February is Maryland Craft Beer Lovers Month, so it makes sense that the Brewers Association of Maryland celebrates by changing the calendar every year to FeBREWary.
Carroll’s breweries are doing their best to celebrate, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic owners and brewers seem to agree they’re more focused on keeping their business steady.
At Brewery Fire in Taneytown, owners Jesse Johnson and Dave Palmer brought back their chocolate raspberry stout called Dark Helmet for FeBREWary this year. They released the dark beer, named for a character from the movie “Spaceballs,” at the Love Thy Beer consumer event in February 2020. The state’s brewers association promotes local establishments throughout the month, but this year’s Love Thy Beer fell victim to the pandemic.
Dark Helmet is back, however, and the Brewery Fire guys say its better than ever.
“We are big fans of nerdy stuff,” said Palmer, who sat alongside Johnson inside their retro-themed taproom that drips with nostalgia from 1980s pop culture.
Instead of gathering at an event this year, consumers can visit their favorite taprooms or microbreweries to see what’s on draft (or in cans) to celebrate FeBREWary. Not all of Carroll’s craft beer establishments are doing something specific this month, but a few are trying to mark the occasion.
Pipe The Side Brewing Company, based in Hampstead, has a chocolate stout called Mixtape available this month. And with Valentine’s Day approaching, owners Tim Eckels and Carol Gorsuch said they’re teaming with Starry Night Bakery in Westminster to sell some treats at their brewery on Saturay, Feb. 13.
Brewery Fire took to its Facebook page Thursday to let people know the Valentine’s Day Brunch event, pairing beers with a five-course meal from catering company R&D Eats, was sold out.
At 1623 Brewing Company, owner Mike McKelvin said his Eldersburg establishment is preparing to celebrate its anniversary the week of Feb. 19 with special glasses and apparel. McKelvin said it has been a challenge trying to recognize FeBREWary with in-person specials based on what sort of crowd was going to show up.
“The hardest thing is the lack of ability to plan,” McKelvin said. “We don’t know if people are going to come out or not. Last Friday and Saturday were amazing, it almost felt normal. But then on Super Bowl Sunday we couldn’t beg somebody to come out.
“Trying to do the right thing by our customers, and us and our staff, has been really difficult.”
Flood Zone Marketplace & Brewery in Union Bridge, while not having anything specific for FeBREWary, is also preparing for an anniversary celebration at the end of the this month.
McKelvin said business is impacted whenever Gov. Larry Hogan puts together a press conference, no matter the topic. A recent Brewers Association of Maryland news release credited Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot for helping lift restrictions on carryout sales from taprooms, in an effort to reduce in-person interaction.
BAM also intends to use the Love Thy Beer as a call to action for Maryland residents to share their support for proposed legislation during the 2021 session of the General Assembly, according to the news release.
The association supports statewide direct-to-consumer shipping, door-to-door delivery, lifting caps on carry-out sales, and introducing flexible licensing fees, according to BAM’s website.
“The last year has challenged most people and industries. Overcoming these challenges has required passion and determination,” Sarah Healey, president of the brewers association, said in the release. “We want to celebrate everything that brings breweries and consumers together as a community.”
Establishing a regular crowd has been crucial to success, the local brewers said.
Johnson and Palmer said Brewery Fire, which won the Carroll Biz Challenge in 2018 and opened in the fall of 2019 adjacent to Thunderhead Bowl & Grill, had customers showing up for carryout sales when the taproom was closed because of COVID-19.
“For the most part, 90-something percent of our regulars have supported us in every way they can,” Palmer said. “They keep our lights on, literally.”