There’s an Onion headline that goes something like “Holy Shit, Man Walks on Fucking Moon” and I’m trying to think of the beer equivalent of that. This is as close as we’re going to get for the time being. Flying Dog, the second largest brewery in Maryland and the 34th largest in the United States, is being acquired by New York’s FX Matt, who you probably know best from the Saranac line of beers. This acquisition will move the entirety of Flying Dog’s production from Frederick, Maryland to Utica, New York, leaving only the potential of “an innovation brewery and taproom in Frederick,” per Brewbound, which broke the news. The brewery was already contracting with FX Matt, the second oldest craft brewery in the US according to the Brewers Association (BA), prior to the acquisition. The combined barrelage of these breweries will put it in the BA’s top ten craft beer producers by volume. A brewery so independent they left the Brewers Association in 2017 will be back, under the auspices of FX Matt.
This comes weeks after Maryland’s largest brewery, Guinness, announced plans to move the production of their Baltimore Blonde Ale elsewhere in the company, though Guinness Open Gate is quick to add that their 10-barrel brewing system remains operational and shuttering the larger, 100 hectoliter–about 82 barrels–Baltimore Blonde brewhouse was a decision from their parent company, Diageo. The end of Baltimore Blonde temporarily costs the Maryland brewing industry nearly a hundred jobs; Diageo is offering job placement assistance and severances to those affected. Flying Dog will look to do something similar: “It is important to me that FX Matt Brewing is offering employment opportunities to as many employees as possible and we will provide job placement assistance to team members,” Flying Dog’s CEO Jim Caruso told Brewbound.
So, does someone want to check on the state of Maryland? Diageo and Guinness will wrap up production of their Baltimore Blonde Ale in Relay next month, while Flying Dog will move production to Utica by the end of August, though they intend to keep a smaller research and development brewery in Frederick. That’s the two largest brewing facilities in Maryland gone within a few months of each other; both are members of the Brewers Association of Maryland.
“Breweries throughout the country are adapting to a rapidly changing market while recovering from the unprecedented economic effects brought on by a multi-year pandemic. Like operators in any maturing industry, brewery owners and executives today are making business decisions best suited to their brands, their longevity and their stakeholders,” said Kelly Dudeck, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, when we asked for a comment. “Despite these developments, Maryland’s craft beer industry is attracting new entrants and is growing more diverse. We welcome these breweries and look forward to seeing the positive impacts they will have on their local communities. The next chance you have to drink a beer, drink a local beer and show your support.”
Come August 2023, the largest brewery in Maryland will be familiar to many of you: Heavy Seas. Clipper City/Heavy Seas was the largest brewery in the state for much of the 1990s. They’ll be back on top soon enough. “I was here before both Guinness and Flying Dog showed up. And now I’m the last truly local guy standing. Hope that counts for something,” Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson told us yesterday.
We reached out to Flying Dog and will update this piece if and when we hear back. We’re interested in their thoughts on once again being part of the Brewers Association, and subject to the BA’s “blatant attempt to bully and intimidate craft brewers into self-censorship and to only create labels that are acceptable to the management and directors of the BA.” That quote is from Caruso in 2017, announcing Flying Dog’s departure from the organization. In 2023’s economic climate, perhaps the brewery is feeling a little less “disobedient.”
In the meantime, Flying Dog’s Frederick facility, one of the largest breweries in Maryland, might be up for sale soon; will they get a new tenant, or will the equipment go to auction? We’ll be monitoring that situation. Is an Old Bay beer really going to be made in upstate New York? Stay tuned.