Sure, Maureen O’Prey admits, some people pick up her new book “for the juicy scandals, the international incidents, the family squabbles.” But she hopes they learn something: “How important breweries have always been to Maryland.”
The idea to chronicle the history of beer-making in the Old Line State came after historian O’Prey returned from a trip to see relatives in Dublin, Ireland, that included a visit to Guinness’ St. James Gate brewery and museum. Returning home, she was sitting on her deck drinking a local craft beer when it hit her: “I know all about one of the major breweries in my ancestral homeland, but I know nothing about the breweries in my own home state,” she recalls. “I felt a little ashamed and a little embarrassed, actually. As a historian, that’s a no-no.”
When O’Prey, who worked as a historian on the documentary film “Brewmore: Baltimore” and currently works in state government as a writer and researcher, decided to take on the challenge. Building on her first book, Brewing in Baltimore (Arcadia Publishing, 2011), O’Prey pulls together more than a decade of feet-on-the-street research to offer a comprehensive picture of brewing in Maryland from colonial times through today’s fast-growing beer scene.
From the region’s first beer-makers (who were the wives of tavern owners in the 17th century) to families opening competing breweries in the late 19th century to beer during Prohibition, O’Prey deftly turns decades of research into an engaging and comprehensive narrative of beer’s always-integral role in Maryland’s economy.
One find was an unpublished manuscript from a former Gunther brewery employee who worked throughout Prohibition, she says. “I was very privileged to have access to that. And I got some stories that no one’s ever heard before.”
In her final chapters, O’Prey chronicles the struggles, passions and successes of Maryland’s craft breweries, from trailblazers like Heavy Seas, Peabody Heights and DuClaw to newer farm breweries including Manor Hill and Milkhouse. You’ll find a handy chart of Maryland breweries by county at the end of chapter 11. –Rebecca Kirkman