Down on the Farm With Manor Hill Brewing: After sampling Manor Hill's The Gathering Wet Hop IPA, with its 10 pounds of wet Maryland hops per barrel, at my favorite city watering holes, I decided to take a quick field trip last week to check out the brewery's facility. Manor Hill Brewing (4411 Manor Lane, Ellicott City,  977-7771, manorhillbrewing.com) has been raising beer on its Howard County farm since May. The brewery is equipped with a 15-barrel brew house and currently offers 12 beers in the Baltimore/Washington marketplace. It's owned by the Marriner family, operators of the Victoria Gastropub in Columbia and the upcoming FoodPlenty in Clarksville.
Located on a working farm at the end of a long road in Ellicott City, Manor Hill is easily the most beautiful brewery trip within a half-hour drive of Baltimore. In fact, everything is beautiful at the brand-new facility. There are 3,500 hop plants on two acres out front, and you can see the herbaceous perennials' trellises from quite a distance down the road. The brewery aims to produce many of the hops, such as Cascade, Nugget, Centennial, and Chinook, it will need for its beers, according to head brewer (and Charles Village resident) Ben Little, who refined his brewing skills as the former brew master at Frisco Taphouse in Columbia. I felt like I was in Napa when Little described the "terroir" on which he's raising the hops. He also mentioned that Manor Hill is currently working on a Cream Ale recipe made with corn from the farm.
Freshness is everything at Manor Hill and mutes the brewery's desire to push out too much product to the public. "We're hop-forward guys," Little said. "A lot of our beers are very date-sensitive and we don't filter our beer. We don't want beer out there that's not what we would want to drink. With hop-forward and aroma-forward stuff, shelf life decreases. So we don't want to overproduce it. The quality of our beer is everything. We treat that liquid with respect walking out the door."
While Manor Hill hopes to open the spacious tasting room to the public in the future, this column is the closest you'll get to the inside for now. There are no public tours or tastings yet, for fear that indeed everyone will pay them a visit. The brewery isn't sure the neighbors will approve of the extra traffic and noise in this little slice of paradise, so be patient, like a good homebrewer. In the meantime, Manor Hill will start canning beer over the next two weeks, so you'll have more opportunities to drink its beer while you await your eventual visit.
RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER: As it celebrates three years of brewing at Peabody Heights Brewery, Raven Beer (401 E. 30th St.,  847-6223, ravenbeer.com) introduced Dark Usher Kölsch last week. Dark Usher is brewed with noble hops and is easily drinkable at 4.8 percent ABV. The name is a nod to the darkness that loomed over Poe character Roderick Usher, but the mood was festive at the tapping celebration that featured live jazz and crab dip. Proceeds from the event benefited A Mother's Cry, a community advocacy and support organization founded by Millie Brown for families who have been affected by violence. "A good cause for an amazing organization together with the launch of such a unique beer at Peabody Heights brewer—now that's beautiful," said Raven founder Steve Demczuk.