Hugh Sisson founded the Clipper City Brewing Company in December 1995, but in reality, the history the largest craft brewery in the Baltimore area stretches back quite a bit further. It was in the mid-1980s, while functioning as owner and founder of Sisson’s, a local restaurant and bar, that Hugh first recognized the potential for a small brewery in Baltimore. He began his quest to get a brewery started by attempting to procure a license to brew beer at his restaurant, but quickly hit a wall upon discovering the prohibitive legislation which prevented brewpubs in Maryland. Rather than moving, he, with the help of Senator George Della, Jr., successfully lobbied the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation which would permit a brewpub in the state’s borders. In 1989, the beer Gods smiled upon this devout pair of beery crusaders and Hugh began brewing at Sisson’s, which holds the honor of being Maryland’s first brewpub.
This move aided immensely in ushering the wave of craft brewing in Baltimore, and Hugh engrossed himself in the development and market recognition of both Sisson’s brewpub and its beers, while simultaneously serving as this pioneering facility’s first Brewmaster. Not only an anti-beer legislation warrior, he is also a member of the Master Brewers Association of America, the Institute for Fermentation and Brewing Studies and sits on the Executive Committee for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Craft Brewers.
After five years of brewing excellence at Sisson’s, Hugh decided to take his craft brewing to a larger platform by starting a full-scale microbrewery. Three guesses as to who stepped in to say he couldn’t do it… that’s right, the state. It seems that “they” (a.k.a. “the man”) took issue with him owning both a brewpub and brewery. The logic behind this legal blockade? Your guess is as good as ours. Fortunately, Hugh was undaunted by the legal challenge, and did battle with the powers that be yet again, pulling out the win less than two years later.
In early 1996, Clipper City Brewing, borrowing a Baltimore sobriquet for its name, officially began brewing on the scale Hugh had envisioned. Since Baltimore earned its official town status in 1729, many a ship has served the local port, which today ranks 5th in size in the U.S.. The first small ships used in the harbor were tobacco-carrying vessels loading locally grown leaves bound for England. When they returned, they brought indentured servants and manufactured goods not readily available in the colonies. After the Revolution, Baltimore merchants developed a thriving, albeit long distance trade in grain and flower with the West Indies and South America. In order to speed the journey to these far off lands, transport was carried out in fast clipper schooners, first designed in the Chesapeake Bay that made Baltimore’s name known worldwide, earning it the nickname “the Clipper City”.
Now you know a brewer founder has local pride when they elect to use their city’s nickname as their own; for in doing so, in effect they’re saying, “this is the beer of the city.” Clipper City Brewing Company and its beers have been widely acclaimed throughout Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic states. “Best Local Beer” was the accolade bestowed by both Baltimore Magazine and City Paper, while “Top Local Pale Ale” was decreed by the folks at Barleycorn Magazine. On top of this, Clipper City was selected as one of the 14 best Mid-Atlantic breweries by author Ben Myers in his North American Encyclopedia of Beer.
For more information about the brewery or scheduled tours, call (410) 247-7822, or visit their website at www.clippercitybeer.com.