Dave Palmer and Jesse Johnson, owners of Brewery Fire, a microbrewery that won the 2018 Carroll Biz Challenge, discuss next steps after emerging victorious from their Board of Zoning Appeals hearing in Taneytown
It was one small step for Carroll County’s brewing industry and one giant leap for Brewery Fire’s beer-making operation.
“I have no issue whatsoever with this proposal.”
“I just wanna get a chance to come over and stick my head in the mash barrel.”
“There was that one thing about the parking …”
“I approve ... I approved before you all even started talking. I’m not familiar with microbreweries. I’ve never cared for beer. I was wondering if you could do gin?”
Those were the final remarks of Taneytown Board of Zoning Appeals members Lee Hand, Larry Heltebridle, Carl Ebaugh and Edith Kelso on Wednesday night, Oct. 17, before the four voted unanimously to approve Brewery Fire’s petition for a special zoning permit to open the microbrewery within the city.
Jesse Johnson and Dave Palmer, Brewery Fire co-owners and brewers, have been adamant about opening up shop in Carroll County despite zoning that’s been mostly disagreeable to the brewing industry — and state regulations that brewers have said constricts their business.
State Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, fought hard for legislation to unshackle local brewers in the 2018 legislative session. Franchot’s Reform on Tap bill received an unfavorable report from the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee, and did not become law.
“There are 100 breweries in Maryland. There are 30 in the start-up phase, that we estimate will open in the next 18 months,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, who testified in support of the microbrewery. “To put that in perspective, we have in Maryland just 30 percent of the breweries that exist in Virginia. … Pennsylvania is exponentially farther ahead, hundreds more breweries than we have …
“The fact that we have folks who are insistent upon staying in Carroll County is great because, you might have seen in the news, we’ve been trying to improve the laws in Maryland.”
“We’re stubborn about being in Carroll County,” Palmer told the board and audience under oath Wednesday. “We both live here. We’re both raising our families here. And we want to benefit our community and see the industry boom here like it’s boomed in Frederick (County), Howard (County), Baltimore and Southern (Pennsylvania).”
Regulars at brewers association events and winners of the 2018 Carroll Biz Challenge, sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the microbrewers have developed a considerable following. Supporters filled the audience section of the Taneytown Town Hall on Wednesday, some testifying in support. Additionally there were 18 letters submitted to the board offering support for the microbrewery.
“As a resident or business owner in Taneytown the addition of a microbrewery in Taneytown would be an asset for our community,” City Attorney Jay Gullo said, reading a letter signed by multiple business owners into the record Wednesday. “A microbrewery will draw customers from surrounding Carroll County and beyond to Taneytown, who will then visit our other businesses, restaurants and shops, helping boost the economy in the region.”
Sculptor Gary Casteel, of Gettysburg, made it his mission to create a National Civil War Memorial after finding that it, unlike other major wars the United States participated in, did not have a national memorial. He's proposed to the Taneytown Mayor and Council they erect it in the small city.
“It was only a year ago that I was right here in front of these same folks,” said Chris Tillman, owner of George’s on York, a bed and breakfast in Taneytown. “We came here because we thought this kind of potential and to see these guys come in with their business, it says why we’re here, what we should be doing to move this town forward.”
Rebekah Sweeney, co-owner of Cajun restaurant Eazy Does It Bar & Grille, sang Brewery Fire’s praises while testifying in favor of the local brewers. She told the board that she’s seen the effect a microbrewery can have on a town, having been near many in places she’d lived before Taneytown.
“We plan to reserve a tap line for them,” Sweeney said. “We plan to serve their beer.”
Despite the outpouring of support, board members did ask some questions — some similar to those asked of Palmer at the Planning Commission meeting.
Board member Carl Ebaugh focused on the smell such a brewery might waft into the surrounding areas.
“The odor of, I always called it slop, but you people call it mash after it’s done. That doesn’t smell real well. How quickly do you dispose of that (odor)?” he asked Palmer.
Palmer, with experience from the planning commission in his back pocket, explained that he and Johnson plan to have farmers collect the post-brew material the day of brewing sessions. Farmers can use the material to feed animals, among other options.
And whether the odor is pleasant depends on who’s smelling it. Heltebridle said he can’t wait to get a whiff.
“I will say that at every zoning meeting I’ve attended, the smell comes up, and in every brewery I’ve ever been to I can’t get enough of that smell because it smells like you’re baking bread or porridge or oatmeal,” Atticks told the board. “If that’s the worst-case scenario, then, I always tell folks ‘Sign me up for it.’”
Johnson, Palmer and future employees aren’t likely to be brewing everyday, Palmer testified.
“We intend to brew on a pretty predictable schedule,” Palmer said. “So (the farmer’s) going to supply us with some 55-gallon drums and we’ll fill those, and he’ll pick them up immediately afterwards, because he wants to get them to his livestock quickly, as well.”
Brewing sessions, Palmer said, will yield three barrels, or 90 gallons, of beer.
“The typical keg you see at a restaurant is a half barrel,” he added, “so we would be able to brew somewhere between five and six full kegs per brewing session and we anticipate doing that around two times a week. It’ll depend on customer demand of course.”
His explanations proved satisfactory, as Ebaugh voted favorably like his peers.
The decision Wednesday night will be finalized in a legal opinion written by Gullo, who serves as something of a de facto judge at the zoning appeals hearings.
After that Johnson and Palmer can sign their lease and start the arduous licensing process — the microbrewery needs federal, state and county brewing certification.
“All of those are tied to a physical address, physical property,” Palmer said. “Since property is tied to zoning, we have all the applications ready to go, we just aren’t filing until we know we have the appeals approved.”
As of Wednesday at about 8:30 p.m., they do. And if all goes smoothly, Johnson said, they anticipate opening in the spring.
“We’re really hoping for the March-April timeframe,” Palmer concluded.
Now it’s time to tackle the pesky paperwork, remodel their new brewery home and plan their grand opening.
Johnson added: “Lots of long nights of working and working…”