In my last column, I wrote about SB 604, a recently passed Virginia law that will allow the state’s microbreweries to sell beer for on-premise consumption.

The Free State is keeping pace with the Old Dominion in supporting craft brewing. On May 22, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Senate Bill 579, which will establish a Class 8 Farm Brewing license, effective July 1.

Farmhouse breweries will be limited to 15,000 barrels a year. They don’t actually have to be on farms, according to the legislation. But they do have to use Maryland-grown ingredients — grains, hops or fruit — in their beers. (No minimum percentage is specified, however.)

Class 8 license holders will enjoy many privileges that apply to wineries — but not to the state’s other breweries. They can sell their guests growlers, cases, even kegs to carry away. They can sell or give away beer for onsite imbibing, up to six ounces per brand. They can offer already prepared foods, such as pizza, sandwiches, soup, chocolate and cheese. And they can apply for up to 12 special-events permits per year, which will allow them to host festivals featuring other breweries’ beers.

“We can do everything that small wineries do except for self-distribution,” says hop grower Tom Barse, who hopes to have his Milkhouse Brewery on Stillpoint Farm in Mt. Airy operating by October. “We’ll be pretty old-fashioned with our beers,” he states. “Only whole hops, no filtration. We’ll do a pale ale, a stout, a porter, an IPA, also some experimental farmhouse ales.”

Barse is one of at least four parties who intend to apply for the new Class 8 license. All currently grow hops or barley for Maryland craft brewers. Adam Frey, another hop farmer in the Mt. Airy area, hopes for a 2012 opening, but cautions, “Red tape is one of our biggest hangups.” Frey plans to brew “a wide variety of beers” on a tiny three-barrel system.

“I can play around with some really unique stuff. If nobody likes it,” adds Frey, who also raises corn, hay, chickens and geese, “it’s not a great loss.”

Barse sees the new law as a “big-time help” for Maryland farmers, who are struggling to make ends meet. Notes Frey: “We want to give people an incentive to come out to the farm and see what lifestyle goes into it.”

The new law has been touted as promoting sustainable farming as well as agri-tourism. Barse plans to supplement his hops with four acres of barley in the fall as a “cover crop” to prevent the erosion of topsoil into the Chesapeake Bay. He plans to install a malting facility in a space that used to be a milking parlor. “It’s such a win-win,” he says of the new law.

Greg Clabaugh, who currently operates the only malthouse in the state, intends to break into the beer business via contract-brewing, and later to open his own brewery and a 4,000-square-foot tasting room/farm museum on his Sc Willow Lane Farm in Detour, Md. He expects the first brews from his Amber Fields Malting and Brewing Co. to be available by August.

“All of the grain used in the beer will be raised right here on our farm,” he promises. “I’ve got 2,000 pounds just waiting to get brewed into beer.”

Savor update: If you were lucky enough to score tickets to this weekend’s craft beer-and-food festival, you should have received them in the mail by now. If you were shut out, there are plenty of tap takeovers, beer dinners and brewer meet-and-greets scheduled for the next seven days — too many to mention here. But check out the Savor site for a partial listing of what’s going on.