by Kym Byrnes, photography by Phil Grout

Carroll Countians should feel very lucky this St. Patrick’s Day as the number of places to get a very tasty beer, likely with a really clever name, is on the rise. The craft beer industry has exploded nationally in the past decade, and Carroll County is following the trend, offering up a host of creative, locally made beer options.

At the end of 2019, there were four breweries brewing and selling beer in Carroll County: Johansson’s Dining House and Restaurant in Westminster, Pub Dog Brewing in Westminster, Rulhman Brewery in Hampstead and Brewery Fire in Taneytown. If all goes as planned, by the end of 2020 there will be three more brewing establishments in Carroll: 1623 Brewing Company in Eldersburg, Pipe the Side Brewing in Hampstead and Flood Zone Marketplace & Brewery in Union Bridge.

David Johansson, owner of Johansson’s Dining House and Restaurant, said that when he was younger, everyone drank beers like Budweiser, Pabst and Schlitz. “Today’s younger generation is growing up on craft beer, so the craft industry may not continue to grow like it is now, but they’ll definitely always be here because that is what this generation will know and expect,” Johansson said.

The last decade has seen an explosion in the number of craft breweries in several parts of the country. According to an article in The Atlantic, “between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent.” The article goes on to explain that a 200-year-old industry has grown by six times and more than doubled its workforce in less than a decade, and the kicker is that it happened during a time when beer consumption declined in the U.S.

Community spirit

So why is the craft beer industry swelling in Carroll? Some argue it’s about the sense of community in it — one local brewer likening it to the idea of the old television show Cheers, “where everyone knows your name.”

Jesse Johnson and Dave Palmer opened Brewery Fire in Taneytown in September. Johnson said their goal was to bring back that old corner pub feel, where community members gather to share local news and gossip over a good beer.

“It’s almost like Cheers. We can’t guarantee people will forget their worries, but they can come in and make new friends and catch up with old friends. We aim to be family-friendly and community-focused,” Johnson said.

“The alcohol industry — beer, wine and spirits — has seen an explosion of new, small, local producers over the past few years across the U.S. as a whole,” said Diana Hare, agriculture development specialist with the Carroll County Department of Economic Development. “There are a lot of reasons for the uptick, but one of the driving factors can be attributed to craft beverage consumers that are seeking to ‘shop small and local’ and connect with the people who make their beer.”

“There’s a sense of belonging and community in visiting a local or independent brewery — consumers are ‘buying into’ the experience of the taproom,” Hare said. “So whether you are visiting a brewery/pub brew/tap house that you’ve been to 100 times or are trying a new one out in a new city, you can be sure the experience is going to be unique.”

And the people who make the beer are a pretty tight community in and of themselves. Brewers often collaborate, share ideas and socialize over a good beer. A look at the Facebook page of Pipe the Side Brewing Company, slated to open in Hampstead this spring, reveals photos of owners Tim Eckels and Carol Gorsuch hanging out at festivals and taprooms with other local brewery owners.

“We think the benefit of the brewing community is that you meet a lot of people with different perspectives on and experience levels with craft beer, which helps expand and grow ideas we each might have, which ultimately benefits craft beer consumers and the local economy,” Eckels said. “One of the cool aspects is meeting people who have similar brewing interests, idea-sharing and seeing how that can help grow the variety of craft beer products available in different market areas.”

The economy of it

Opening a brewery is not easy, and none of the brewers here in Carroll County went into the venture thinking it would help them get rich quick, or even get rich ever. The necessary equipment makes brewing an expensive venture, and the regulatory and permitting hurdles are enough to fatigue the most ambitious entrepreneur.

Zac Rismiller is the brewer at 1623 Brewing Company. 1623 has been making and distributing beer for more than a year, but in February they are planning to open a new brewing facility and tasting room in Eldersburg. They will have the biggest brewing facility in Carroll County. Rismiller lives in Colorado, and his cousin and partner, Mike McKelvin, lives in Westminster, exactly 1,623 miles away. Rismiller is no stranger to opening and running breweries: He’s helped to launch and grow several in Colorado, and has racked up multiple awards for his work along the way.

“Opening a brewery is not easy. The amount of regulatory hoops to jump through, the number of people coming out of the woodwork for money, it doesn’t end,” Rismiller said. “We’re a ‘sin business,’ and in a sin business you pay taxes, a lot of them. So getting set up and getting the necessary permits is a lot of work.”

Rismiller said he’s looking forward to having a taproom for people to come enjoy their beer.

“Having the taproom is really what I’m most excited about because we’ll be able to do lot of different and weird things that we can’t do in straight distribution,” Rismiller said.

And in Carroll County, it often comes back to farming. The craft beer industry is good for Carroll County agriculture. Hampstead-based Ruhlman Brewery opened in the summer of 2012 and was the first brewery on a working farm in Maryland. According to co-owner Matt Ruhlman, there were fewer than 20 breweries in Maryland at the time, and there wasn’t a farm brewery license created yet. He said they were already homebrewing and growing hops at the time, and his father wanted to pursue his hobby on a professional scale.

Additionally, local breweries like Brewery Fire, often donate their spent grain to farmers for animal feed. And according to Economic Development’s Hare, “having an independent brewery in a rural area allows for exciting partnerships with local farms, and not just for the obvious ingredients such as hops, barley, corn and rye, but also more unique additives and flavors like local honey, fruits and berries, other spirits, and more.”

Flood Zone Marketplace and Brewery is scheduled to open around March of this year. The large building in Union Bridge will be divided – half of it dedicated to a brewery and taproom and half of it set up as a market where local farmers and artisans can sell their goods – everything from locally raised meats to seafood and bread and produce. Owner Jerry Stambaugh envisions partnering with local wineries for wine tastings and other local artisans and crafters who will have events and sell cool stuff.

For Stambaugh, who was born and raised just outside of Union Bridge, Flood Zone is an opportunity to bring people to a still relatively “untouched” part of Carroll County.

“Union Bridge is a small town of only about 900 people,” Stambaugh said. “It’s one of the most untouched towns around here and hasn’t really changed much in the 58 years I’ve been around.”

“We’re hoping that we can get some people in to that part of Carroll County to see what a nice place it is and I think we have the right building and ambiance to bring people in. It’s really going to be a pretty cool spot, I’m really excited.”

Beer just feels right

Tim Eckles of Pipe the Side Brewing said that in spite of all the work and the complicated nature of opening a brewery, in the end opening a brewery in Carroll County just felt like the right move to make.

“It’s definitely a lot of work and a process that, at a lot of times, seems like one step forward and two back,” he said. “We got more into brewing and wanting to open a business as a result of a life-changing event and reflecting on what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. We realized that you never really know how much time you have left to do the things you want to do.”

George Humbert, brewmaster and co-founder of Pub Dog Brewery, said their long-term goal is simply to continue to offer great-tasting beers in a fun environment at their taproom in Westminster. Pub Dog opened its Westminster brewing facility and tasting room in 2018, and Humbert said Carroll has been a welcoming community.

“We love being in Carroll County; it’s very receptive to craft beer and the community is extremely supportive of us,” Humbert said.



Local Breweries

Johansson’s Dining House

4 W. Main St., Westminster •
Opened: About 1999
Number of beers on tap: 4 regulars and 2-3 rotating seasonals
Brewer recommends: Brewer Jay Lampart said Honest Ale and Hoodle Head are the fan favorites. Honest Ale is a straightforward cream ale, or golden ale. It has a very basic base malt and a little Munich and Vienna malt for aromatic lift. Anyone who doesn’t like “all the fancy beers” likes this one. Hoodle Head is a well-balanced pale ale with a mild citrus aroma, subtle caramel sweetness, and desirable mineral finish.
How to get it: On draft in the restaurant and bar. Want to take it with you? Growlers are available for carryout.
What to expect: Full-service restaurant, open seven days a week, with several dining rooms and a large bar area that has TVs and a wood-fired pizza oven.

Pub Dog Brewing Company

1203 New Windsor Road, Westminster •
Opened: Brewery opened in 2006 to brew beer for Columbia and Baltimore Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse locations. Taproom in Westminster added in 2018.
Number of beers on tap: 16-20
Brewer recommends: Brewer George Humbert said bestsellers are Unleashed IPA and Blond Dog. Unleashed IPA is a New England style hazy IPA, which is currently the most popular style of craft beer, a very tropical, hop-forward IPA.Blond Dog is an American golden ale that is a very drinkable, balanced beer, a very good entry beer for people who are just starting to get into craft beer.
How to get it: Available on draft in the taproom, and at Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse locations. Growlers are available for carryout at all locations.
What to expect: Open Wednesday through Sunday. Food is not sold in the brewery, but guests are welcome to bring their own food, order food delivery, or enjoy the food trucks that are on site on some occasions and for special events. Leashed dogs are welcome in the beer garden (not allowed in the taproom). Brewery tours are available monthly and the space is available to host private events.

Ruhlman Brewing Co.

Creeping Creek Farm, 2300 Harvey Gummel Rd., Hampstead •
Opened: Hop field started in 2007, first beers offered in 2012
Number of beers on tap: 9
Brewer recommends: Brewer favorites are the IPA and the Milk Stout. Our IPA is one of our best sellers and uses water and whole-flower hops from only our farm, making it a true Carroll County beer. Our Milk Stout is another great beer. It is dark stout, with roasted character and a smooth finish. The beer has a light body, making it an easy drinking stout.
How to get it: Available at the brewery in draft and for carryout in kegs, growlers and bottles.
What to expect: The farm offers more than just a tasting room — there are brewery tours, a tasting room, hop field, catch-and-release fishing pond, disc golf course and covered pavilion. The pavilion is available for rent for events such as birthday parties, weddings, crab feasts, corporate events, and more.

Brewery Fire

4337 Old Taneytown Road, Suite B, Taneytown•
Opened: 2019
Number of beers on tap: 9
Brewer recommends: Brewer Jesse Johnson says you can’t go wrong with Executor IPA and Hero of Canton Kentucky Common. Our flagship beer is the Executor IPA — a classic West Coast IPA using only one hop called Simcoe, dry-hopped very aggressively, very aromatic, piney but not a lot of bitter. The Hero of Canton is a Kentucky Common, a forgotten style of beer popular in the southeastern U.S. This beer is made with grains but also flake corn and rye, which are two of the primary and often only ingredients found in whiskey. It’s semi-sweet, a little malty, a little spicy and super easy to drink.
How to get it: On draft in the taproom and in crowlers for carry out.
What to expect: Open Thursday through Sunday, no food sales on site but food can be brought in or delivered, and there are often local food trucks on Saturdays.

1623 Brewing Company

5975 Exchange Drive, Suite H-L, Eldersburg •
Opened: Started brewing and distributing in 2018, brewery/tasting room to open February 2020.
Number of beers on tap: 12
Brewer recommends: Brewer Zac Rismiller suggests their best sellers: IPA and Hefeweizen. The Colorado IPA is an East Coast-meets-West Coast style with citrus and mosaic hops to bring out some of the fruit-forward flavor in the hops. A very light and easy-drinking beer. The Hefeweizen is an Old World-style wheat beer crafted in authentic German tradition with prominent banana and clove flavors.
How to get it: Available in cans in local liquor stores and on tap or carryout at the brewery.
What to expect: No food available for sale in the brewery, but food trucks will be on-site at times; guests can bring their own food or have food delivered to the brewery. Bring your own growler to fill, six-packs of limited beers for carryout.

Pipe the Side Brewing Company

721 Hanover Pike, Suite 147, Hampstead •
Opened: scheduled to open in the spring of 2020
Number of beers on tap: 8-10
Brewer recommends: Brewers Tim Eckels and Carol Gorsuch like a combination of current and classic styles (may or may not be available on tap at opening). Swim Call – our flagship beer, a West Coast Style IPA with all of the resiny, piney hop goodness you’d expect from a West Coast IPA. Named in honor of Tim, Jr. Plastic Covered Furniture – a classic Cream Ale, a craft beer for people that like beer that tastes like beer.
How to get it: On draft in the taproom/brewery and in crowlers for carryout.
What to expect: Taproom visitors are encouraged to support other local business for take-out and delivery options for food. A selection of locally sourced, pre-packaged food and non-alcoholic beverage options will be available. There will be live entertainment (guy and guitar type stuff) and owners Tim and Carol are admittedly vinyl nerds, so expect a variety of music on vinyl nights and a good variety of activities whether you’re alone or with a group.

Flood Zone Marketplace & Brewery

50 N. Main St., Union Bridge •
Opened: scheduled to open March 2020
Number of beers on tap: 8
Brewer recommends: Check out the website closer to opening to learn about beer offerings.
How to get it: Get it on site in the tasting room and carryout in crowlers.
What to expect: A little bit of everything. One side of the building is a brewery and tap room (including an outdoor seating area), the other side is a market with vendors selling local meat, seafood, bakery items and produce as well as prepared foods and other goodies like crafts and local wares. Purchase food in the market and enjoy it with a beer in the taproom.