The Year in Beer 2017

As beer years go, 2017 was a great one. There were many highlights for me during the year — new breweries visited, beery friends discovered, events and travels. Let me share some of my journal notes with you.

To begin the New Year, my wife and I did a chilly first day hike at Harpers Ferry WV. Afterward, she allowed a bit of wandering as I pursued my mischief as we meandered through Virginia wine country to the little town of Purcellville VA. This was the home of the nanobrewery Adroit Theory. I'd first discovered this brewery at SAVOR 2016 and their salon presentation on cheese paring later in a podcast with the owners. After a few tasters, I brought a few bottles home. Whenever I'm in the neighborhood this is a sure stop and perhaps even an intentional road trip.

Best Off-the-Shelf Beer

Brewery Ommegang Brunetta oud bruin ale

Brewery Ommegang Brunetta oud bruin ale

For the past few years I've announced my beer-of-the-year. While there are many new beers that arrive to market each year, there are a few that stand out for me. I'm not talking about big specialty 750 ml or 22 oz bottles but the every day four or six pack varieties. Two years ago it was the Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo, their spruce-tipped beer. I still have to grab a few of these with each release. For 2016, it was the Ommegang Rosetta, a cherry flavored sour.

For this year another Ommegang blew me away — the Brunetta oud bruin ale. In some of my other muses I'd shared my trepidation with sour beers. Some are simply too sour for my pleasure. Then I discovered Ommegang's versions and have fallen in love with the style. I think of these beers more as tart than sour — and that has hit my sweet spot.

Brunetta is a 5% ABV traditional Oud Bruin, or sour brown ale, developed by our brewmaster Phil Leinhart, and the master blenders at our sister brewery, Liefmans, in Oudenaarde, Belgium. Liefmans has been perfecting their blending techniques for more than 300 years, and is renowned for their clean and balanced sour beers.

The Oud Bruin style is known for its playful flirtation between sweet and sour flavors and Brunetta is no exception. “Brunetta is a mild, clean Oud Bruin, well-balanced and with a touch of caramel sweetness from the specialty malts.
— Brewery Ommegang

Big Deal Beers

I use the term big-deal-beer because of what these beers represent more than anything else. These beers made a splash in my beer world and here is why.

Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout — First, Canadian Breakfast Stout is a highly sought-after beer — period. This year was not only the first time I've tasted this beer, but perhaps even more importantly — is that it is the first time its been delivered to Maryland's Eastern Shore. It is rated 4.67/5 and World-Class on Beer Advocate. Founders, thank you for bringing us into your fold! We are expecting more great things from you in 2018. We joyfully succumb.

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout — This is a big deal for 2017 since we (MD Eastern Shore) got none last year – 2016. I'm not sure if there was an issue with the quality or supply or throttling, but we got zero on the Shore. Rumors were that some regional big bottle shop sucked it all up. Without trekking all over the place, last year I only got one bottle of the barleywine variant. It is still in my cellar growing in excellence every day. I did pick up two of the regular stouts this year, which I'm saving for a special occasion with special people. No BC variants this year on the Shore, so there is room for improvement. Goose, are you listening?

Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House

Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House

Guinness / Heavy Seas Collaboration — In early December these two famed breweries released two beers, made in collaboration, on the same day. If you paying any attention to the Maryland beer scene in 2017, you know what an issue was made over the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House brewery coming to the west side of Baltimore in Relay, MD. New laws were passed and others needed, and necessary updated beer laws were ignored. If you really are unaware and want ot learn more, check out Liz Murphy's excellent coverage at Naptown Pint. More on this will be covered below. This was the first time since 1954 that Guinness has brewed a beer on USA soil. Heavy Seas brewery is just around the corner and a long established brewery. This collaboration sent an important message to Guinness and the rest of the Maryland brewery industry — brewing is tight in Maryland. 

Guinness’ The Longest Way Round and Heavy Seas’ The Shortest Way Home were the clever symbiotic names for these collaborations. I was able to attend the Guinness release at their new taproom and had hopes of making it to Heavy Seas for their release but simply ran short of my allotted time. Hopefully, I'll be able to find it somewhere down the line. 


Reform on Tap - #ReformOnTap was the result of Maryland Comptroller, Peter Franchot, getting involved in local politics of the craft brewing industry in Maryland in response to HB1283. He formed the Reform On Tap taskforce to bring attention to the problems the bill created and the need for competitive state policies that will allow local established brewers to flourish as well as attract new breweries to Maryland. As result of this taskforce, The Reform on Tap Act of 2018 has been proposed.

The Reform on Tap Act of 2018 proposes the following:

  • Removes all limits on beer production, taproom sales and take-home sales;
  • Repeals the “buy-back” provision that requires brewers to purchase their beer from distributors at a marked-up cost if they exceed the 2,000-barrel limit on taproom sales.
  • Lifts unnecessary restrictions for take-home sales; 
  • Guarantees the issuance of Class B or D beer licenses to microbreweries upon request;
  • Lets local jurisdictions set guidelines for taproom operating hours;
  • Allows smaller brewers to self-distribute;
  • Eliminates franchise law requirements; and
  • Removes restrictions on contract brewing that inhibits start-up businesses
We simply cannot ignore the fact that our laws and regulatory framework have stood in the way of the limitless potential of Maryland’s craft beer industry. Craft breweries are innovative businesses, and each has a measurable impact on our economy and in their local communities. They attract local residents and tourists alike who appreciate locally-sourced ingredients, environmentally sustainable practices and each taproom’s distinct style.
— Maryland’s Comptroller Peter Franchot

Naptown Pintcast -  I've known Liz Murphy for a few years. She is the beer writer for the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. Liz had quite a year as she was chosen to be on the panel for the Reformed On Tap task force and has leveraged that opportunity to get to know many of the brewery owners and beery dignitaries from around the state. Since she has experience in writing and already had a following in the Maryland beer community, Liz was an outlet for the taskforce and an informal town cryer for the brewers. Her Naptown Pintcast is part of the natural progression and I'm so glad she has taken up that mantle. Her podcast brings a focus to Maryland breweries, the issues surrounding them and insight into the people behind them. The Naptown Pintcast podcast can be found on Apple iTunes and Stitcher.

Cult Classic Brewing - In mid-2017, Cult Classic announced their intentions of opening a brewery on Kent Island. It seems like every community regardless of how large or small has or will be getting a brewery of its own soon. Kent Island, the community around which I live, is expecting its own brewery in 2018. Brooks and Jesse McNew are brothers and owned the local homebrew store Annapolis Home Brew. They decided to take their passion for beer and beer making to the next level. I look forward to their opening with great enthusiasm and plan on being a regular at the tap room.

SAVOR 2017 – Space saver event is always a highlight of my year. You get to taste beer from all over the country, many that normally might not ship to our state. Plus paired with select foods, this a beer event is like none other. Normally  this event would highlight salons in which Brewer’s and Brewery owners and other beer industry rock stars would share their knowledge and their beers in a classroom setting. This way you got to taste some special beers reply people like Sam Cal Joni and Dogfish had Jim Cook of Boston Boston beer Company,. But this year they decided not to have the salons and pass many of the beer industry celebrities were seen as in past years. I can’t leave this topic without saying what a huge disappointment 


HB1283 - This bill ultimately set out to protect the end-of-prohibition system establishing a three-tier distribution system. As it was pointed out by Deep Throat in the Watergate scandal, follow the money. While providing the provisions to allow Guinness to build their new USA brewery in Maryland — a very good thing — it went further to cause much angst to the established Maryland breweries. This caused some Maryland breweries to postpone announced expansions. Liz Murphy in her Naptown Pint writings covered this very well from the beginning. Liz summed it up very well in her opening remarks at the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s 2018 Maryland Legislative Session Policy Orientation on November 7, 2017.

Quoting Liz (read the entire post here): 

Earlier this year [2017], Diageo came to the Maryland General Assembly with an attractive proposal. They would open the only North American Guinness Brewery in our state, promising to create a “Maryland beer halo” and spur beer tourism across the state. But they would only do so if the General Assembly made changes to certain regulations. As they stood at the time, Maryland regulations surrounding brewery production limits would not allow them to proceed. Though the final version of House Bill 1283 paved the way for Guinness to continue with their plan to open a North American facility in Relay, Maryland, the process to get to that point threw into harsh relief the obstacles today’s independent craft brewers in Maryland face. In addition, even with production limit increases and other positive gains, many believe the legislation will ultimately stunt the growth of craft beer in Maryland — both for current craft brewers, as well as breweries in planning.

See Reform on Tap in the Highlights section for the reaction to HB 1283. Certainly, there is more to come.

Baltimore Beer Fest — This event should have made the highlights section, but alas, did not. What should have been a festive event, turned out to be a huge disappointment.  Then what seemed like lemons was turned into lemonade. -  I attended the Baltimore Beer fest two years ago and had a great time. Then last year I decided to skip it for some unknown reason. Probably because I had already attended many beer events that year. But looking at the lineup of new breweries in and around Baltimore I decided this was one I didn’t want to mess. I looked at tickets online, and debated whether to go to Baltimore or Easton MD beer event. And so I decided on Baltimore and to get tickets at the door. The event started at 1:30 and I arrived at 3 PM only to find that all the tickets have been sold and I would not be allowed entrance even though many people were leaving by then.  I was told that this was the policy to insure that all attendees would not be shorted on beer. Hum!

Products of Mark Supik & Co, Baltimore, MD

Products of Mark Supik & Co, Baltimore, MD

As I left the event I walked out with one of the owners of the Brewer's Art and shared my sad experience. He said that all of the brewers brought plenty of beer and that running short would not of been an issue. And he said that he would bring it up to the review panel when it was time for reviewing the event. He suggested that I shouldn’t waste the trip to Baltimore and that Monument City Brewing was a short ride up the road. An ah-ha moment, I took his advice since it was on my list of breweries to visit. I had a couple of great beers, got to witness the brewery and also the Mark Supik wood shop next-door where they, among other things, make the tap handles for Monument City. 

In Summary

Yes, it's been quite a year in beer. Of course, there are many other journal muses that could have been added such as the Pints of View events (Bible & Beer philosophy sessions). My goals for 2018 include: passing the Certified Cicerone exam, writing a beer book, attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver CO, writing at least 50 entries in this Deep Beer journal. Oh, and my son got a home brew kit for Christmas. This should be very good year indeed.

If you are reading this, please drop me a line, share some of your 2017 beery highlights and your dreams for 2018. Cheers!