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AleCraft to expand in Pennsylvania after Harford farm brewery moratorium, proposed restrictions create uncertainty

The owners of AleCraft Brewery in Bel Air had plans to expand its operations in Harford County, but are now taking their business to Pennsylvania after the county council enacted a moratorium on farm breweries and a committee began entertaining some of the most restrictive regulations in the state on such businesses.

AleCraft Brewery plans to relocate its hop operation and open a brewery in Railroad borough in York County, less than 5 miles from the Mason-Dixon line, vice president Brad Streett announced Wednesday. AleCraft plans to begin construction by early this fall and host a grand opening by spring of 2022.

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The brewery will also partner with the owners of the former Fox and Fern Cafe in Forest Hill to offer food and coffee on the four-acre property.

Brad Streett Vice President of Ale Craft in Bel Air had planned to expand operations in Harford County, but a 120-day moratorium by the county council on approving new farm breweries caused a change in plan. Streett announced Wednesday that AleCraft will instead relocate its hop operation and open a brewery in Railroad borough in York County.
Brad Streett Vice President of Ale Craft in Bel Air had planned to expand operations in Harford County, but a 120-day moratorium by the county council on approving new farm breweries caused a change in plan. Streett announced Wednesday that AleCraft will instead relocate its hop operation and open a brewery in Railroad borough in York County. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

AleCraft originally planned to open a tasting and brewing facility on Waverly Drive in Bel Air, but the moratorium was introduced the day before the brewery’s zoning hearing on May 5, Streett said. The business began looking for alternate sites immediately thereafter.

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The 120-day moratorium on approval of new farm breweries in Harford County was enacted in June, and was a major factor — along with the uncertainty of it being extended, in AleCraft’s decision to look elsewhere, Streett said. Discussions of the study group meant to re-examine legislation that allows farm breweries in Harford County was also of concern, he said, as some of the regulations floated were among the most restrictive in the state.

At the group’s most recent meeting, the executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland warned that the proposed rules may drive future farm breweries elsewhere.

“The uncertainty and restrictive ordinances being proposed forced us to find a lower risk location for primary production,” Streett said in the announcement.

“We tried to work with the Harford County Council, and members of the County administration to allow us to move forward with an agriculturally zoned property to allow us to expand in our home county of Harford, but we were met with a clear message that there would be no accommodation made for us, despite other farm breweries in planning being given exemptions from the moratorium.”

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Councilman Robert Wagner empaneled the study group with the goal of making the 2015 legislation allowing farm breweries serve its intent — allowing farmers an auxiliary source of income. He’s argued that farm breweries have gone from being a source of extra revenue to the main moneymakers for some agricultural properties.

The study group has discussed minimum acreages, requirements for owners to occupy the property where the farm breweries are located and a three-year waiting period for establishing a brewery on agricultural land. Other proposed regulations would include requiring at least two acres of grain, hops, fruit or other ingredients used to make their alcohol, which can be grown on-site as well as off-site, as long as the off-site farm is owned, occupied and operated by the applicant.

Pennsylvania was welcoming of AleCraft, Streett said, and residents were supportive at its zoning hearing in mid-August. There is no zoning distinction between farm breweries and regular breweries in the Pennsylvania borough where AleCraft’s new operation will be constructed, he said.

While AleCraft plans to keep its Bel Air taproom and two-barrel production facility open without changes, its primary production and hop farm will go to Pennsylvania and triple its production and seating capacity, Streett said.

A rendering from Manns Woodward Studios shows what AleCraft Brewing's proposed operation in Pennsylvania would look like. The owners of AleCraft, in Bel Air, announced they would relocate its hop operation and open a brewery in Railroad borough in York County rather than expand in Harford County because of a moratorium on new farm breweries passed by the county council and proposed regulations for such businesses that would be among the most strict in Maryland.
A rendering from Manns Woodward Studios shows what AleCraft Brewing's proposed operation in Pennsylvania would look like. The owners of AleCraft, in Bel Air, announced they would relocate its hop operation and open a brewery in Railroad borough in York County rather than expand in Harford County because of a moratorium on new farm breweries passed by the county council and proposed regulations for such businesses that would be among the most strict in Maryland. (Courtesy AleCraft Brewery)

The 13,000-square-foot building in York County will feature a seven-barrel brewhouse, taproom, biergarten and restaurant. It will be situated on four acres adjacent to the NCR trail, featuring spacious outdoor seating and a rooftop deck, according to a news release.

AleCraft was born in Harford County, with its owners establishing a small hop farm in 2010, a retail establishment in 2013 and the current brewery in 2017.

After the most recent meeting of the group re-examining farm brewery legislation, Wagner said he thought they had enough information to begin crafting a bill. Any legislation would need to be approved by the county council. He did not give a timeline for when the legislation might come before the rest of the council.

Existing farm breweries will be grandfathered into the legislation and will not be required to change. Three farm breweries — Falling Branch Brewery in Street, Slate Farm Brewery in Whiteford and Hopkins Farm Brewery in Level — have been approved since 2016 and are operating in the county.

Another planned brewery, Duncale Farms on Whitaker Mill Road, was exempted from the moratorium because it had received an agricultural grant from the county in 2019 for the establishment of a farm brewery.

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