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Big Oyster Brewery starts pouring in Lewes

New brewpub breaks away from Fins
October 5, 2017

As patrons walk into the new Big Oyster Brewery on Kings Highway in Lewes, they are greeted by a large window showing the brewery’s cold storage room. As they enter the dining room, they’ll see into the sour room where dozens of barrels of aging beer will be on display. Then behind the bar, large windows to the ceiling show the line of fermenters. Out on the back patio, windows again show the fermenters and the rest of the brewery. 

“I wanted to be sure that in every part of the brewpub you can see the brewery,” said Jeff Hamer, president and founder of Fins Hospitality Group.

Big Oyster began brewing in early 2015 in the back corner of Fins Ale House and Raw Bar on Coastal Highway. In the years following, the brewery built a loyal customer base, offering wide selection of year-round and seasonal brews. 

Production grew enough to supply nearly 200 accounts in Delaware and Maryland, but still many people eating at Fins didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes. 

That’s all changed with the opening of Big Oyster Brewery’s new brewpub. The entire brewing operation, now nearly five times larger, is on display for folks eating lunch or dinner or just stopping in for a drink or two. 

“If you’re here Monday through Friday for lunch or an early dinner, you will see this place in operation,” Hamer said. “If it’s not brewing, you’ll see them exchanging the tanks, rotating the barrels. You’ll definitely see them doing something.” 

Big Oyster can brew up to 4,000 barrels per year, but Hamer said his team, led by brewmaster Andrew Harton, will brew no more than 3,500 if they push hard. The larger brewery also allows Hamer to expand his reach, adding more accounts in Delaware and Maryland as well as offering Big Oyster brews in cans at package stores.

“Sixty percent of all sales in the state of Delaware are off premise,” Hamer said. “They’re in package stores. That’s a category we haven’t even tapped.” 

The new sour room, affectionately named Jeff’s Funky Room, allows the brewery team to continue aging beers, an effort that began by stacking barrels along the wall of the dining room at Fins. 

The temperature-controlled room offers a better environment, Hamer said, because it can slow down the fermentation process, and beers can be aged up to two years.

While Harton brews Big Oyster’s staple year round and seasonals at the new facility, assistant brewer Red Killpack is now in charge of the original brewhouse at Fins. 

“Red will get to brew a lot of funky stuff. A lot one-offs,” Hamer said. “He’ll have an opportunity to experiment.”

The brewery has 18 beers on tap, all Big Oyster originals. A wine list is also available for non-beer drinkers. 

Hamer is excited about the restaurant component of the new brewpub. For the first time in his career, he was able to build a California-style open kitchen from the ground up, setting up an efficient space for chef William Somoza, while also offering patrons a view of the line.

“He’s been waiting patiently for me to get this open,” Hamer said. “What I thought was a one-year project took two years, so he’s stayed on knowing that I was going to get it done, and he’s produced an awesome menu.” 

Hamer said the menu is quite different from the menu at Fins. Though seafood is offered, he said, Big Oyster’s menu is very meat-centric. The kitchen staff utilizes a smoker for some items, while also incorporating the beer in recipes, marinades and dressings. 

“I wanted to showcase how beer and wine have a unique crossover and are very similar,” he said.

The brewpub has a 30-seat dining room, with about the same available at high tops and at the bar. A few tables are also set up on the back patio, where folks can get full service or just hang out and play games. The patio features corn hole, ping pong, the hook and ring game as well as comfortable patio furniture to chill out. 

Hamer worked with Rebecca Fluharty to design the building. The goal, he said, was to make it look like a barn that fits in with the area’s past. Inside, the decor pays homage to Lewes history, both in agriculture and seafaring. Original antiques were incorporated to offer just the right ambiance, he said.

“I’d say 95 percent of everything in here is legit,” he said. “I have pickers working for me who are always looking for stuff.” 

Hamer worked with the Lewes Historical Society to find historic photographs for the walls. The restaurant also pays homage to Lewes’ history, showing the Lewes Dairy, the menhaden factory, river pilots and even a 1950s pie-eating contest. 

Big Oyster Brewery, 1007 Kings Highway in Lewes, is open for lunch and dinner every day. For more information, go to bigoysterbrewery.com or call 302-644-2621.

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