Behind the beer: Farm brewing in Maryland

Nationwide, the beer business is down -- dropping about one percent last year, but despite sluggish sales overall, the popularity of craft beer continues to grow with sales up four percent over the same period.

Long before it ever hits your lips, leaves the brewery or even fills a can, beer comes from Mother Nature.

Randy Marriner is the president and CEO of Manor Hill Brewing -- the only "farm brewery" in Howard County. The 54-acre working farm is the highest producing brewery of its kind in the state.

Manor Hill features a head brewer/ beekeeper and specialty ingredients are grown right on site.

"Anything that we can do to locally source stuff, its smarter for the environment, it's cheaper cost, it's fresher, it's just a smarter way to do business," said Marriner.

While spent hops are trucked down the road to a local turkey farmer. It's a far cry from mainstream American beer.

"When I grew up, there was Budweiser, and there was Schlitz and there was Miller High Life," said Marriner.

Today, craft beer comprises nearly 24 percent of the $114 billion industry and fellow farm-brewer Sarah Healy with the Brewers Association of Maryland says more and more craft brewers are getting back to basics.

"As you've kinda seen, the trend with food, they really care where their food comes from and now they care where their beer comes from, so part of the farm brewery movement is educating people that beer is an agricultural product. That it comes from the earth. That it comes from farms," said Healy.

It's not just the ingredients attracting so many consumers, it's also the experience. Somehow, beer just tastes better with beautiful scenery.

"When people drive down our driveway, they say, 'Wow, this is a really cool space.' We've got the hop field, we've got the tasting room. If people want to see the chickens, my wife has chickens in the back. It's almost like going to Napa right here in the middle of Howard County, Maryland," said Marriner.

This farm-to-glass concept is relatively new. Maryland legislators created their farm brewing license in 2012. It wasn't passed until 2014 in neighboring Virginia -- aimed not at helping beer-makers but rather the agriculture industry.

"You're starting to see a lot of people having to sell off portions of their family farms because they're not able to make money like they were before and farm brewing lets you have a for-profit product on your farm," said Healy.

In just seven years, there are now 21 active farm brewing licensees in the state and researchers at the University of Maryland are experimenting with crops to develop guidelines aimed at growing the industry further. A craft that dates back more than 300 years in Maryland and a method that harkens back to a simpler time with the taste of America's farmland served up ice cold and canned.

Farm brewers face strict requirements that limit production and the number of people who can visit, so, Manor Hill's taproom is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. They're also holding a "Farm Fest" set for June 22.