There's something brewing with craft beer in Howard County

General manager Alex Taylor pours a beer from one of 56 choices at the Frisco Taphouse & Brewery in Columbia.
General manager Alex Taylor pours a beer from one of 56 choices at the Frisco Taphouse & Brewery in Columbia. (Photo for The Baltimore Sun by Doug Kapustin)

When Baltimore brewpub owners Don Kelly and Justin Dvorkin were looking to expand, Howard County grabbed their attention.

They now plan to open the second location of The Alehouse in Columbia, which will join their Pratt Street location.

"It's a great community. It's a nice community to be a part of, we thought," Kelly said.

It is also a community where brewmasters are finding a home. The Alehouse will join Frisco Taphouse & Brewery and Pub Dog within a few blocks of one another on Dobbin Road. Ellicott City has its own brewpub, the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company on Main Street.

"From a broad perspective, there's a renaissance of craft beer that's happening nationwide, and certainly here in Maryland we're seeing unprecedented growth of craft brewing," said J.T. Smith, executive director of the Brewer's Association of Maryland.

Smith said Howard County is an especially good fit for brewpubs because residents there are interested in craft and artisanal products.

He said he has heard rumors of other breweries that might be coming to Howard County. It is one of the top areas in Maryland for brewery growth, he said, along with Baltimore City and Frederick, Baltimore and Carroll counties. There are about 30 brewing companies in the state, with 10 to 15 more in the planning stages.

The Alehouse is slated to open in mid-November at the former Rocky Run Tap and Grill location, Kelly said. He and Dvorkin had hoped to open it this month but work on the nearly 9,500-square-foot pub was delayed.

The Alehouse will seat 250 people and have more than 30 televisions, Kelly said.

They plan to continue brewing their beer in the basement of their Pratt Street location but might also start brewing in Columbia in the future.

Kelly said the growing popularity of brewpubs is a national trend, and one he thinks is here to stay.

"The craft brew market in the beer industry is growing very rapidly, and it's forecasted to continue to grow," he said.

The Alehouse specializes in a traditional English-style brew, using an English strain of yeast and open fermentation over a direct fire to produce 16 types of beer.

Craft beer attracts fans because it allows patrons to choose a premium product without having to spend as much as they would for premium wine or spirits, Dvorkin said.

Brewpubs also place a large emphasis on the food they serve.

Pub Dog specializes in a variety of pizzas, served alongside beer made at its brewery in Westminster. The brewpub just celebrated the fifth anniversary of its Columbia location. The first location is in Federal Hill in Baltimore.

"A lot of the brewpubs cater to people that like the heavier, stronger, hoppier-type beers," said Drew Walston, Pub Dog managing partner. "We try to have a wide range. We do have the hoppy beers, but we also have some really light stuff."

The pub's light beers include three fruit flavors: blueberry, raspberry and peach.

Walston said people have asked him whether he's worried about The Alehouse coming in.

"I think there's plenty of people in Howard County to support many more restaurants around," he said. "It's kind of a little bar area within a half-mile stretch on Dobbin. That's more what we're used to, coming from Federal Hill."

Included in that stretch is Frisco Taphouse & Brewery, which opened nearly two years ago.

Alex Taylor, Frisco's general manager, said The Alehouse has a following, so he hopes the new location will pull people from other areas into the neighborhood who will then try all the brewpubs in Columbia and help bolster the local economy.

"There's a huge amount of chain restaurants here with no regard for craft beer," Taylor said. "This is awesome. We welcome [The Alehouse] in."

Frisco, which is not part of a chain, is distinguishing itself by brewing on site. Because of regulations on setting up a brewery, Frisco's Push Brewing Company started brewing only about a month and a half ago.

Taylor described its beers as hoppy, meant to attract craft brewing fans. Push Brewing Company brews a pale ale, American India pale ale and an American Imperial red ale.

He said the possibilities are endless for craft brewers, and that seasonal beers are very popular, such as a pumpkin beer for fall.

"Craft beer is a rising trend, and wine had its moments there, so did spirits; but those concepts are sort of one-dimensional," Taylor said. In craft brewing, "there are no rules, there are no boundaries. You can do whatever you want."