Growers Association is growing rapidly, Smith said, as brewers aim to put local ingredients into their beers.
Hops used to be grown in Maryland in the 19th century, and a majority of the hops being used nationally were grown in Maryland and upstate New York, Smith said. Maryland also historically grew a lot of rye and wheat for malting liquor, he said, which are now making a comeback, as well.

Beer from agriculture
Ruhlman Brewery LLC of Hampstead, which produces the brand "Our Ales," grows all of the hops used in its beers on the brewery's farm, with the exception of its IPA, owner Henry Ruhlman said. Using the well water from the farm and growing his own ingredients makes his beer stand out, he said.
"Our beer has its own distinctive taste," Ruhlman said. "You could take the same recipe and go someplace else, and the beer would not turn out the same."
While Ruhlman Brewery meets the requirements to be a farm brewery, Ruhlman said he decided to pursue a Class D beer license instead, which allows him to self-distribute his beer. But the liquor license designation doesn't define his operation, he said, as he very much enjoys having a brewery on his family's Creeping Creek Farm and offering a place for customers to come out and spend a few hours enjoying the beers.
"It's a very family-friendly brewery farm, and that's the way I try to keep it," Ruhlman said. "It's really not a beer snob kind of place, but they fit in - everybody fits in."
The brewery has tastings and glass sales available, concerts on the weekends, a pond for catch-and-release fishing and even an 18-hole disc golf course, all to attract customers.
"Most of our business comes from people through word of mouth," Ruhlman said. "We do all kinds of stuff for exposure."
Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm in Mount Airy is the first and currently only formally classified farm brewery operating in the state, said owner Tom Barse.
Barse was a homebrewer for almost 40 years when he decided 3½ years ago that he would like to brew professionally as a way to add more diversity to his farm. He pursued getting permission to open a farm brewery through the Frederick County government but ran into a glitch, he said. The county agreed to allow farm breweries as long as they had a retail liquor license, he said, but agriculturally zoned properties were excluded from getting retail liquor licenses.
"We ultimately ended up going to the state, and we got a new law passed by the state legislature to allow us to do this, which is actually much more beneficial than a county ordinance," Barse said. "The bill passed the state legislature unanimously in both houses."
Milkhouse Brewery started brewing in December and was open for a Brew-Fest during Frederick Beer Week in May, but didn't officially open its tasting room until June 28. On the farm, he sells samples and pints with growlers to go. In the next month or so, they plan to start bottling their beer, he said, and then he hopes to make it available to bars, restaurants and liquor stores.
"We're much busier than I ever quite frankly had anticipated," Barse said.
Smith said there are fewer than five farm breweries in development in the state, but the association is excited about each one.
"It is a labor of love, and there's a tremendous labor investment as well as land investment to be committed to," Smith said. "It's probably the slowest beer that you can make."

Legislative benefits
Another legislative move made by the Maryland General Assembly that has had a positive impact on breweries is a change made in 2011 that now allows production breweries to offer tours and sell beer on-site. This might seem like a small detail, Smith said, but it can have a major impact on the wider tourism area of a brewery.
"The largest brewery company in the state [Flying Dog] last year had about 50,000 people through their tap room - that's roughly the population of the city of Frederick," Smith said. "That's a tremendous amount of tourism and economic activity that these brewers are bringing to their local communities."
Smith said the association continually works with its wholesale and retail partners as well as the state comptroller and other relevant parties to develop smarter and more efficient rules and guidelines for the brewing of beer in Maryland. Anything the state can do to help the breweries creates more business, quality jobs and better beer in Maryland, he said.
"These guys are never going to have a commercial on during the Super Bowl because they don't have the money and frankly the interest in marketing themselves that way," Smith said. "What they do have are very unique and interesting stories and brands and excellent beer. So the more that we can pass legislation and create hospitable environments for them to develop their businesses, the more successful they'll be."

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