Check out a craft beer trail with the HowardOnTap app

Reed Hellman

Manor Hill Brewery, Ellicott City

The art of brewing beer spans six millennia. Yet, after so many centuries of refining, improving, and enhancing the beer-drinking experience, humans still find new ways to enjoy a tall cold one.

The HowardOnTap Craft Brew Trail’s app is a prime example of applying cyber age technology to a pre-Bronze Age potation.

Frisco Tap House, Columbia

Sandwiched between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Howard County, Md., combines its rich agricultural tradition with its suburban communities and is home to nearly a dozen breweries, sophisticated tap houses, and brew-centric taverns. HowardOnTap uses smartphone technology to plan and guide a customized tour of craft beer meccas, including:

  • Black Flag Brewing Company, Columbia
  • Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, Ellicott City
  • Frisco Tap House, Columbia
  • Jailbreak Brewing Company, Laurel
  • Manor Hill Brewery, Ellicott City
  • Rams Head Tavern, Savage
  • Red Shedman Farm Brewery, Mount Airy
  • The Ale House Columbia, Columbia
  • Victoria Gastro Pub, Columbia

Howard County Tourism offers the HowardOnTap app for beer geeks, as well as the thirsty general public. The app tracks users’ progress, automatically registering with each of the stops along the trail, and letting them know when they complete the trail.

Manor Hill Brewery, Ellicott City

Those who visit all the trail stops receive an official HowardOnTap souvenir glass and become eligible to win prizes.

The app also has an “On Tap & Events” feature that lists happenings at local brew spots. Using the “Rooms, Rides & Tours” feature enables users to book hotel rooms, Uber rides, taxis, and even tours to ensure safety-conscious beer tasting adventures. Easily share the journey on Facebook and Twitter within the app.

The HowardOnTap website presents profiles and links to the participating craft brewers on the trail, along with useful information about the trail.

Varied experiences

Although they all participate, the beer venues are not homogenous. Some were purpose-built; others expanded existing food and beverage operations to include craft beverages. Though each offers craft-brewed beers, each has its own approach.

The Frisco Tap Room claims to be one of the oldest in the county, currently offering 56 taps including a half dozen brews made on site. “We change the tap list every week,” said general manager Keith Whitelock. “We bring in 20 to 30 new beers every week.”

Along with the beers, Frisco Tap Room has history as a restaurant, serving Tex-Mex fare mostly made from scratch, regional specialties, and upscale pub food.

At first glance, Frisco seems incongruously located, tucked away on the ground level of a low-rise Columbia strip mall. But, its popularity is quickly evident.

“Howard County is becoming quite the beer mecca,” said Whitelock. “It’s a great place for a beer trip — safe, nice, and picturesque. And, each place has its own unique crowd of people.”

The crowd was absolutely different at Black Flag Brewing Company — younger and more into gaming. Open less than a year, the brewpub serves five regular and five seasonal brews, all made on-site at the location off Snowdon River Parkway.

Although the décor was largely warehouse, the atmosphere was comfortable. Black Flag does not serve food, but food trucks parked outside handle any hungry patrons.

Manor Hill Brewery, Ellicott City

Comparing Manor Hill Brewery to the Frisco Tap Room and Black Flag Brewing Company dramatically points out the diversity found along the trail. Instead of an urban strip mall or low-rise warehouse, Manor Hill is at the end of a country lane in a very horse farm-looking mansion and outbuildings. In front of the brewery, tall poles support 3,000 hops vines Manor Hill uses for its brews.

Rachael Mull is Manor Hill’s vice president and the third generation of her family to work in the food and beverage industry. Their ventures have included Blob’s Park, Iron Bridge Restaurant, and Victoria Gastro Pub, one of the other stops on the brew trail. Manor Hill currently makes 3,000 barrels annually, and presents 15 beers at its tasting room. Unlike the other stops on the trail, visitors should call for reservations before coming.

Using the HowardOnTap app to build a Howard County Craft Brew Trail experience is an ideal way to use modern technology to explore the most ancient of beverages.

For more information:

Howard Co. Tourism: visithowardcounty.com

Howard Brew Trail: howardontap.com

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