Pouring it On

From Farms to City Streets, Locals Brew a Craft Beer Haven

By Mike Collins | Photography by Mike Collins | Posted on 04.05.17 – Dining, Food & Drink, Frederick Scene, People & Places

On a recent warm Saturday afternoon, Bill Hackley of Columbia ventured out to Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm for the first time. Hackley had previously visited local beer mainstays Flying Dog Brewery and Brewer’s Alley before journeying to the farm brewery near Libertytown. “It’s a great [beer] scene right now, isn’t it?” he says. “I will be back.”

And he did return—the next day, continuing his Frederick County beer tour at other local breweries.

After what many beer aficionados—and some entrepreneurs—considered a slow start, the craft beer fever that had been sweeping the nation for many years has hit the county hard. Today, there are a dozen local breweries, a number destined to grow in the near future. Frederick County’s largest brewery and at least one of its smallest have outgrown their spaces and are planning expansions/relocations. Brewers are already bringing in so many visitors that some are comparing the tourism potential to that of regional craft beer hub Asheville, N.C.

“Having more breweries in Frederick County has enhanced business for all of us. It’s made Frederick County a destination,” says brewmaster Vic Aellen of Red Shedman Farm Brewery.

Haven’t been to a brewery in a while?

Especially at the county’s smaller breweries, the person taking your order—or taking out the trash—may be the brewer or the owner, or a combination of both. Any small business is slow to add staff, which is a significant expense, but there’s an ulterior motive here: What better way to learn what your customers think of your product than to serve it to them, and collect real-time feedback?

“It’s new and refreshing. They’re off to a great start here,” says Frederick resident Harlon Howard during a visit to the recently opened Attaboy Beer near Carroll Creek. Howard has visited several of the local breweries. “It’s a beer revolution. If you don’t find something you enjoy, you probably don’t like beer.”

Few local breweries offer full restaurant service, but many offer snacks—and most encourage guests to bring in food, or share menus from nearby restaurants that deliver. And many offer live music regularly through- out the year; check their websites or social media channels for more information. Especially on weekends, patrons are as likely to be from outside Frederick County as local, and many of these visitors plan to stop at two or three local breweries during their visit.

“It’s a fun group event to come up here on a Saturday and enjoy what Maryland has to offer,” says Matt Sikorski of Catonsville during a stop at Red Shedman with friends from the Baltimore area.

Frederick Brewing Company to Flying Dog

Contemporary craft beer first came to Frederick in 1992, when Frederick Brewing Company was founded on South Carroll Street. After outgrowing its small original site, the company built a large, state-of-the-art brewery in an industrial park south of Frederick. Unfortunately, it couldn’t sell enough beer to operate the new facility efficiently, even after buying the Wild Goose and Brimstone brands and merging with Cleveland brewer Snyder International in 2001. The company operated in receivership until 2006, when it was purchased by Flying Dog Brewery.

Flying Dog took off in 1990 as an Aspen, Colo., brewpub that expanded into Denver, says Matt Brophy, who has been with the company since 2003. The chief operating officer and longtime brewmaster passed the brewing responsibilities to Ben Clark last fall. The company moved all its brewing operations to Frederick in 2008.

Now the company has outgrown its Frederick headquarters, and in December purchased 31 acres beside Frederick Municipal Airport. “We’ve spent a good deal of time in the past couple of years looking at equipment and the process,” Brophy says. Now they’re working on site plans and waiting for a state law change that will make the project feasible. In a best-case scenario, Brophy says the new facility could be fully operational in 2020, with a capacity of 250,000 barrels per year and room to grow. In comparison, the company produced just over 100,000 barrels in 2016.

Many people don’t realize how many different beers Flying Dog produces, Brophy notes. There are 12 year-round beers; 10 seasonals; about 30 each year in its Sub Rosa series of small-batch beers, most available only in the taproom; six Brewhouse Rarity releases; four Heat Series beers; and four single-hop imperial IPAs. Such experimentation at Flying Dog has led to a number of successful new beers. “The innovative aspect has always been something we’ve gravitated toward,” he says. Distribution is to 30 states and Western Europe. The brewery is continuing its concert series this year and has expanded the hours of its tasting room, which hosted about 60,000 guests last year.

Brophy is enjoying the county’s brewery boom. “It’s always good to see new entrants that make quality beer, to share with an audience that’s thirsty for it,” he says. “Farm breweries, to me, are a very logical connection. A lot of people don’t think of beer as an agricultural product.”

Brewer’s Alley/Monocacy Brewing

The Brewer’s Alley restaurant and brewpub in Downtown Frederick opened in July 1996, and Tom Flores—founding brewmaster at Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore—was hired as brewmaster in September 1997. “The setup afforded me a little more creative expression,” Flores says. “The brewpub environment is more seasonals, more one-offs.”

With its beers growing in popularity, in early 2006 Brewer’s Alley contracted with Frederick Brewing to produce and bottle some of its recipes. Eventually, new owner Flying Dog needed that capacity for its own products, and Brewer’s Alley found itself at a crossroads. A production brewery with a separate license, Monocacy Brewing Company, began brewing in the former Ebert’s Ice Cream plant on North Market Street in late 2011.

“There’s a real difference in identity of brand,” Flores notes. Brewer’s Alley emphasizes faithful renditions of traditional styles from around the world, while Monocacy seeks to introduce new combinations of flavor in beer that Brewers Alley would not have explored. “It’s simple and honest, introducing people to new flavors in beer. We’re not driven by guidelines.”

And they’re succeeding. Brewer’s Alley won a bronze medal in the 2016 Great American Beer Festival for its 1634 Ale. It also won two gold and two silver medals in the Brewers Association of Maryland’s annual Comptroller’s Cup competition, where Monocacy won gold and bronze. Last year, an expansion at the restaurant allowed Brewer’s Alley to resume brewing at the pub.

Flores describes today’s Frederick brewing scene as vibrant, full of hope and supportive. “I have a very high degree of confidence in the consumers and their willingness to support the local breweries. People are excited about it,” he says. “The only bubble burst anyone’s going to see anytime soon is the bubbles bursting in the glass they’re holding right now.”

Barley and Hops

Eric Gleason became head brewer at Barley and Hops Grill and Microbrewery in August 2015. The restaurant, which opened in 1999, has been under new ownership since December 2016. “It’s a change in the flexibility of our brewing philosophy,” he says, citing a new and beer-centric chef, a new menu and updated branding. “It’s not about making the same thing every time. It’s about always having something new.”

Gleason, a professional brewer for six and a half years, garnered 21 awards—including Best in Show for Ambulette, a Belgian pale ale, in the 2016 Comptroller’s Cup competition. “We’re not out for medals. That’s not our goal here,” he says. “Our best metrics are sales reports and how fast the tanks empty.” The brewery produced about 35 seasonal recipes last year, he adds.

The Frederick beer scene is evolving, and there’s room for more breweries, Gleason says. “It’s very exciting to watch all this happen. Frederick’s got a younger, kind-of-hip scene. There’s interest and opportunity. There’s room for people to come in.”

His philosophy is to brew beers solidly grounded in a style, “and then I put a little twist on it. My three words are seasonal, fresh, and compelling.” This year he’ll be focusing on IPAs, with the goal of a new seasonal brew every month, and looks forward to more collaborations with other breweries.

Frey’s Brewing Company

“I’ve been farming since I was a kid,” says Adam Frey, who opened Frey’s Brewing in February 2013 to leverage his farm. “It’s agriculture,” he explains. Frey’s was the second farm brewery licensed in Frederick County and the first to begin production. He’s currently working to open a tasting room on the property—something he’s never had.

“My beer styles are much more farm-focused, and I’m willing to do things not a lot of other people are willing to do,” like brewing a lot of saison-style beers, Frey says. “Everything we do has wheat in it, because we grow wheat on the farm.” Once his tasting room opens, he plans to have 20 taps. “I think that having a nice variety of beer on tap is going to make us a nicer draw.”

The number of breweries in the county is an asset, Frey says, noting that there are three farm breweries and several wineries within a five-mile radius of his brewery. “This could bring a lot of tourists.” So could the Mud Dog Run, a 5-kilometer, high-intensity obstacle course his farm is hosting on April 22.

Milkhouse Brewery

even before opening Milkhouse Brewery—Frederick County’s first licensed farm brewery, made possible by a new state law passed unanimously in Annapolis in 2013, retired lawyer and teacher Tom Barse had been growing hops for years. His father brought him a homebrew kit from London in 1972, and he’s been brewing ever since.

That first pale ale “actually was not very good,” but Barse isn’t looking back. Milkhouse was honored as Best Beer in Frederick Magazine’s recent “Best of Frederick” awards, and won a couple of gold medals in the 2016 Comptroller’s Cup competition. “Our craft beer base is going beyond the typical upper-middle-class, white, thirtysomething people,” he says. Even wine drinkers are becoming fans. “I believe that there’s a beer for everybody.”

Barse prefers to brew classic styles of English ales, adding that every brewery has different objectives. “Some of us emphasize the malty character, or the hoppy character, or the yeast character. There’s so much that you can do.”

He believes the brewery boom is benefitting everyone. “With each new brewery that opens, we have gotten busier,” Barse says. “Each brewery that has opened has committed to making good beer and educating the public. Our customer base is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Red Shedman Farm Brewery

Brewmaster Vic Aellen and his brothers opened the Red Shedman Farm Brewery on their 230-acre farm, beside the family’s Linganore Winecellars winery, in November 2014. Since then the brewery has grown from one employee to 10. “The brewery actually complements the winery,” Aellen explains. “We have a pretty piece of property and a fairly laid-back attitude.”

The rolling hills lend themselves to concerts and family picnics; the brewery offers live music every weekend during the summer. It can sell the farm’s wines, or guests can walk next door. With up to a dozen beer styles on tap, Aellen also brews several ciders. He prefers to make well-balanced beers with lower alcohol content. “I try to achieve an optimum balance between the flavor, the malts, the hops and the alcohol,” he explains. “People want choices.”

Aellen adds, “We’re thrilled with the growth that we’ve had, and we’re thrilled with our customers—they like us and they come back,” Aellen adds.

Mad Science Brewing Company

Brian Roberts launched Mad Science Brewing Company on April 11, 2015. He holds a brewery license but doesn’t currently brew at the farm; another brewery makes his recipes under contract. “I’m keeping the options open right now,” he says, noting the high capital cost of constructing a brewery. “We started off small to see if it’s viable.”

Mad Science is located in the Thanksgiving Farms nursery and garden center south of Buckeystown. “People enjoy the beer, so they’re coming out,” the biomedical scientist says. “Thanksgiving Farms itself is more of a word-of-mouth business.” And his beer is garnering recognition, too; his Munich Helles lager won gold in the 2016 Comptrollers Cup.

The brewery started as a community-supported brewery, like a farm’s community-supported agriculture program where subscribers receive regular produce assortments. “That was my version of crowdsourcing.” He laughs. “I want to stay small and just be a local place. People can go to a brewery and sit across from the guy who brewed the beer—you can’t get more local than that.”

Smoketown Brewing Station

Smoketown Brewing Station, located in the old Brunswick fire station, celebrates its first anniversary with a special event on April 1. Brewmaster Mitch Pilchuk was a homebrewer for 21 years, studied brewing in England and previously brewed for a Virginia brewery. He appreciates the freedom and control he is afforded. “Here I can say, ‘I have an idea,’ do it and it’s done.” The brewery won two medals at the 2016 Comptroller’s Cup.

“We are bringing in people who wouldn’t come to Brunswick normally,” he adds. “It’s amazing how many people in Frederick don’t know where Brunswick is.” An upstairs event space, set to open this summer, will help in that mission.

He’s also proud of the economical brewhouse he’s put together. “We did not spend a ton of money to become a brewery,” he says. “Our motto is to make do with what you have.” Pilchuk is excited to see the area’s beer growth. “We’re definitely not saturated.”

Olde Mother Brewing

Homebrewers Keith Marcoux and Nick Wilson celebrated a major accomplishment, their Olde Mother Brewing’s first anniversary, in late October. Marcoux says their numbers have only gone up since opening on East Patrick Street in 2015. “I think everyone is embracing craft beer. And everybody’s going back to their neighborhood bar—they enjoy drinking something that’s made near them. It was a great first year for us.”

And it’s a great time to be part of the brewing industry, Wilson says. “I believe it’s exploding. It’s a rising tide. The hub of breweries opening up near each other creates a destination scene for craft beer drinkers.”

Stylistically, the brewers like to offer fresh IPAs, and to produce balanced beers. “We try to cover all the bases. We realize everyone has a different palate,” Marcoux explains. “I think the biggest way we differentiate ourselves is the comfortable atmosphere we provide. I think we’ve got something here that’s a little different from the rest.

Attaboy Beer

Brian Ogden worked for a California brewery for a year before opening with his wife, Carly, Attaboy Beer off Carroll Creek in Frederick. In fact, craft beer may have saved the couple’s first date. “The date was kind of bombing,” he recalls, and as they left a stuffy restaurant, he told her he was stopping at a craft beer bar. “Carly’s ears perked up,” he says with a laugh. They were married two years later.

The Ogdens moved to Frederick because laws here allow small breweries to sell direct to consumers—and because they saw potential. “We’re excited about Frederick being a brewery destination,” Brian Ogden says. “It’s not just locals here—especially on the weekends. People may think we have a lot of breweries, but we’re still behind most of the rest of the country.”

Attaboy opened five weeks before their March 1 grand opening. During its first month, Attaboy petitioned the Frederick County Liquor Board to allow children in the taproom—initially prohibited by the regulations. After a Feb. 27 hearing, the board changed that rule, immediately allowing kids into all county taprooms until 9 p.m. The Ogdens wanted a family friendly business, and not just so they could bring their infant son to work with them.

The beer lineup will include hoppy American IPAs and pale ales, and Belgian styles the couple likes. “The great thing about beer is you can make a new beer every three weeks, and there’s a lot you can change,” Carly Ogden says.

Rockwell Brewery

Paul Tinney and Matt Thrasher opened Frederick’s newest brewery, Rockwell Brewery, March 2 on East Street behind the Family Meal restaurant. “I live on Rockwell Terrace and I already have a com-pany called Rockwell Guitars,” Tinney says. “My wife joked that I might not be able to remember another name.” Thrasher added the tag line: “Beer well.”

Both Tinney and Thrasher come from entrepreneurial backgrounds. “We want to produce things that people want to drink,” Tinney says. He gravitates toward stouts and ales, while “Matt wants to hop things up. It’s a good match.” An outdoor beer garden is planned, and the brewery eventually will expand into an adjoining section of the building.

And only a month in, they’re excited about the local beer scene. “You keep hearing the buzz—we’re definitely the Asheville of Maryland,” Thrasher says. “People coming in already say they’ve been to Monocacy, to Attaboy, to Olde Mother. And people come from all over the world to check out Flying Dog. We’re the next jump-off. It’s exciting.”