By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews
John and Tom Knorr have been on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for 16 years. They started with one restaurant — The Red Roost — and added others over the years. Now, the centerpiece of their operation is in Maryland, too.
Evolution Craft Brewery Co. moved to the state in April, settling into a 30,000-square-foot building in Salisbury after uprooting from a space one-tenth the size in nearby Delmar, Del.
“We’ve driven by this building for years,” John Knorr said, standing outside of the brewery’s tasting room on Tuesday. “It was an abandoned ice factory. It turned out one of our friends owned it and was trying to sell it.”
So the Knorr brothers bought it and, with $1.5 million, including about $650,000 in bridge financing from a Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development fund partially seeded by the state Department of Business and Economic Development, outfitted their new brewery, restaurant and tasting room.
Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials, including DBED Secretary Christian Johansson, visited Evolution Tuesday for a tour and a taste on Tuesday.
O’Malley lauded the success of the Knorr brothers, who own five restaurants locally — as well as a French bistro in Guatemala — and the brewery. They employ 350 people in the area and plan to add 10 to the brewery’s staff of 51 this year.
“These guys had the vision, these took the chance, these guys risked their own dollars on investing in Maryland,” the governor said. “We were there to help them with partnership, with people helping at every level.”
Evolution, or EVO for short, brewed 4,000 barrels, or about 124,000 gallons of beer last year. Tom Knorr said they expect to do about 7,000 this year and, if all goes right, 10,000 to 12,000 in 2013.
“It could be more,” he said.
For now, the Knorr brothers said every case of Evolution is already sold, even before it’s made. They’re working on expanding their reach into more of Pennsylvania and Virginia while keeping suppliers in Maryland well stocked.
Evolution is part of a growing cohort of small craft breweries that every year are taking a larger share of the American beer market. According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer industry group, craft brewers sold 11.46 million barrels of beer in 2011. That was an increase of 15 percent over 2010 even as overall beer sales were down 1.3 percent that year.
Evolution’s portfolio includes five main beers, including Primal Pale Ale, Exile ESB, Lucky 7 Porter, Rise up Stout and the top-selling Lot #3 India Pale Ale.
“People just really, really like our beers,” Tom Knorr said. “That’s how we’ve grown it, is grass roots.”