While major breweries may still dominate the American beer market, the craft beer movement has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, changing the focus from quantity to quality and offering consumers a seemingly endless variety of beer styles.
Just how popular craft beer has become was on full display Saturday as hundreds turned out for food, free beer samples, entertainment and tours at an open house celebrating the grand opening of Frederick's newest brewery, the Monocacy Brewing Co., which began production last fall.
"Whenever someone opens up something new like this, you've got to come out and do everything you can to support it," said Frederick resident Steve Radtke, who brews beer with his brother, James Radtke.
Craft beer is all about the flavor, Radtke said.
"You go out and get a Budweiser or something, you know what you're getting," he said. "You're getting weak ingredients, and you're getting a very generic taste. You can taste the difference in a craft beer, and if it's going to cost me two or three dollars extra for a six-pack, I'm going to spend the two or three dollars."
Brewmaster Tom Flores said the brewery, which makes beer for Brewer's Alley and also recently unveiled its own Riot Rye Pale Ale, now has the capacity to brew about 3,000 barrels -- around 6,000 kegs -- per year.
But Flores said there is plenty of room for growth -- the building itself, behind the Flying Barrel, a brewing supply business on North Market Street, is large enough to sustain production of about 15,000 barrels.
"We have a long way to go to just keep adding tanks and just getting it to the point where we can keep up with more and more demand," Flores said. "We've got a ways to go before we ever come close to that. We'll see where the market takes us."
The open house was as much a celebration of where the brewery is heading as how far it has come, Flores said.
"More than anything, for me, it has to do with looking to the future," Flores said. "We've done our fair share of heavy lifting, introducing people to beer with flavor, showing what it means to appreciate beer with a lot to offer in terms of complexity. And this is the natural next step."
Flores said he plans to set up a three barrel production facility at Brewer's Alley to create smaller batches of experimental beers for the brewpub.
Westminster residents Joe and Kathy Donohue, frequent patrons of Brewer's Alley and Barley and Hops, said they came out to show their support for local craft brewing.
"We're all about the microbrews," Joe Donohue said. "It's a lot different from your typical Coors or Budweiser. It's good to see more of these kind of breweries crop up in Maryland. I'd rather support the local breweries."
J.T. Smith, executive director of the Brewer's Association of Maryland, said what's happening in Maryland with the growth of the craft beer industry is a reflection of a nationwide movement toward quality, locally produced food and drink.
"People want to be more connected to what they're consuming," Smith said. "People want to have more information and knowledge about what they're consuming. And craft beer is one of those things that once you start looking for a story and more depth, and you just scratch the surface, you realize that there is a tremendous amount of depth and a tremendous amount of authenticity within this movement. It directly aligns with where people are headed, with what people want."