When you consider craft brews, your imagination may conjure flavors just beyond the typical stout or pale ale. But what about a donut-inspired sour, or a differently defined IPA? It’s with beers like these that Maryland’s craft brewers surprised me. These creations are likely possible because craft brewing has huge support from Maryland’s state government.
Courtesy DuClaw Brewing Company
Settled in 1634, and earning statehood in 1788, one of Maryland’s nicknames is the “Free State,” coined in part because the state never passed an enforcement act supporting Prohibition. Even so, franchise laws — on the books since 1974 — had long been thwarting efforts by entrepreneurs working as craft brewers. Recently, the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, comprising more than 80 breweries, campaigned for and helped pass The Brewery Modernization Act of 2019: state legislation that removed outdated laws; redefined the term “small brewer;” changed self-distribution limits, wholesaler contracts, and hours of operation; and increased taproom sales.
Brandon Stanko and DuClaw Brewing Company exemplify the positive effects of advocacy on the part of craft brewers in collaboration with legislators to enact change. Stanko’s story as Head Brewer is tied to legislative change, an adaptive business model, and the opening of an opportunity for him to explore his passion.
The Development of DuClaw
When DuClaw was established in 1996 by Dave Benfield, the beer was sold through a brewpub, and eventually directly through a chain of restaurants. Stanko, then a home-brewer, managed IT for the business. He watched many changes occur for craft brewing and found these changes both “frustrating and awesome.” The frustration has been about legislation, which has shifted slowly over the years.
Courtesy DuClaw Brewing Company
Early on, Maryland craft beer was only sold in taprooms, where it was legal to serve beer if the room was attached to its source brewery. Later, direct sales between a craft brewery and a designated restaurant or chain of restaurants were permitted. Eventually, Benfield opted out of the restaurant business and sold the DuClaw restaurants to focus on distribution, a move which nearly put Stanko out of a job. Stanko explains that, despite the eminent loss of his IT work, he “kept having good conversations with Benfield about craft beer, what’s good for Maryland, and where I thought the industry was going. Next, Benfield asked if I could do IT, but also work in packaging on the back end of the brewing process.” Stanko agreed, and within six months became a brewer. He admits that becoming a professional brewer changed his perspective. “I went from doing 10 gallons a month to doing 1,600 gallons in five hours! Definitely mind-blowing.”
Stanko kept tasting, talking, and crafting his way to Head Brewer for the company. Today, one of his passions lies in collaboration, and this has led to some great beers. The brewery’s flagship beer is a chocolate peanut butter porter called Sweet Baby Jesus! (and trust me, this is what you exclaim at first sip). This porter came out of a home brewer’s competition, was put through six or seven iterations at DuClaw, and has become a mainstay.
When it comes to other brews, such as IPAs, Stanko admits that DuClaw’s history has been up and down. “Once the IPA profile driven by that West Coast-style of bitterness gave way to a hazy, juicy, less bitter IPA profile, things changed. We were like, ‘Where do we go from here?’ So, Haze of Glory is a New England-style IPA that’s done really well for us, and we’re going to keep it around for a while. Then there’s Strawberry Letter 23. It was a 16-ounce release last year, but it did so well people were asking, ‘When’s it coming back out?’ We decided to put out 12-ounce cans and release it more often. It’s doing well now, so we’re going to keep making it.”
Haze of Glory and Strawberry Letter 23 are the work of assistant brewer Mark Johnson, while the company’s PastryArchy Series — a line of dessert stouts from pumpkin spice to dark cherry and pistachio — and Sour Me Series are Stanko’s initiatives. “You never know,” says Stanko. “You just start with a concept or a beer theme, and you guess, ‘Well, I think this will work,’ but you just don’t know if it will run.”
One of his more unique Sour Me Series brews did run. Stanko reached out to the doughnut makers at Diablo Doughnuts in Baltimore, Maryland, with an opportunity to collaborate on what he thought would become another PastryArchy beer. Diablo makes sweet treats with names like Panty Dropper, Blueberry Basil, Sin Crunch, and Captain Chesapeake. (And yes, that last one has Old Bay seasoning in it.) Stanko was interested in Unicorn Farts, a yeast doughnut with vanilla glaze that’s dunked in Fruity Pebbles cereal, which is sweet and sour with a dose of nostalgia. The collaboration, and resulting beer, ended up being a sour rather than a dessert beer. Sour Me Unicorn Farts is a medium-bodied, tart, sweet ale, complete with edible glitter.
DuClaw started off with a 10-barrel Grundy tank of Sour Me Unicorn Farts, then made two 180-barrel tanks, and then another 60-barrel tank. “It’s the biggest sour we’ve made to date,” says Stanko. “We’re a 60-barrel brew house making 1,800 gallons in one turn, so that’s pretty eye-opening.” And Unicorn Farts is certainly eye-catching!
When will we see more new beers from Brandon Stanko? “We don’t brew 24 hours a day yet, but we do go five days a week,” he says. “Right now, our annual production is between 28,000 and 30,000 barrels; last year it was more like 20,000 to 22,000, and next year I’m going to try to produce 35,000.” DuClaw beers are now available in 19 states, and Stanko’s ambition and creativity mean you, too, may enjoy one of his unique brews sooner than later.
Learn how Jereme Zimmerman rates three of DuClaw’s most popular brews:
Jean Denney is the Group Editor for wellness and gardening at Ogden Publications. She believes beer falls into the category of wellness, and therefore samples new craft beer everywhere she visits.