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Salisbury brewer seeks law change to increase output

SALISBURY — Since opening its doors in 2009, Evolution Craft Brewery has steadily produced more of its mainline and seasonal drafts, and whether the brews are being savored pint by pint in the tasting room, poured into a growler or distributed in six packs, the brewery’s following expands daily.

Kerry Williams adds yeast to a batch of pale ale at the Evolution Craft Brewery in Salisbury, located in a former ice factory on U.S. 13.

In 2011, the microbrewery produced 3,800 barrels of beer before moving to the Salisbury location in 2012, when production jumped to about 6,000 barrels, according to co-owner Tom Knorr. During 2013, he expects Evo will produce around 10,000 barrels.

If all goes according to plan, the microbrewery will bump up against its state license’s maximum output of 22,500 barrels per year in two to three years, giving the owners a tough decision to make.

“Right now, the law would say we need to make a decision where we either need to not produce any more beer and not have any more jobs — or if we decide to go over that threshold and to keep growing we would have to give up the restaurant and the tasting room,” Knorr said.

Because having to choose between his growing brewery and the Public House Restaurant is less than pleasing for Knorr, he’s asking local legislators to change the law for all brew pubs with a class seven license.

The changes would allow breweries that also have restaurants in the same building to produce up to two million barrels of beer a year, the same as the federal limit, under their existing class seven licenses.

“If you think of the ramification that in a couple years we’d have to fire all our restaurant employees, which would make zero sense,” Knorr said. “We should be able to reward our staff for good work and increase jobs as we go.”

When the company began brewing in Delmar about 10 people worked at Evo, which increased to around 50 when production moved to East Vine Street last March. Knorr said he wants to continue adding employees as Lucky 7 and Primal Pale Ale get picked up in more markets, but needs the law to change so he can focus on brewing and not bills.

Sens. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, and Jim Mathias, D-Worcester, will likely be co-sponsors of the legislation in the Senate, but plan to meet with the Comptroller’s Office first to gauge support for the change.

“There is no reason we would want to have an antiquated law still on the books that would hinder (Evo’s) progress and their ability to grow their business,” Colburn said.

This isn’t the first time the Knorr brothers have worked with local legislators to change Maryland law. Before the brewery could move from dream to reality, legislation to establish a microbrewery license in Wicomico County had to make its way through the General Assembly.

After being introduced and co-sponsored by several local delegates and senators, that bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

This could take a bit more work, because it will not only change how microbreweries operate in Wicomico County, but statewide.

Christine Feldmann, spokesperson for the Comptroller’s Office, said she did not want to take an official position on the bill because it has not been introduced, but said her office is looking forward to meeting with Knorr and local lawmakers.

“The comptroller is a strong supporter and has been a strong supporter of microbreweries,” Feldmann said.

In the interim, Knorr will continue working with his team to promote Evolution’s diverse drafts and using the restaurant to showcase new creations.

“We want to be able to keep the restaurant — it’s a great marketing piece for us, and basically our lab to see how people are responding to new beers we put out,” Knorr said.