If Montgomery County Delegate Sam Arora has his way, Montgomery County will soon become part of a booming microbrewing industry.
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Arora proposed two bills designed to knock down barriers for microbreweries in Montgomery County. The first measure (SB 310) will eliminate a restriction unique to Montgomery County that requires a microbrewery to also be a fully licensed restaurant before becoming eligible to sell its beer for consumption at the brewery.
The second measure (SB 305) will allow breweries to distribute their own beer to licensed recipients in the county. A statewide law similar to SB 305 was passed in 2013 but, due to a loophole, did not apply to Montgomery County.
The Maryland General Assembly approved both measures. The next step, Arora said, is for Governor O’Malley to sign off on the bills.
Arora said as more and more people across the country demand quality craft beer, microbrewing has become one of the fastest growing industries in some communities.
“Right now microbreweries are enjoying a kind of renaissance,” Arora said. “They are a big part of revitalizing communities. If we can use microbreweries as one of the factors in helping a community, then that’s a wonderful thing.”
Arora said the bills are one of many efforts to make Montgomery County more attractive for a diverse group of citizens.
“It’s been brought to light in recent years that Montgomery County is not where young people are flocking,” Arora said. “Outside of areas down county, where do young people go for entertainment options that can compete with things in Washington, D.C.? We needed to cultivate our own entertainment options. And I felt that this was one readily achievable goal to that end.”
Arora said in areas like Alexandria, microbreweries are clogged with visitors on the weekends.
“That’s exactly what we want to see in Montgomery County,” Arora said. “Microbreweries typically attract people from all over the area. Imagine if (a microbrewery in Rockville) became a hot spot on Friday and Saturday night. People would then go out to the restaurants and spend their money around here, and we love that idea. We want people from Virginia and the District of Columbia to flock to Montgomery County to visit our microbreweries.”
Arora said he also wants to help keep local brewers afloat.
“We want to give the little guys a break,” Arora said. “We want to promote home-grown talent.”
To find home-grown talent, beer lovers need look no further than Paul Rinehart’s Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville.
Rinehart, founder and head brewer at Baying Hound, said though the bills won’t have any effect on how his brewery does business with the exception of potentially being able to self-distribute their beer, he’s excited to collaborate with potential future microbrewers – including Denizens Brewing Company, a brewery slated to open in downtown Silver Spring in summer 2014.
“Sometimes Montgomery County can be a very lonely place,” Rinehart said. “I can’t wait until they open up to do some collaboration with them.”
Rinehart said there’s a stigma associated with Montgomery County that’s scared off entrepreneur brewers: the fact that brewers have to go through the Department of Liquor Control in order to distribute their beer, as opposed to other counties that don’t require microbreweries to go through a governing body for distribution.
“I think there may be a little bit of a stigma with Montgomery County, and with all this proposed legislation it would be less restrictive and would make it easier for other brewers to come into our county,” Rinehart said.
Arora said the requirements for microbreweries in the county that require them to operate as restaurants or pay an annual fee for a large brewery license – one that costs three times as much as a small brewery license – were unnecessary barriers to craft beer becoming part of the Montgomery County economy.
“On small breweries, that (cost) has an impact,” Arora said. “I will be quite pleased this summer when we knock those barriers down.”
Rinehart said he’s happy to see what the future holds for Montgomery County brewers.
“I would love to be a part of putting Montgomery County on the map,” Rinehart said. “For Rockville and the rest of the county, I’d love to see us become the next beer mecca.”