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.