Friday, Feb 12–Berlin Needs Legislative Help With Hopes For Microbrewery

BERLIN – There is no microbrewery in the works for Berlin, but the town wants to be ready in case a craft beer brewer can be persuaded to move into town.

A microbrewery would be a great fit for the town of Berlin, supporters have concluded, but several steps must be taken before major efforts to attract a brewer to town can begin.

Berlin Economic Development Director Michael Day asked the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday night to support enabling legislation through the Maryland General Assembly to permit a microbrewery in Enterprise Zones.

The town already has an Enterprise Zone, an area where industrial businesses are eligible for tax credits, although few businesses have so far been interested in taking advantage of the tax help.    

“We started exploring the process and found out it’s a pretty major industry nowadays,” said Day. “It’s steadily growing. It’s about five to eight percent for the past four or five years or even longer.”

Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger added, “It is a really big growth industry and they are good for tourism.”

Berlin, Day said, is a good location for a craft beer brewer, with its proximity to Ocean City. Microbrewery tours attract tourism, and local restaurants and bars usually like to support a local beer producer.

“We’d be perfect partners with Ocean City with even more exposure,” said resident Ron Cascio, who supports a microbrewery in town.

“These are craft breweries,” Day said. “More like a wine tasting type of crowd they appeal to.”

“It’s not real drinking. It’s a good beer. You might have one or two,” said Cascio.

His research has showed that a microbrewery in Berlin is a viable idea, Day said.

Market research has included posting information about Berlin and its potential as home to a craft brewer on a microbrewery website. That post attracted 1,500 page views in two weeks, Day said and 12 to 15 actual enquiries. He also received a few resumes and offers to run the business.

“The response I got from the Internet was pretty overwhelming,” said Day said.

The town will not be running a microbrewery, Day said, hoping instead to attract a brewer to town. 

Day proposed that the Old Ocean City Boulevard area would be a good location for a craft brewer, which includes Enterprise Zone land, perhaps in the old Tyson Chicken plant.

So far, Day said, he has spoken to Delegate Jim Mathias, who said he wanted to see more community support for the idea. According to Day, local restaurateurs support the idea.

Cascio spoke to Ocean City bar and restaurant owners who were also supportive. “They just melted over the idea. They thought it was great,” said Cascio.

The Dogfish Head microbrewery in Rehoboth has a nationwide profile now, said Councilwoman Lisa Hall.

Dogfish Head really put Rehoboth on the map, according to Challenger.

“If we could get something like Dogfish here, it would be a huge coup,” said Challenger.

People who vacation in Ocean City and Worcester County could go back to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Cascio pointed out, and spread the word.

Berlin would be more attractive than Ocean City to potential microbreweries because the real estate costs less, and there are more year-round attractions, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said.

“There’s quite a bit of areas we could target with this, but I wouldn’t go near a residential area,” Day said.

A microbrewery could have a year-round impact on Berlin, officials believe.

“It’s a clearly growing industry. It would employ a lot of people,” said Cascio.

Before any real work can be done on attracting a microbrewery, the legal framework needs to be in place.

“We ought to at least give ourselves the opportunity by going after the enabling legislation,” Cascio said.

There is enabling legislation already under consideration in the Maryland Senate. The town could piggyback on that bill or could wait until next year, Day said.    

“I’m for it,” said Hall.

Williams called the microbrewery concept another option for future business development in Berlin.

The town council voted unanimously to approve a letter of support for the enabling microbrewery legislation before the Maryland Senate.

With the town council’s approval, Day said he would start to seek investors in such a business. It could take quite awhile to attract a craft brewer, Day said.