Thanks to @MoCoBeer1 and Julie Verratti of Denizens Brewing Company for their advice on this piece. We have made corrections to this piece based on some errors that were pointed out to us. Original copy is struckthrough with corrections in bold following. This is a complicated topic, and we apologize for any errors.
Last summer, I found myself at a Safeway in Maryland, just outside of DC. As my lady and I were gathering necessities for our barbecue, it occurred to us that we should also take this opportunity to get beer for the party – after all, we can get beer at the Safeway near our apartment in AdMo, so why make two stops? As I searched every corner of the store, I became increasingly confused about the location of the beer section. It was only after asking an employee, that I learned that grocery stores can’t sell beer in Maryland.
Later, I was telling my co-worker the story, and, living in Arlington, she told me about some of the legal differences between Maryland and Virginia. So I thought to myself that I wish I had a guide to help understand where and when I can buy beer in Maryland, Virginia, or DC.
In this series, I will attempt to (if you’ll pardon the pun…) distill some of the beer laws of DC, Maryland, and Virginia down to their component parts. The purpose of this exercise is not intended to be an all-out guide to these three places’ convoluted alcohol laws, but instead merely to make a reference so people travelling throughout the region will know where and when they can purchase and consume beer.
However, before we dive into some of the different beer regulations and how they impact the consumer, it’s important to have a quick primer on how we arrived at this point. The failure of the so-called “Great Experiment” of Prohibition led to the passage of the 21st Amendment, which, while repealing Prohibition, also removed the federal government’s power to regulate alcohol consumption. Consequently, each state decides how alcohol will be sold within its borders.
In the first section of this series on beer regulation across the DMV, I start with arguably the strangest: Maryland. Instead of promulgating statewide regulations on alcohol, Maryland delegates this rulemaking to each county. There are 24 counties in the state (23 plus Baltimore City), and each county has its own specific regulations.
Since the laws are so numerous and complicated, I focus this analysis on the two counties closest to DC: Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.
Montgomery County is an “alcohol controlled” or “control district” county, meaning that the county has a heavy hand in regulating the distribution and sale of alcohol. Off-premise (non-bar and restaurant) liquor sales may only be conducted at county-owned and operated stores. Beer and wine sales may be made by licensed retail accounts, including four (and only four) grocery stores whose licenses were in place before the laws came into effect the state of Maryland changed the law about alcohol sales in grocery stores. The four chains who were grandfathered in after the state law changed included Magruder’s (whose Gaithersburg location has closed, but the chain maintains the right to transfer the license to another location if one exists), Balducci’s (formerly Sutton Place), Rodman’s, and Roots Market in Olney. Non-county-owned licensed retail outlets can also sell beer and wine in Montgomery County.
When sales are “off-premise,” a consumer purchases a six-pack or a couple of 22oz bombers to take home. Typically, a brewery sells their beer to a distributor, who then sells the beer to a store or bar, who then sells it to a consumer. In essence, in alcohol-control counties, rather than a distributor alone being the second part of the three-tier system (i.e., the brewery, the distributor, the store), the county effectively acts as a secondary distributor and receives product from the distributor, who then sells to a retailer. For a detailed discussion of this, take a look at this DCBeer.com piece.
Very recently, however, breweries possessing a micro-brewery license have been allowed to self-distribute in Montgomery County – meaning that the brewery is permitted to sell its product directly to a bar, restaurant, or liquor store. By doing this, Montgomery County allows a brewery to act as its own distributor, thereby bypassing the county’s control.
Conversely, since Prince George’s County is not an alcohol control county, no similar liquor store restrictions are in place. That does not mean, however, that a consumer can purchase beer anywhere they choose. Unlike in DC, in many Maryland counties consumers cannot purchase beer in grocery stores like Safeway or Trader Joe’s. I discussed Montgomery County’s four exceptions above, but in Prince George’s, each grocery store chain may choose one of its locations in the county to sell beer and wine. Beyond that, beer, wine, and spirits can only be bought at liquor stores and convenience stores.
When I attempted to purchase beer for our barbecue back in August, it was fortunate that I wasn’t doing so on a Sunday. Prince George’s County forbids the retail sale of alcohol on Sunday [UPDATE: You can buy beer in PG on Sunday at some stores now!], but you can still purchase beer and alcohol on Sundays at bars and restaurants. Aside from Sunday, retail establishments can sell beer, wine, and spirits between the hours of 6:00 am and 12:00 am. Bars and restaurants can sell from 6:00 am until 2:00 am. Interestingly, even restaurants cannot sell alcohol in excess of 15.5% ABV on Sundays.
In Montgomery County, on the other hand, alcohol sales are permitted on Sundays. Patrons can purchase alcohol at retail establishments between the hours of 6:00 am and 1:00 am. Bars and restaurants in Montgomery County are permitted to serve from 9:00 am to 1:00 am Monday-Thursday, on Friday and Saturday between 9:00 am and 2:00 am, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 1:00 am. Retail sales are permitted from 6:00 am to 1:00 am all days.
Prince George’s County
6:00 am – 1:00 am
6:00 am – 12:00 am
9:00 am – 1:00 am (M-Th)
9:00 am – 2:00 pm (F, Sat.)
6:00 am – 2:00 am
6:00 am – 1:00 am
10:00 am – 1:00 am
6:00 am – 12:00 am
Although specific counties regulate alcohol sales within their borders, the Maryland legislature defined different types of breweries for the entire state, and each has its own rules for serving and selling beer to consumers. For our purposes, we care most about the production brewery, micro-brewery, and pub-brewery. In defining different types of breweries in the state, the legislature has spoken on what these different sorts of breweries are permitted to do.
Examples of production breweries include: Flying Dog Brewing Company (Frederick, MD), Heavy Seas (Clipper City Brewing Company) (Baltimore, MD)
The largest of the three brewery types is the production brewery. As you can imagine, a production brewery is a major industrial operation. If a brewery produces more than 22,500 barrels of beer annually, it must be licensed as a “production brewery.” As a reference point: a barrel (or BBL) consists of 31 gallons or two standard 15.5 gallon kegs.
When visiting a production brewery in Maryland, consumers’ choices are somewhat restricted in terms of both the volume and means by which they consume beer. Interestingly, on-site beer consumption over the course of a year is limited to a total of 500 barrels of beer per year per brewery. Furthermore, a consumer may be served six three-ounce samples if they come to a brewery for a tour or other event. That same consumer can be served a pint independently of the samples, but the brewery must have a separate permit to serve pints.
Maryland also limits off-site consumption (think beer to-go). If a consumer comes to the brewery for a tour or other event, the consumer may purchase up to 288 ounces of beer (a single case of 12-ounce bottles). The consumer can also fill a 64-ounce growler, but in order to do so the consumer must bring a growler from that brewery or purchase one; they may not fill a different brewery’s growler or a blank one. With the passage of House Bill 208/Senate Bill 546, Montgomery County growler permit holders (and all other jurisdictions that signed on like Baltimore City, Annapolis and Howard Counties) may fill any growler that meets the 21-107 rules of the bill. Provided the remainder of the generic warnings and sizes are met, approved interpretation is that the seller of the beer must affix a sticker with it’s name to someone else’s growler. This includes both retailers and Class 5/7 Brewery permit holders such as Denizens. Note this is allowed not required, so the brewer/retailer can choose not to, but is not proscribed. The growler itself must adhere to certain guidelines including warnings about the consumption of alcohol, a label advising to properly clean the growler, and that the contents are perishable.
Examples of Maryland micro-breweries include: Evolution Craft Brewery (Salisbury, MD), Denizens Brewing Company (Silver Spring, MD)
A micro-brewery is effectively a scaled-down production brewery, and similar laws apply. Unlike a production brewery, a micro-brewery must produce no more than 22,500 barrels. Of the total 22,500 barrels, 4,000 barrels can be consumed on-site. For reasons unbeknownst to the author, the on-site consumption limit for a micro-brewery is 3,500 barrels higher than for a production brewery – a larger operation. This effectively means that if a brewery decides to increase its barrelage production beyond the “micro-brewery” limit, they must reduce, in some cases significantly, taproom operations.
A micro-brewery is subject to the same growler regulations as discussed above. Growler fills are permitted in different counties throughout Maryland including those closest to DC: Montgomery and Prince George’s County. Regardless of where the growler is being filled, it must be filled according to the rules discussed above.
Last summer, the Maryland legislature loosened the knot on micro-brewers by allowing them to sell pre-packaged beer (i.e., bottles and cans) to consumers directly. As discussed above, some micro-brewers are permitted to self-distribute their beers in specific circumstances.
Examples of brewpubs in Maryland include: Pratt Street Ale House (Baltimore, MD), Growlers of Gaithersburg (Gaithersburg, MD)
In a pub-brewery (AKA brewpub), beer is brewed for consumption at a single location, which must be located directly adjacent to the brewery itself, and the brewpub must serve food. There is a limit of 2,000 barrels of production per year. As far as growlers are concerned, a brewpub can fill your growler in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
With the exception of Montgomery County, a Maryland pub-brewery cannot distribute beer for on- or off-premise sale without an additional license (which is a topic for another day and includes, for example, the Baltimore brewpubs whose beer we receive in DC). In Montgomery County, pub-breweries who produce less than 3,000 BBLs per year and choose to self-distribute do not have to go through the county for their tap room or wholesale sales. The county gets its money from the pub-breweries in this instance via the sales taxes sent to the state of Maryland each month (through manufacturer and distributor’s licenses). Once a brewery crosses that 3,000 BBL limit, they can no longer self-distribute and would have to sell the overage through the county DLC.
The complicated beer and alcohol laws of Maryland cannot possibly be fully explained in a single article. The sheer number of rules and regulations spanning 24 different counties creates a complicated web of governance, and so this piece only scratches the surfaces of the nuances of Maryland laws on beer and alcohol regulation in the DC region. In future pieces, I will highlight some of the major differences between Maryland, DC, and Virginia when you are looking for a 6-pack or a pint after work