The Chesapeake Region has seen an explosion of craft beer and spirits makers. We’ve complied breweries, brewpubs, distilleries & meadworks around the Chesapeake Bay in the upper region of Maryland and the lower Chesapeake area of Virginia.
Breweries & Brewpubs
Brewing has been a working art-form around the Chesapeake Bay since it was first colonized. Advertisements appeared in London newspapers seeking brewers for the Virginia Colony in 1609.
Queen Anne of England gave Benjamin Fordham permission in 1703 to start Fordham Brewing Company in Annapolis. By the 1800s, German immigrants had spread breweries across the state.
By the end of the last century, brewers that made it through prohibition were bought out by bigger companies. Baltimore’s famous Natty Boh, started in 1885, was lost locally when it was sold in 1996. It’s now made by Pabst Brewing Company in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. However, the Baltimore Sun reports 90% of National Bohemium beer is bought by drinkers in the Baltimore area.
In the late 1980s, craft brewing began to squeeze into the fringes of the mass market beers. It’s taken a while in Maryland and Virginia, but now, they’ve sprouted up across the Chesapeake Bay region.
Breweries specialize in making beer for sale on the premise or through regional shops and bars. Many have tasting rooms. Brewpubs make beer for sale in their own restaurant.
Maryland’s distilling industry was once the nation’s fifth-largest, with the state producing millions of gallons of whiskey, gin and vodka.
Of them, Maryland rye was the best known, a heavy, dark liquor bottled by Monticello, Hunter, Mount Vernon and Sherwood. Prohibition killed off a lot of the manufacturing, and consolidation finished off the rest after prohibition.
That is until Lyon Distilling Company opened in 2014 in St. Michaels, making whiskey and rum. It’s Maryland’s second licensed distillery in half a century.
The first was Blackwater Distilling in Stevenville,maker of Betty Sloop vodka since 1972. Sloop Betty has won three Gold Medals, including “Best Vodka in Show” at the 2012 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, and a 94-point rating in The Tasting Panel Magazine.
Mead has stepped away from Renaissance Festivals and into regional wine and liquor stores. Mead is made similar to wine, using honey instead of grapes. Some mead makers call it honey wine, but it can be served like a wine or a beer. Mead has also become the basis for creative cocktails in hipster bars.
Charm City Meadworks, Baltimore City’s first commercial meadery, opened in June 2014. It specializes in still and carbonated dry meads. There are eight mead makers in Virginia and five in Maryland. Most are wineries that branch into meads.