Spirits by the Sea
Southern Delaware’s cup runneth over with breweries, distilleries and wine bars.
Head brewer Michael Reilly (left) and owner Brandon Smith of Dewey Beer Company.
When it comes to tourism in Delaware, beer, wine and spirits make up a big business. Witness the number of new breweries, distilleries and beer- or wine-centric establishments popping up in the past three years. Nowhere is this more evident than in southern Delaware, where establishments are brewing attractions for tourists thirsty for local flavors.
THE GATEWAY TO GOOD TIMES
Milford sits on the border of Kent and Sussex counties, making it the portal to southern Delaware. Located on the Mispillion River, the town was once a shipbuilding center, with at least seven companies operating at once. The history provided inspiration for Mispillion River Brewing, which has a sailing ship on its logo.
For its names, however, the brewery bypasses nautical terms for such far-out labels as Reach Around, Space Otter, Chupacabra and Holy Crap! The brewery is located about a half mile off U.S. 113 and less than two miles from Del. 1, making it a pit stop for people going to and from the beach. “People stop in to get a growler filled, or, if it’s a rainy day, they come up to the brewery and check us out,” says president Eric Williams.
The tasting room is open from noon-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-midnight Friday and Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. “We’re trying to appeal to anybody—whether you have the day off, work late and want to come in for a beer or want to hear live music,” Williams says. Tours are on Saturdays, starting at noon. There are 10 or more brews on tap at the bar. Bring your own food or purchase something from one of the food trucks that might be parked out front, offering everything from Indonesian food to barbecue.
Mispillion holds “Christmas in July” on July 25 and the Beer Olympics on Aug. 22. Look for the announcement of a new IPA coming this summer.(255 Mullet Run St., Milford, 491-6623, www.mispillionriverbrewing.com)
A few miles to the south, Milton is home to the big daddy of local brewing, Dogfish Head Brewery. After an expansion, this is also the home of the company’s distillery, which makes spirits like Brown Honey Rum, Blue Hen Vodka (made with Delaware wildflower honey) and Jin. The brewery offers beer sampling (you get four free samples with a valid ID), pint sales, growler refills and food via its Bunyan’s Lunchbox, which sells brats, pickles and chowder infused with Dogfish Head’s products. Tours are offered every day, but on Sunday, they fill up quickly. While you wait, play bocce ball or cornhole. (No. 6 Cannery Village Center, Milton, 684-1000, www.dogfish.com)
In historic downtown Milton, Rich and Debbie Sulkovsky planned to open Bacchus Wine Bar in the old First Bank of Milton by spring or early summer. The menu features casual dining, desserts and, of course, an extensive wine list. (106 Union St., Milton, 703-362-1521, www.bacchuswinebarmilton.com)
16 MILES FROM ANYWHERE
Make a detour inland to visit 16 Mile Brewery, which opened in 2009. The brewery is named for Georgetown, which, in 1791, became the county seat because it was considered about “16 miles” from anywhere significant in the county at that time. With its white-pine bar, custom tap handles and brick fireplace, the tavern’s warm decor can stand up to any pub’s ambiance. However, the brewery serves only beer, so bring your own food. There’s entertainment every Friday night, and the brewery is known for its special events. (413 S. Bedford St., Georgetown, 253-8816, www.16milebrewery.com)
BEACH LIBATIONS JUST OVER THE BRIDGE
The Nassau Bridge serves as an entrance to the beach area, and Nassau Valley Winery is just minutes away. The winery, which opened in 1993, offers tastings for $5 and self-guided tours during its business hours. Group tours are available for 15 people and up. Product names and labels make the wine a tasty souvenir. Consider Cape Rose Dry and Indian River Red. Labels often feature lighthouse and beach scenes by local artists. (32165 Winery Way, Lewes, 645-9463, www.nassauvalley.com)
Not far from the bridge, Beach Bum Distilling received a federal permit in spring, and state and local approvals were pending. Owner Greg Christmas was hoping to open in May. (32191 Nassau Road, Unit 5, Lewes, on Facebook)
The Crooked Hammock Brewery—a restaurant, brewery and backyard beer garden—is coming to Kings Highway in Lewes this summer. The brewpub is part of La Vida Hospitality Group, which also operates Nage restaurants in Rehoboth Beach and Washington, D.C., and Big Chill Surf Cantina. Crooked Hammock will seat 150 inside and about 75 outside at communal tables. There will be two bars, one of which is on a screened porch.
The idea came from Rich Garrahan, who has worked at Nage and is now an owner/operator at Crooked Hammock. A beer lover, he was inspired by the relaxed vibe he experienced when he first moved to the coast. Since a hammock is never quite straight, the team is embracing that laid-back, don’t-sweat-the-details atmosphere. “We’re embellishing the concept of a beach escape,” agrees Josh Grapski, president of La Vida Hospitality Group. The decor will be rustic-beach cottage, and the menu will feature “Weber-inspired, backyard” food, Grapski says. Think burgers, steak, fish, kabobs and summer salads.
The 7-barrel system can produce up to 4,000 barrels a year, but don’t expect wild, esoteric concoctions. “We’re looking for easily drinkable beers as opposed to heavy and hoppy,” Grapski says. If the brewery portion of the restaurant is not up and running from the get-go, Crooked Hammock will partner with 16 Mile Brewery. (16989 Kings Highway, Lewes, 644-7837, www.crookedhammock.com)
16 Mile Brewery.
Craft beer destinations at the beach aren’t limited to breweries, as demonstrated by Fins Ale House and Raw Bar and The Pickled Pig Pub on Del. 1 between Lewes and Rehoboth.
Fins, which has a sister restaurant in downtown Rehoboth, offers an extensive craft-beer list, including selections from Flying Dog, 21st Amendment, Allagash, Victory and Evolution, which is based in Salisbury, Md. It also has some of the best raw oysters around. (19269 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, 227-3467, www.finsrawbar.com)
The Pickled Pig Pub is a gastro pub that takes great pains to pair its food with a diverse beer list that you can view on its website. There are 14 taps, and many are devoted to area breweries, such as Dogfish Head, 16 Mile, Mispillion River Brewing and DuClaw Brewing Company out of Baltimore. (18756 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach,645-5444, www.pickledpigpub.com)
If gin and vodka are more appealing than pale ales and lagers, Delaware Distilling Company, a restaurant and craft distillery, is making its own wheat vodka, potato vodka, white rum, spiced rum and gin. Owner Zack King intended to opena distillery in Old Bay Steakhouse, located in the former home of The Roadhouse Steak Joint. But it wasn’t until all the permits were in place that he changed the name to Delaware Distilling Company. Not only does he serve the products in the restaurant, but he also bottles them for sale in more than 100 liquor stores in Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The restaurant has live entertainment, happy-hour specials and open mic and trivia nights. (18693 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 645-8273, www.delawaredistillingcompany.com)
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
In downtown Rehoboth, Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats—founded in 1995—is the place where craft-beer devotees come to worship. It can be hard to land a seat even in the off-season. Along with Dogfish Head products and a beer-friendly menu, the restaurant is known for its live music and its merchandise. (320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2739, www.dogfish.com)
DOINGS IN DEWEY
Just after the bridge over the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal is the “forgotten mile” that leads to Dewey. If all goes well, the Forgotten Mile Ale House will open at the end of June. Michael and Stephen Lucey, who also own Six Paupers Tavern and Restaurant in Hockessin and Ulysses Gastropub in North Wilmington, own the restaurant, which, for years, was the home of the Captain’s Table and Cocktail Lounge. The new restaurant, which has been renovated, will feature 14 taps, and the menu will feature comfort food with a twist. (20859 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach)
In the heart of Dewey Beach, Dewey Beer Company is the new kid in town. Located on prime real estate at Saulsbury Street and Del. 1, the brewpub has 110 seats in the dining room and tasting room. Bill Clifton, best known for his work at Henlopen City Oyster House, is overseeing the menu, which includes ingredients from local suppliers and farms, says Brandon Smith, one of the owners of Dewey Beer Company and a former manager of Fifer Orchards’ Dewey Beach location. There are at least 10 beers on tap, including seasonal releases. “Not everybody who walks in the door will want beer, so we have a small selection of mostly small batch wines and spirits that reflect our concept,” Smith says. Even non-drinkers will appreciate the renovated building, whose garage door-like walls go up in warm weather. (2100 Coastal Highway, Dewey Beach, 227-1182, www.deweybeerco.com)
ON THE LINE
Near Fenwick Island, Fenwick Wine Cellars is owned by Adrian Mobilia, whose family has a 200-acre Lake Erie-area farm that grows grapes. (Some of the wines’ grapes are also grown across the street from the store.) The tasting room has an extensive gift shop that appeals to tourists, who are particularly keen on wines that come in ship- and lighthouse-shaped bottles. (38016 Fenwick Shoals Blvd., Selbyville, 436-1500, www.fenwickwinecellars.com)
These breweries make for fun trips from the coast.
Evolution Craft Brewing Company grew too big for its Delmar location, and its new site offers tours on Fridays through Sundays. The tasting room serves lunch. (201 E. Vine St., Salisbury, Md., 443-260-2337, www.evolutioncraftbrewing.com)
3rd Wave Brewing Company occupies Evolution’s old space. Tours are on Saturdays. (501 N. Bi-State Blvd., Delmar, 907-0423, www.3rdwavebrewingco.com)
Burley Oak Brewing Company offers some colorful entertainment, including “Bring Your Own Vinyl” night to play on the record player, live music and Ping-Pong, shuffleboard, cards and ring toss games. It’s open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (10016 Old Ocean City Blvd., Berlin, Md., 443-513-4647, www.burleyoak.com)