Independent Brewers, Vintners Grow New Revenue Sources
There’s a new crop growing in Harford County’s agricultural fields. It’s not a new kind of corn or tomatoes. It’s hops, and local farmers are using the results of their labors to brew their own beers. Thanks to a Class 8 farm brewery license championed by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, farmers can use ingredients they grow on their farms to brew their own beers.
Jason Gallion, agricultural specialist for the Harford County Executive’s Office, explains that hops are grown on a vertical trellis, and harvesting involves cutting the vines and using a baling machine to gather the hops. The product is then pelletized and sold to brewers, or in many cases, used in home brewing. “Local brewers are trying to create their own Harford County beer – one that is grown, brewed and sold in Harford County,” Gallion says. He notes that this concept ties into the county’s “Buy Local” campaign, encouraging consumers to buy their ingredients locally and to frequent businesses that do the same. “The consumer likes to know where food and
beverages come from,” he notes.
John Sullivan, business navigator for the Glassman administration’s Office of Economic Development (OED), says this is a huge opportunity for independent brewers. “There is a growing interest in producing a high-value crop that can be used in the consumer market,” Sullivan says. “Harford County is building a relationship between farmers and breweries, and we anticipate significant growth in the next five years.”
The state of Maryland has 60 licensed breweries, whose $83 million in sales represented 6.7 percent of all beer sold in Maryland in 2015, according to the state Brewers Association. Sullivan notes that there are plenty of entrepreneurs who have set their sights on becoming independent brewers. In his role as business navigator, Sullivan has implemented a series of educational seminars designed to help start-up businesses of all types. One of the seminars, Vintners 101, specifically focuses on the burgeoning wine and craft beer industries, and attracted nearly 30 entrepreneurs earlier this year. Sullivan also notes that he can be an advocate for entrepreneurs when they hit stumbling blocks along their path to setting up businesses, especially in a regulated industry like beer and wine.
A successful craft beer industry in Harford County will require the cooperation of many entities – from the farmer to the restaurant or brew pub. Not only are hops necessary, but brewers also need a malting facility. Gallion points to local agricultural specialist Aaron Hopkins of Hopkins’ Produce, as an innovator. By turning his dairy barn – located between Havre de Grace and Level – into a malting facility, he plans to partner with local breweries to provide choices of local ingredients.
Brewpubs like Independent Brewing Company are among the businesses trying their hand at local brews in Harford County. As craft beers catch on, Sullivan says he anticipates they will present growth opportunities that mirror those of the local wine market. Maryland’s 81 licensed wineries produce more than 420 different wines, which are sold at retailers and restaurants throughout the state, as well as shipped to 35 other states, resulting in 2015 sales of $31.5 million – about 2.7 percent of all wines sold in Maryland.
Not only have the wineries produced popular wines, but they also have turned tastings and tours into an important part of their business. Fiore Winery has been producing grapes and wine in Harford County for over 20 years, and Harford County is currently home to four wineries. Harford Vineyard has a large tasting room and is well known for its social venues. The Mason/Dixon Wine Trail features tours for wine lovers of several of the region’s wineries – Fiore, Boordy, Darlington and Mary’s Meadow are among them.
Gallion says the Chesapeake Bay and Piedmont regions have a climate and soils that lend themselves to good grape growing. While the local grape production can’t cover all of the wine needs, wineries can import grapes from outside the region, giving locals an opportunity to create “home grown” wines with a more sophisticated taste.
“For these wine, beer and other ag-based businesses, the Harford County Office of Economic Development offers a variety of resources to give entrepreneurs and startups the tools they need to develop and grow,” says Karen Holt, director of Economic Development. “Together with our thriving defense, manufacturing and health care sectors, they are adding value to Harford County’s diverse economy.” I95