Around two and a half years ago, Jesse Johnson and Dave Palmer decided to start a brewery together after years spent home brewing together.
“We both like the beer we make,” Johnson said. “We generally like the vibe that other people in the industry have created through their microbreweries and it was a good fit for us. Something we were really passionate about.”
“We are both very hard-working in our day jobs, our day-to-day lives,” Palmer added. “There is something to be said about working that hard for somebody else versus working that hard for yourself. The idea of putting that much effort, that much time into something that we could call our own was really appealing.”
They kept their full-time jobs as they worked on their entrepreneurial dream. Johnson recalled sending a text to Palmer venting about his day job frustrations.
“He was consoling me,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘It’s all right. It just fuels my brewery fire.’ This was before we had a name and he said, ‘That’s it! Brewery Fire.’”
As of early June, Johnson had quit his full-time job and the pair were aiming for an Aug. 1 opening date for Brewery Fire in Taneytown. Contractors were working on installing floor drains, a vent hood to get rid of condensation and adding an interior door to connect the brewery with its neighbor, Thunderhead Bowl & Grill.
“When we are open, our customers can go over there and maybe bowl a few frames or get some of his food,” Johnson said. “And his customers, if they want to come over and try some of our beers, they can just walk between the two businesses.”
Seeking an ‘experience’
The pair are not alone as new craft breweries are popping up throughout the region.
“Twenty-four percent of Maryland’s overnight visitors come for a culinary experience with local beer, wine and spirits as the perfect compliment for Maryland crabs and oysters,” said Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz. “Maryland’s breweries, distilleries and wineries are great places to visit and see how Maryland is open for wonderful examples of micro-manufacturing.”
Maryland Brewers Association spokesman Jim Bauckman notes there are several reasons for the increase.
“There are people traveling throughout the country, and when they visit new locations and new places they see the culture of craft beer growing in those areas,” he said. “They are visiting local businesses and they want to experience that when they come home.” So many are brewing their own beer or becoming entrepreneurs and opening their own business.
Laws have also changed in the state over the past decade that are beneficial to the brewing industry, such as the ability to fill and sell growlers, sell pints directly to consumers and offer tours of facilities. Just this past session, the General Assembly passed the brewery modernization act allowing breweries to produce and sell more on site.
“Those laws have made it more appealing for people to invest in opening a brewery,” Bauckman said.
Forward Brewing in Annapolis is steering toward a fall 2019 opening. As of early June, building permits were in order and five months of construction were set to begin soon.
Formerly a teacher, owner Cam Bowdren came up with the brewery name thanks to his hobby of sailing.
“I am a bowman,” he said. “That is my position. I work on the front part of the boat, which is called the forward part of the boat. It’s a hands-on part of the boat.”
His family has owned the building that will house the brewery for more than 30 years. It formerly hosted a marine electronics shop. Though Bowdren has done home brewing in the past, he has hired a brewer to create the company’s beers.
One of the aspects he is looking forward to in the space is creating a sense of community with long tables and picnic benches similar to German biergartens.
A community focus
In recent years, there has been a movement away from mass-produced beers.
“The consumer in general has become more conscious about supporting local businesses,” Bauckman said. “I think there really has been a focus, especially in more urban areas, on focusing your dollars spent on a neighbor or on somebody in your community.”
He also believes the products the mass producers are offering are not exciting to certain consumers such as millennials and those looking to spend their money locally.
When craft beer began in the late 1970s to the early 1990s, “there was a real focus on brewing beer that didn’t taste like the yellow fizzy beer that you found in the refrigerator,” Bauckman said. “Now I think there has been even more exploration in what beer can taste like. We have beers that are brewed with very unique ingredients. We have sour beers that are becoming popular everywhere. Hops are being cultivated and harvested throughout the country. It is a total exploration of what flavor can mean when still talking to a consumer in the context of beer.”
Bauckman spent a decade in the brewing industry before joining the association. He believes there is plenty of room in the marketplace for more breweries to open.
“I don’t think that any particular jurisdiction in Maryland has reached a point of total saturation in the market place,” he said.
He lives in Frederick, where there are seven breweries within the city limits. Bauckman said there is room for several more.
“That idea of a rising tide is going to lift all ships is really true,” he said. “When you have a number of good breweries in close proximity, it is going to encourage people who are seeking out breweries to go and visit all of them.”
There has also been a shift in the consumers’ mind as the industry matures.
“The consumers are demanding a higher quality product,” Bauckman said. “It’s not enough anymore just to be the local guy. It’s not enough just to have local ingredients. It’s not enough to be brewing a beer that is outside of the old definition of what beer was. Now the consumer — because there are so many great breweries in the marketplace — are discerning in their taste and are able to determine what is good beer and those are the beers they are going to seek out.”