As Senator Ben Cardin toured the Heavy Seas brewery Friday, July 19, he was nearly splashed with a great deal of pumpkin ale being pumped into a bourbon barrel not far from where he stood with Hugh Sisson, Heavy Seas' founder. After the narrow miss, the senator and Sisson, flanked by a covey of distributor reps, investors, and reporters, traversed through the Halethorpe brewery's recent expansions: a 96,000-cubic feet cold room; rows upon rows of storage racks, stacked with bourbon barrels and packaging; a new tasting room to hold a new 24-foot mahogany bar, where the tour ended. A table was set up with cans of Loose Cannon and Davy Jones' Lager on ice. Sisson mentioned plans for an additional bar attached to the cold room. "There's a lot of drinking going on here," a legislative aide for Councilman Tom Quirk muttered to an acquaintance. Amid clicking cameras, Sisson pointed out a photo of Cardin tapping a cask of beer at the grand opening of Sisson's, the famed South Baltimore brewpub, in 1989.
The Small BREW Act, a bipartisan bill to reduce the excise tax for breweries producing less than 6 million barrels of beer per year, occasioned Cardin's visit. "I've talked to so many microbrewers around the nation," Cardin said, "and it's absolutely true that if we cut this tax, there will be more brewers around the country doing what you're doing here, and that is expanding capacity and creating more jobs." Half-full pint in hand, Cardin extolled small businesses and their output, especially breweries'. "You have elevated the quality of beer production, and you've made it more fun," he said.
As the senator and his contingent dispersed, Heavy Seas started to fill up with the general public for its first day of growler fills. Customers trickled in with and without the glass jugs, on sale at the brewery for $5 ($9-$19 to fill). One man brought in an old Sisson's growler, another a DeGroen's; both were met with fanfare. The brewery employees (disclosure: this writer used to be one of them) brought out a foosball table for free play, and even Sisson took a turn. Tour attendees will be able to fill their growlers on weekends.