Sure thing, Shore Beer
Craft Brew Suds draw fans to Maryland's Coast
Musicians (and a few pop poets) the world over have long rhapsodized about the virtues of an ice-cold beer while enjoying the sand between your toes. And they’re not wrong. Beer always seems to taste better, to be just a bit more refreshing when on vacation and doubly so if you’re enjoying one while baking on the beach. Luckily, Maryland’s Eastern Shore has transformed into a perfect destination for getting your fill of both sun and suds, with more than a dozen active breweries of various sizes churning out excellent beer.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, says the state has a growing thirst for craft beer buoyed by an increasing number of breweries across the state. He partially credits the high rate of intrastate tourism and the adventurous population for helping the rise, but says the distinct characteristics of regions like the Eastern Shore is also a boost.
“The history and culture of the Eastern Shore—folks that have lived there for a long time—they’re making beer they think goes really well with crabs or chilling at the beach, and that’s what I love about beer,” Atticks says. “You don’t hear that in the wine culture and the cheese culture.” It’s not just Atticks touting the rise of beer on the shore, though. Ann McGinnis Hillyer is CEO of State Ventures, which runs ShoreCraftBeer.com, a website that helps plan beer-related vacations in Ocean City and surrounding areas, as well as providing information about breweries and where to find beers in the area.
She says the site was started as a way of improving education—although there’s eight active breweries within a half hour of Ocean City and a total of 17 on the Eastern Shore, she found many bars and restaurants weren’t stocking local beers, despite the combined efforts from several breweries. Her organization has helped improve the education on craft beer. “It’s the most cooperative group of businesses I’ve ever encountered,” she says. “They talk to each other; they mentor each other and I discovered they were running into some trouble getting their beer into bars, into local restaurants. There’s this pervasive attitude that craft beer is a fad.”
Hillyer’s company set out to educate those establishments, including quarterly discussions with representatives from local breweries and hoteliers, bars and restaurants in attendance. Though they’ve only held two of the meetings, the changes have been swift, Hillyer says. “[We’ve had] almost complete buy-in from the hotels—they’re all putting packages together now,” she says. “Now we have at least a handful of hotels and many more coming.I think this is going to result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism to the shore.”
In addition to hotels, three or four beer tour businesses are in the process of launching, where guests can check out several breweries in one trip without worrying about driving. She said the other major factor in the swift response was the quality beer created in the area, which makes it easier for businesses to buy into the product. “We’ve got great breweries, world class beer, award-winning beer,” she says. “That’s sort of the background of why. It was like lighting a match in a room full of gasoline.”
Some of that great beer is being poured at Eastern Shore Brewing Company in St. Michaels, owned by husband and wife Adrian and Lori Moritz. Adrian says the pair started as home brewers years ago, and eventually migrated to commercially producing their beer. Their company is the longest continuously operating brewery on the Eastern Shore, located in the former home of the Just Right Flour mill in a building that dates to the late 1800s.
The brewery’s offerings come from local grains and other agricultural products, and tend toward traditional English styles, including mild ales and traditional pale ales, although Adrian says their annual anniversary beer is where they get experimental (this year’s will include local honeydew melon). “We’re in the backyard of [craft beer powerhouse] Dogfish [Head], so we let Sam [Calagione, Dogfish’s owner] do everything he can with the funky stuff,” Adrian says, laughing.
The reason Eastern Shore Brewing Company makes its styles is simple: It’s the beer the Moritzes like to drink. Brewing beers lighter in alcohol than some of the heavyweight IPAs favored by other breweries, year-round beers like St. Michaels Ale, an amber ale, and Knot So Pale Ale are designed to be quaffable. “We make good beer that everybody drinks a lot of. … It’s all sessionable,” Adrian says “We like people to drink our beer and drink a lot of it, not sit on their porch and have a cigar and a snifter of beer.”
And though the field has become more crowded than when he started his brewery, Moritz says he’s glad to see others in the area, as they’ve become friends, despite the element of competition. “All ships will rise, that’s the way I look at shore beer,” he says. “We’ve got more beers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland than the western shore, per capita. The Eastern Shore is now a destination for breweries. We have our niche, we’re traditional beers, Burley Oak has lots of IPAs and Evolution is straight-up production, but we’re all friends. There’s a spot for all of us here.”