At an event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, Julie Verratti stood behind the bar and said Montgomery County is now one of the best places in the region to open a brewery.
Verratti, a co-founder of Denizens, said changes in county and state laws over the past two years have enabled local breweries to operate with greater freedom.
The changes are playing a role in what has become a sort of brewery renaissance in the county, with several new breweries either opening or preparing to open.
Verratti, a lawyer who worked with local officials to change the laws, welcomes the competition.
“People are starting to realize Montgomery County is where it’s at,” Verratti said. She credits two law changes in 2014 with significantly improving the local landscape for brewers.
One change allowed breweries to serve alcohol without having to also serve food while another allowed small breweries to self-distribute their beer.
“People spent years trying to avoid this county, but with those two simple law changes [the county has] shown they’re willing to help breweries thrive,” Verratti said.
Kathie Durbin, the chief of licensure for the county’s Department of Liquor Control, said the local brewery industry is growing at the fastest rate she has seen in her 12 years working at the department.
The industry started with small operations like Growler’s Brew Pub in Gaithersburg and the commercial brewery chains Rock Bottom in Bethesda and Gordon Biersch in Rockville. In 2010, the “nano-brewery” Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville joined the scene. Then in the summer of 2014 Denizens opened and following it are a small crop of new breweries currently in the start-up phase like 7 Locks Brewing and Suspended Brewing Company in Rockville; and two upcounty farm breweries—Waredaca Brewing Company in Laytonsville and Brookeville Beer Farm in Brookeville.
Photos: The brewery at Growler's (via YouTube). New production barrels at 7 Locks Brewing (via 7 Locks). Hops growing at Waredaca Brewing (via Facebook). The production brewery at Denizens Brewing (Andrew Metcalf).
“We’re very lucky to have some nice breweries here in Montgomery County,” Durbin said.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, says the county is ripe for more breweries to enter the market.
“There’s a really, really well-positioned market,” Atticks said. “You have a lot of craft beer drinkers who aren’t afraid to explore the market. There’s also lots of folks with disposable income and they’re embracing local.”
He said Montgomery was one of the first counties in the state to allow breweries to sell their beer on-site without requiring a certain percentage of sales to be from food.
Atticks said for many years state and local jurisdictions have had liquor laws and zoning regulations that prevented small breweries from doing business. He says laws had defined businesses serving alcohol as either bars or restaurants—which sell alcohol consumed on site—or retail stores, which don’t allow on-site consumption.
These specific definitions have made it difficult for breweries, which often want to sell beer to drink at the brewery as well as to customers who want to take beer home with them.
However, Atticks says over the past few years the state and counties have changed laws and zoning regulations to allow brew pups and microbreweries to set up shop in commercial areas. Previously, production breweries were often relegated to industrial zones such as warehouse centers.
Allowing small breweries to self-distribute in the county has also enabled other area breweries to enter the market.
Hellbender Brewing Co., which launched about eight months ago, is beginning to self-distribute to county bars and restaurants. The brewery in Northeast Washington, D.C., is just a few hundred feet southeast of the Takoma Park line.
So far Hellbender has struck deals with the restaurants Republic in Takoma Park, Clyde’s in Chevy Chase and Sligo Café in Silver Spring to sell its beer, according to co-owner Patrick Mullane.
“The law came down that allowed us to self-distribute and reach out to our neighbors to the north so we’re starting to get our feet wet with self-distribution,” Mullane said. “It’s been great so far.”
He said it’s challenging to deliver the beer to Bethesda and Chevy Chase because of traffic, but the brewer is planning to find more customers among the bars and restaurants in Silver Spring. Mullane hopes the additional exposure in the county will help the business grow outside its District home.
He also said having more small craft breweries in the area will help the local brewing industry succeed.
“You want to build the market,” Mullane said. “If there’s more craft beer, more self-distributed craft beer and the craft beer is getting into more bars, it’s advantageous for everyone.”
Correction: The original version of this story said Waredaca Brewing Company is in Lyttonsville; but it's in fact in Laytonsville. It has been fixed.