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HC’s First Farm Brewery –Spring Opening Expected

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Manor Hill Brewing is set to become the first Class 8 Farm Brewery in Howard County this spring, taking advantage of new state legislation that took effect in July 2014.

The microbrewery will inhabit a 7,200-square-foot barn on the 54-acre Ellicott City farm property of Randy and Mary Marriner, owners of Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia.

“The brewing system we’ll be installing will arrive in January,” Randy Marriner said. “It would be our goal to be operational in March … and we’ll have product about a month later.”

Manor Hill Brewing expects to produce 3,000 barrels of beer annually, and will grow some of its own hops in a two-acre field beside the brewery. Leading up to the opening, the Marriners secured a $200,000 Catalyst Loan from the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA), which the authority announced on Dec. 19.

“This is a great economic development story,” said HCEDA CEO Larry Twele. “We love to see new businesses, especially in an emerging market. The craft brewing industry is growing; the Marriners had a great idea and we were able to provide the financial support they needed to launch an innovative new venture.”

Getting to this point took three years of maneuvering, Marriner said, including legislative help from the county’s state delegation and zoning changes within the county to permit the new use.

“Now EDA is helping us build it,” he said. “Talk about a perfect partnership between government and business, it really is heartwarming in a time when it’s tough to be a business guy and even tougher to be a farmer.”

Government Support

According to Twele, HCEDA’s loan leveraged an additional $100,000 from the Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. for the brewery.

“We like this story because it’s creating jobs, it’s supporting agriculture, it’s going to be using other farms to help supply what he needs, and it’s going to be good for the agricultu,re community, in general,” Twele said. “The loan will help with equipment and infrastructure for the brewery, and they will pay us back over time.”

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman was present for the presentation of HCEDA’s check.

“Agriculture is a very important sector of the economy in Howard County, and we are constantly looking for ways to support innovation on our farms,” said Kittleman, who added that the brewery is also taking advantage of HCEDA’s Agricultural Innovation Program.

“As someone who has lived on a farm for many years and desires to preserve our farms in Howard County, I appreciate the innovation that [the Marriners] are bringing to this,” he said. “Seven farms have already received some [Agricultural Innovation grant] funding; hopefully we’ll have more in the future.”

To Market, To Market

Manor Hill’s brewing system will initially consist of a 15-barrel brewhouse, four fermenters and one brite tank for carbonating the beer, all supplied by Premier Stainless Systems of San Diego. A second phase build-out will double the number of fermenters; there is room for expansion, if the need arises.

The brewery also features a 10-gallon inline brewing system built by MoreBeer! of Concord, Ca., to facilitate small batch recipe experimentation.

Manor Hill Brewing will forego a tasting room, even though zoning permits one.

“This is a country road; I promised my neighbors there wouldn’t be buses and traffic going back and forth,” Marriner said.

Rather, the plan is to enter into a distribution agreement with one of the distributors at Victoria Gastro Pub. “We have 24 rotating taps and will probably dedicate four taps to our beer,” Marriner said. “We’re about to start construction on a second restaurant in Clarksville called FoodPlenty that will be serving comfort food daily.”

The new restaurant, which will be located at the former Gateway School site and employ approximately 100, will emphasize locally-sourced food and beverages, including Maryland beers and wines. Groundbreaking is expected sometime this spring, with an opening targeted sometime during the first half of 2016.

To help establish the Manor Hill brand, the Marriners intend to repurpose an old RV they own as a traveling sales stand. “We will wrap it with our brand, take it to farmers markets, sell growlers out of it and introduce our beer to the market through it,” he said.

Manor Hill expects to produce about 1,000 barrels of beer in its first year, which will only be available on draught. “We’re only going to keg; we’re not going to can or bottle yet,” Marriner said.

Unique Styles

Head Brewer Ben Little and Director of Brewery Operations Jason Gotcher will handle day-to-day operations for Manor Hill.

Formerly the head brewmaster at Frisco Taphouse in Columbia, Little has also worked for Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick. Gotcher has served as Victoria Gastro Pub’s beer director for the past six years.

“We’re going to focus on a little bit more of the hop-forward beers like India Pale Ales and other similar styles,” said Little. “We want to delve into sours as well, with sour bacteria and barrel aging. There aren’t a lot of people in Maryland doing that right now.”

“We’ll also do a lot of unfiltered farmhouse styles, because we’re running a farmhouse brewery,” Gotcher said.

“Filtration makes the beer pretty, but it strips some flavor out,” Little said. “We’re definitely going to be unique and authentic in what we do.”

Marriner’s own taste trends toward the Belgian style beers.

“They promised they’ll make something that I will like, but bear in mind this is a business,” Marriner said. “They gave me an interesting list of what we’re going to brew. Our next step is to have a marketing meeting after the New Year, sit down with our brain trust and come up with cool names.”

As the number of breweries in the area continues to grow, Marriner said he is not concerned about competition.

“The brewing community is just that, it’s a community. The owners at Jailbreak Brewing Company in Howard County are such good guys, and the boys at Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore have been very helpful,” he said. “Union and Jailbreak … can’t make enough beer. The demand is huge.”