While the craft beer scene in Annapolis is making definite strides in the right direction - DRY 85's recent "Bourbon Blonde" collaboration with Burley Oak Brewing Co. is a perfect (and delicious) example - it is still in its awkward teenager phase: pimples, cracking voice and all.
This is due, in part, thanks to some wacky legislative hijinks. To show you what I mean, let's take a brief trip down memory lane to last May. H.B. 18 was approved by Gov. Martin O'Malley and allowed for Class A, Class B and Class D retailers to apply for a "refillable container license," with a capacity limit of 128 ounces. In layman's terms, this zippy piece of legislation paved the way for growlers in Anne Arundel County retailers.
(Thank you, H.B. 18 rockstar Sen. Edward R. Reilly. You are a champion for beer drinkers everywhere, and this made me oh, so happy!)
The bill didn't pass in its original form, however, which is not uncommon. By the time this legislation eased through its second reading in the House on March 18, 2013, the language in the relevant chapter had already been amended to allow consumers to take growlers from one county-licensed retailer to another. Why? Well, under the original verbiage, folks would only be able to get Bay Ridge Fine Wine & Spirits growlers filled at Bay Ridge - a growler from Annebeth's would be rejected, and vice versa.
Enter aforementioned legislative hijinks, stage left.
Unfortunately, this critical change was not communicated to the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board. Yes, you read that correctly. No one told the entity in charge of upholding and enforcing current liquor laws within our beautiful county about a major change. Sigh. Head, meet desk.
After a few months of noodling around, the change was finally communicated appropriately, and in January - eight months after the bill's passage - I was able to take my Fishpaws Marketplace growler to other Anne Arundel County-licensed retailers. Just in time, too. We were reaching a critical mass point of Anne Arundel County-approved growler glass at Casa de Murphy.
The moral of this already-quite-long "brief trip down memory lane" is this: People in Anne Arundel County love craft beer, but Anne Arundel County doesn't always love it back. At least it doesn't always love it back efficiently - it's basically like the guy that never calls back. Or calls back for a second date eight months after the first one, as was the case with growlers.
Sadly, the same one-sided relationship can exists between breweries operating within the city of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and legislators.
"Um, what breweries in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County?"
Exactly my point. Kind of.
It's not that we don't have any breweries to speak of, but... well, let's start with a quick primer on how breweries work in the Free State. Maryland allows the following manufacturing classifications of breweries to be licensed:
- Class 5M
- - Production breweries, like Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick and Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore.
- Class 6M
- - Pub breweries, not to be confused with the "brewpub," which can brew up to 2,000 barrels of "malted beverage" per year, for on-site consumption only.
- Class 7M
- - Microbreweries, commonly known as "brewpubs" in The Brewer's Art, based out of Baltimore, but also in Frederick.
- Class 8M
- - Farm breweries, like Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm in Mt. Airy.
- Class 7W
- - Allows Class 5M and Class 7M to distribute their own beer, based on certain production and distribution restrictions.
That said, just because we have all of these great licenses floating around doesn't mean all brewery classes are allowed to set up wherever they want in the state. This is because counties in Maryland have a lot of flexibility in terms of what they do and do not allow - something that isn't true of counties in most other states.
For example, of Maryland's 24 counties, only Baltimore City, Baltimore , Frederick, Montgomery, Talbot, Howard and Prince George's counties currently have verifiable zoning ordinances in place that allow for Class 5M production breweries to operate in within county lines. Running Hare Vineyard's newest brewing venture, Calvert County Brewing Co., will actually house its brewing operations in Prince George's County and not on their property in Prince Frederick. In fact, Calvert County doesn't use the traditional state class/license model at all, but that's a story for a different paper.
Anyway, if you're wondering whether or not the same flexibility is not afforded to any would-be brewers in Annapolis or Anne Arundel County, the answer is "Nope."
Under current zoning ordinances, only Class 6M and Class 7M breweries are allowed in commercially-zoned areas. That's why Castlebay's now defunct in-house brewing program was permitted, as was Fordham Brewing Co.'s operation in Ram's Head Tavern, from 1995 to 2003. The latter moved to Dover, Del., in 2003 so they could expand their operations, prior to joining forces with Old Dominion Brewing Co. in 2007. Gordon Biersch is still kicking around in the Annapolis Towne Center, but that's pretty much it.
Kasey Turner, founder and chief operating officer for Jailbreak Brewing Co., shared that Anne Arundel County was briefly considered for their operations at one time - before they put down roots in Howard County - but was quickly dismissed since it's not exactly "brewer-friendly." The closest thing to a production brewery zoning ordinance would be W3 zoned business - a "heavy industrial district" business - but the permit does not list "breweries" as a permitted use if it is freestanding.
Hilariously enough, our county's zoning code says this of W3 district: "This District is generally for those industrial uses where the potential nuisance factor is the greatest." If the concern is being a nuisance, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to Eastern Shore Brewing Co.'s delightful farmhouse-style warehouse structure that resides right in the heart of St. Michaels - the state's poster child for quaint, bayside living - and doesn't seem to be bothering anyone. And yes, they're a Class 5M brewery.
Will this change anytime soon? My guess - underscored by whining, foot-stomping and general melancholy - is again, "Nope."
In an email, Lori Rhodes, planning administrator for the Office of Planning and Zoning communicated to me - through a third party - "We hope to introduce legislation in the near future to allow microbreweries in certain zoning districts." When I pressed further about any steps taken or a projected timeline for such legislation, I received this reply from Tracie Reynolds, public information officer for Anne Arundel County:
"No steps at this point and no specific timetable."
If that's not a vote of confidence you can get behind, Annapolis beer drinkers, I don't know what else I can do for you.
So there you have it, kiddos. Maybe one day we'll have a brewery to call our very own, but for now we must venture beyond our borders to enjoy some Maryland beer - an industry us Free State beer drinkers take a tremendous amount of pride in.
It's a shame, too. One might think we should be setting trends as the state capital, instead of lagging behind the times.