Lisa Carton cupped a small pile of green, acorn-like buds in her hand.
She picked out one, broke it open and took a deep sniff, reveling in the bright pine aroma of the Chinook hops, a key ingredient in making beer.
"The Chinook, I don't get tired of how it smells," Carton said with a smile.
This time next year, Carton and her husband Che' plan to incorporate the Chinook hops they grow on their northern Baltimore County farm into beer from their own brewery. The Cartons, who grow four varieties of hops commercially on their Black Locust Hops farm, are joining a budding number of farm-based breweries popping up across Maryland that are taking advantage of growing interest in craft beer and locally sourced foods.
If the Cartons overcome some zoning hurdles and pull the brewery together, they could become the 10th enterprise to hold a state farm brewer's license, a designation created by unanimous votes in the Maryland General Assembly in 2012.
Several of the state's farm breweries are in Frederick County; Black Locust would be the first in Baltimore County.
Farm breweries represent a small but growing segment of the craft beer industry — which itself is a small but rapidly growing segment of the overall beer industry. Craft beer sales by volume have soared from just 2.8 percent of U.S. beer sales in 2004 to 19.3 percent in 2014, according to the National Brewers Association, a national trade group for craft and independent brewers.
"Craft brewing in general is a trend for a lot of consumers, who are more interested than ever in understanding where they're made, how they're made," said Bart Watson, the association's chief economist. "It doesn't get more local than a brewery that makes their own raw materials and puts them into the finished products."
Farm breweries offer a chance for farmers to make extra income in much the same way as hosting pumpkin patches and corn mazes.
"Agritourism is on the rise. You combine this with the interest in local brewing, and it makes a lot of sense to see this farm brewing trend increase," Watson said.
Che' Carton compared the business to the wineries that have become popular around the region, but instead of gazing out at rows of grapevines and tasting merlots and chardonnays in a cellar, Black Locust's customers will see hop vines that grow as tall as telephone poles and sip IPAs and harvest ales in a taproom.
"The farm-to-table movement is our niche," Lisa Carton said.
The Brewers Association doesn't have national data on farm breweries, but Watson said they are popular in states where special licenses have been created, such as in Maryland and New York.
Under the 2012 law that created the farm brewery license in Maryland, they must use an agricultural product grown on their farm — either the grain, whether it's wheat or barley, and/or the hops, which are used to flavor beer. Beer's other key ingredients are water and yeast.
Unlike Maryland's production breweries such as Union Craft, Duclaw and Clipper City, farm breweries can make no more than 15,000 barrels of a beer a year. (A barrel holds the equivalent of 31 gallons — or 124 pints.)
But farm breweries can sell their beer to drink on-site as well as off-site. Production breweries typically must get a separate license for a taproom. Operators also can apply to hold special events.
"Because you are committing to being a farm and that's your driving goal … they're allowed a little more flexibility than other breweries," said Kevin Atticks, president of the Brewers Association of Maryland.
Atticks expects the interest in craft breweries in general — and farm breweries in particular — to keep growing in Maryland. Customers love trying local beer and more beer-loving entrepreneurs are looking to get into the business.
"We just see incredible devotion ... by customers," he said. "People jump at it."
That's not to say that it's easy to get into the farm brewery business.
Adam Frey opened Frey's Brewing Company on his family's farm in Mount Airy in 2013, but still doesn't have a taproom after getting caught up in permitting issues with Frederick County. For now, his beers are sold in liquor stores and bars throughout Central Maryland.
Frey grew up farming and later served in the Air Force and worked in carpentry and video production. He yearned to go back to farming, but in a way that wouldn't require him to spend endless hours driving a tractor.
"I always wanted something to do with farming that would challenge my brain a little bit," Frey said.
In the northern Harford County community of Street, fourth-generation farmer Alex Galbreath got Falling Branch Brewery off the ground on his family's farm this fall. Galbreath got a government agricultural grant to grow hops and then expanded into brewing Belgian-style farmhouse ales. He started selling the beer a few weeks ago in the family's Hawks Hill Creamery.
"It's a way to continue farming while pursuing my own interest, because I love the craft beer industry and it's a growing industry," he said.
At Black Locust, the Cartons have several beer recipes from their years as home brewers and hope to make at least four styles once their brewhouse is open: a pale ale, a brown ale, a stout and a California common ale, popularized by San Francisco's Anchor Steam Brewing.
They plan to sell the beer in a taproom that will be part of their brewhouse and also hope to sell it at local restaurants and liquor stores. The profit margin will be better on the farm, but with limited hours, they'll have to sell off-site to reach the sales volume needed to be profitable.
The Cartons count themselves lucky to have supportive neighbors in their rural community of Freeland, just south of the Pennsylvania line. Their closest neighbor is a craft beer fan, and others understand they're not planning a loud or busy operation, the Cartons said.
The Freeland Community Association supports the Cartons' plans, acknowledging it will lessen the pressure for the land to be developed. Plus, the brewery may help the local economy, said Andy Rathgeber, president of the group, which has the motto: "Preserve Rural Life."
"If we want to keep development pressures at bay, we must accept that a rural economy means enabling agriculture-related business activities," he said.
Baltimore County's zoning laws, however, didn't account for farm breweries as an acceptable use in rural areas such Freeland. So the Cartons worked with County Councilman Wade Kach on a bill that passed this month allowing farm breweries and microbreweries in certain rural zones if approved by a county administrative judge.
The Cartons plan to apply soon and hope to start construction next year on their brewery — with a brewhouse and a taproom in a 100-by-50-foot building.
The couple gradually got into the beer business after they began brewing their own. A worldwide hops shortage in 2006 motivated them to try growing their own hops. Living in Monkton at the time, the Cartons grew a few acres of hops at a friend's farm in Freeland.
They were so successful that they eventually bought a farm in Freeland, quit their jobs and now grow hops full time. At their main property, up a narrow, twisting road, the forest opens up into a sun-drenched hilltop field where 4,000 hops plants grow. They still farm hops at their friend's property a few miles away, where there are 1,200 plants.
Hops are perennial plants that have a prime growing season from April through August, finishing off with a labor-intensive, late-summer harvest.
The hops plants are vines that the Cartons train to follow coconut-fiber ropes suspended from soaring wood poles — many of them made from fallen black locust trees.
For now, the Cartons sell almost all of their hops to established breweries, either as fresh-dried hops or in pellets. Their hops are found in several local beers, including Flying Dog's Secret Stash and Full Tilt's Old Line Farm Ale, as well as Hopvine cider from Millstone Cellars in Monkton.
But they can't wait to mix their hops in their own beer.
Maryland farm breweries
Maryland has nearly 10 farm breweries, a category established in state law in 2012. Farm breweries must use products from the farm in their beer, can have sales for on- and off-site consumption and host special events, but production amounts are limited.
Red Shedman Farm Brewery & Hop Farm
13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mt. Airy, MD 21771
The nearly year-old Red Shedman Farm has a 15-barrel brewhouse and a tasting room on 200 acres of farmland and is open Wednesdays through Sundays. The brewery offers a dozen beers that are sold at a few dozen restaurants and liquor stores in the Frederick-Baltimore region, including several Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants.
Falling Branch Brewery
805 Highland Road, Street, MD 21154
Falling Branch opened this fall in Harford County and specializes in Belgian-style beers. Beginning in November, Falling Branch plans to sell its beer at farmers markets, restaurants and liquor stores. Regular hours at the farm are planned beginning in the spring.
Calvert Brewing Company
150 Adelina Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678
The owners of Calvert Brewing Company have a small production facility and beer garden on their Prince Frederick farm that's open on weekends, but they're also building a larger production facility in Upper Marlboro. The lineup of six beers — a stout, a cream ale, a rye ale, a porter and IPA and a pale ale — is sold mostly in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. The closest spot to buy near Baltimore is at Crabtowne USA in Glen Burnie.
Manor Hill Brewing
4411 Manor Lane, Ellicott City, MD 21042
Manor Hill was opened by the owners of Victoria Gastro Pub on a family farm. While the brewery is not open to the public, Manor Hill's beers — including several IPAs, a farmhouse ale, a mojito sour beer and a peach witbier — are available in Maryland and D.C. and growlers are sold at Victoria Gastro Pub.
8253 Dollyhyde Road, Mount Airy, MD 21771
Milkhouse is located at Stillpoint Farm in Mount Airy. The farm is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and regularly hosts concerts. They offer six brews: a porter, a hefeweizen, a dry stout, an IPA, a bitter and a farmhouse ale, which are sold at dozens of bars and restaurants including several Buffalo Wild Wings locations.
Frey's Brewing Company
8601 Mapleville Road Mount Airy, MD 21771
Opened Feb. 1, 2013, Frey's ships beer to restaurants and liquor stores in the Frederick-Baltimore region. The brewery does not have a taproom, but sells beer in growlers for off-site consumption. The brewery advertises 14 beers, including IPAs, stouts, a lager and a farmhouse sour beer.
Costa Ventosa Vineyard & Winery
9031 Whaleysville Road, Whaleysville, MD 21872
This Eastern Shore winery also holds a state farm brewery license and claims to be the first joint winery-microbrewery in the state. Costa Ventosa brews an IPA, a brown ale and seasonal beers. Costa Ventosa is open to the public Fridays through Sundays.
1619 Buckeystown Pike, Adamstown, MD 21710
Located at Thanksgiving Farms, this brewery grows hops, fruits and vegetables for its beers. While the farm holds a state farm brewery license, the beer is currently contract brewed off-site. The beer lineup includes a brown ale, a brown ale/American pale ale hybrid, an IPA, a dark ale and a helles lager. Mad Science participates in Frederick-area festivals and offers memberships in a community-supported brewery program. The farm's market is open daily through Christmas Eve.
Waredaca Brewing Company
4017 Damascus Road, Laytonsville, MD 20882
A brewery is being built on a Laytonsville farm that was once a co-ed youth camp known as Camp Waredaca and later turned into an equestrian farm. Beer is not yet available.
Brookville Beer Farm
20315 Georgia Avenue, Brookeville, MD 20833
This brewery in northern Montgomery County is under construction and not yet open to the public.
Black Locust Hops
Black Locust is not yet open to the public. The Baltimore County Council recently passed a zoning bill that will enable Black Locust — which currently grows hops — to apply for approval to add a brewery. The owners hope to begin construction in 2016. Black Locust's hops are used in Millstone Cellar's Hopvine, Flying Dog's Secret Stash and other local beers.
2300 Harvey Gummenl Road, Hampstead, MD 21074
Though licensed as a regular production brewery, Ruhlman is located on Creeping Creek farm, where hops are grown for the company's line of beers. The brewery is open Thursdays through Sundays and the farm features a disc golf course.
Sources: Comptroller of Maryland, Maryland Brewers Association, brewery websites.