Holiday spirit(s) flow year-round here at the beach
The James Beard Foundation, along with Wine Spectator, TripAdvisor and the National Restaurant Association all pay tribute to our Cape Region’s culinary culture. In spite of what is apparently every attempt to make it fail, that dedication to hospitality somehow survives - if only barely. Along with the plethora of food styles dished up here at the beach, just under the surface bubbles (and brews) a relatively new phenomenon: craft breweries and distilleries. And they’re luring even more food and drink aficionados to our Delaware coast.
The name Fins is synonymous with fresh oysters, seafood and spicy bloody marys. Several years ago, Fins Hospitality Group christened its first Big Oyster Brewery within the ale house and raw bar on Coastal Highway. Abbreviated as it might have been, the consistently good brews that flowed out of that little strip center became an instant hit with consumers, restaurants and retailers alike. Bosses Jeff and Kim Hamer responded with a much larger Big Oyster Brewery in Lewes, coupled with a particularly good restaurant and a comfortable outdoor music venue. Though restaurant attendance continues to be quashed in pretty much every way imaginable, passersby on Kings Highway give witness to truck after truck loading up Big Oyster’s popular brews to be delivered to distributers throughout the region.
Dogfish Head’s pioneering (yet pocket-size) startup brewery on Rehoboth Avenue has since morphed into a nationally recognized craft beer operation centered around their Rehoboth Beach complex of casual dining and entertainment.
Just over five years ago, Crooked Hammock Brewery opened a 7,000-square-foot facility in Lewes, boasting a 14-barrel brewing system, a big dining room, bar seating, an outdoor porch, a beer garden and a huge sandbox/playground for the kids. Along with the hammocks (both crooked and otherwise) came several popular brews. The concept caught on and has spawned Crooked Hammock No. 2 in Middletown, plus an even bigger venue in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Thanks to the more rational and business-friendly regulatory climate there in the Palmetto State, this still-in-progress venture promises to be a home run for LaVida Hospitality.
It didn’t take long for SoDel Concepts to get into the act. In 2019, the late Matt Haley’s locally based restaurant group dove into the brew biz headfirst with Thompson Island Brewing Company. Against all odds, SDC’s local eateries have proven to be surprisingly light on their feet; adapting in real time to a seemingly endless stream of capricious regulations in their daily efforts to keep their hundreds of local kids and families gainfully employed.
It is a known fact that locals and vacationers have been spotted sipping a beer or two in Dewey Beach. So it only seems right that Dewey Beer Company proclaims that their beers travel “30 feet or less” from their tanks to your glass. Like Fins, their operation quickly outgrew the restaurant-based brewing facility, so DBC will be adding a much bigger space for brewing, packaging, sales and tasting in the Kings Landing Business Park in Harbeson.
Yet another tiny startup expanding westward is Revelation Craft Brewery. These guys wasted no time earning a good reputation for their selection of tasty core brews. The tent-based brewery/pizza joint/bar in west Rehoboth will soon add its name to a much larger Georgetown complex that used to house 16 Mile. Food, entertainment and tastings will front a much-needed increase in brewing, packaging and shipping.
Since 1991, Gary’s Dewey Beach Grill has been a big part of the Dewey Way of Life. In addition to their healthy, yet unpretentious menu, Gary’s tiny in-house brewing system cranks out some tasty beers under the name of 38-75 Brewing. Wondering about the name? Take a look at a map.
In 2013 we were treated to yet another upstart distillery, Mispillion River Brewing in Milford. Proprietor Eric Williams states unequivocally that their beers are “for all drinkers, from noobs to nerds, from hopheads to stoutfaces.” (Did I mention that brewing has a language all its own?) Eric has since partnered with longtime Rehoboth chef/restaurateur Kevin Reading to create their Brick Works brewpubs in Smyrna and Long Neck.
They say that we ignore the spirits at our own peril, so I hasten to tell you about EasySpeak in Milford. Proprietor Zack King bubbles up his signature spirits inside his restaurant that features a popular happy hour, live entertainment and extensive outdoor seating.
A bit closer to home, spirit master Greg Christmas of Beach Time Distilling is an alumnus of the Dogfish Head operation. Greg and his wife Mary have been cranking out tasty rum, vodka, gin and seasonal spirits since August 2015. Don’t miss their latest pre-prepared and eminently portable cocktails! Beach Time Distillery is next door to Old World Breads in Lewes.
One of the newest kids on the block isn’t a brewery or a distillery. It’s a meadery! Mead is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water. Brimming Horn founder Jon Talkington and business partner “JR” Walker have expanded their services to include tasty food on the weekends and special events with a medieval bent. They will happily fill your favorite flagon upon request - but please leave your jousting gear at home.
In spite of all efforts to the contrary, 2021 will bring more tasty sips to the beach, so keep an eye on my page here in the Cape Gazette. As our friends at Southern Delaware Tourism Inc. like to say, “When it comes to the Cape Region, beaches are just the beginning.”