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DuClaw Brewing Company

Photo: J.M. Giordano, License: N/A

J.M. Giordano

When DuClaw moved from its brewpub facility in Abingdon, Md., to a new production-only brewery in Rosedale with twice as much space, it didn’t take long to realize they still had a ways to go. “We opened in March; the second week of April, we realized we were already at [brewing] capacity,” says owner Dave Benfield. The brewery just added a set of tanks to increase space by 10 percent, and more tanks are on the way, but it likely won’t be enough. “We always seem to be behind [the demand],” he says.

That’s DuClaw’s strategy, though. “We don’t want to grow too fast, but we always want to be at capacity, whatever we do,” Benfield says.

Luckily for DuClaw, the fervent demand for their breakout beer, Sweet Baby Jesus, doesn’t seem like it will be slaked any time soon. The chocolate-peanut butter porter, a homebrewer’s recipe originally, has been getting international buzz. Benfield reports that after the online men’s magazine Uncrate ran a short review, a deluge of requests for the beer hit the company’s email inbox.

Within two hours of the article going live, “we had received over 70 emails across the United States requesting to try and get the product,” he says. “Within a week, we had received literally hundreds in the United States. And then we started getting 40 to 50 emails from Australia, Taiwan, India, and so on.”

Of the many beers the brewpub-turned-production brewery makes (about 26 total for 2013, more expected in 2014), Sweet Baby Jesus is the undisputed No. 1 seller at present. Sales increased for the dark, rich beer even over the summer, Benfield says.

He considers Maryland exceptional for brewing because “it’s a small state but a very densely populated state” that allows for quick feedback. As the company faces the uproar to expand to new markets, they’ve stayed the course for “slow, organic growth.” Sweet Baby Jesus “actually forced us to pull out of territories that we were in,” he says. “The Northern Virginia market and the Philadelphia market, we had to stop shipping beer there so that we could try to keep up with just some of Maryland.”

But the company’s brewpub heritage—the first DuClaw was opened with a 15-barrel brewhouse in Belair in 1996—hasn’t been affected by the surge in demand. “We can’t keep up with Sweet Baby Jesus, and we love that, but every single day, we are working diligently to brew the beer that kills it off,” Benfield says.

In terms of craft beer’s future, he predicts that behemoths like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller will continue to see a decrease in their share of the market. Like Joe Gold and Hugh Sisson, he points to a long-term shift in the tastes of consumers. People in their early 20’s coming out of college opt for beers with more intense flavor rather than a case of Busch Light—the beer that got Benfield started in the industry: While he was attending college at Loyola, he started homebrewing to save money. He calculates it cost him $10 to brew two cases of beer at the time when Busch Light cost $9.99 a case. The hobby clearly blossomed. “All for cheap beer,” he laughs.

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