Beach Booze: Follow the Beer & Wine Trail near the water
The Delaware Beer, Wine & Spirits Trail literally has no beginning and no end. So where to hop on and where to stumble off?
Our guide to the beach-area stops on the trail — depending on your definition, there are about a half-dozen — will get you ready to make the most of your adventure.
If you want to make it official (and score a free glass or mug from the state’s tourism office), download the “passport,” with details on each of the 24 breweries, wineries and distilleries on the trail. A trail app is coming this fall.
Otherwise, take a look at the trail map and start planning your foray into southern Delaware’s beer, wine and spirits. In the name of public service journalism, we took a few of the tours and can let you know what to expect from the experience. Let’s just say it’s news you can use to booze.
1. Dogfish Head Brewing, dogfish.com/brewery/tasting-room/tours. If this quirky, 21-year-old Milton brewer were a person, it might be taking a few years off to find itself before college. Aside from the brewery’s modern facade, visitors may first notice the bean bag toss, bocce ball pits and the 40-foot-tall “Steampunk Treehouse.”
The centerpiece of any stop here includes the free tours, which are held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tours are every 45 minutes, except for Saturday, when they leave every half hour.
There are four great reasons to arrive early, though: Each visitor with a valid ID is given four free samples. On one recent Sunday, those samples included two varieties chosen by the brewery — the tart and citrusy Festina Pêche and the hoppy 60-Minute IPA — and two of the taster’s own choosing.
Children are allowed on the tour, but strollers aren’t. Because the tour winds through an active industrial warehouse, closed-toed shoes and protective eyewear (provided) are required. If you forget to flip out your flops for tennis shoes, a selection of rubber Crocs are available.
In addition to a primer on beer-making, the tour essentially tells the story of how Dogfish Head came to brew about 260,000 barrels of beer a year, with a capacity for almost four times that. It even includes the interesting tale about how a brown ale called Palo Santo Marron nearly bankrupted the company.
The tour, which lasts about an hour, wraps up in the brewer’s sprawling distribution warehouse. Starting this fall, it will also be the site of the company’s new canning operation.
Dogfish Head has also long operated a Rehoboth Beach brewpub and distillery, which is now undergoing an expansion and renovations.
2. Nassau Valley Vineyards, nassauvalley.com/tour.html. The state’s first post-prohibition winery is located just off Coastal Highway, though it feels well removed from the bustling, strip mall-filled streetscape. The visitor’s first impression is dominated by the thick stand of trees in front of the winery — sycamores, it turns out, now mainly a conversation piece after being planted by a now-defunct builder.
They are open year-round Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Guided tours are only available during the off-season (November through May). Instead, visitors can learn about the history of wine during a self-guided tour — factoid: The lack of clean water in the Medieval Era played a big role in the drink’s popularization — and the winery itself.
For $5 a person, visitors can choose six wines to sample. At the risk of appearing uncouth — we get that tastings are about quality, but quantity gets a vote, too — we’ll add that the samples probably total between one and two full glasses. Our favorite, you ask? On this visit, it was a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown here in Delaware.
Overall, due to the self-guided nature of the tours, this winery is probably best experienced with friends. After the tasting, take your glass home as a souvenir.
3. Crooked Hammock Brewery, crookedhammockbrewery.com. Like all trails, this one is best undertaken on a full stomach.
Enter the Crooked Hammock Brewery, less than a year old. With surfer decor and upside-down pails for overhead lamps, its atmosphere mixes a spare, stripped-down style with a coastal, carefree ambiance. Call it industrial cabana.
Its diverse menu may be too complicated for its own good — the kitchen was out of the first two entrees one recent evening. But the food arrived quickly and the sides were pure comfort.
And of course, there’s beer, brewed on site. Dispensed from playful taps, the beer was heavy-hitting and perhaps less refined than this taster’s delicate palate expected.
With a fun ambiance and the brewery itself visible behind the bar, this is a worthwhile stop on the tour.
4. Beach Time Distilling, beachtimedistilling.com. Just a mile away from Nassau Valley Winery sits the state’s third distillery, Beach Time Distilling, which has been open for a year.
Though owner Greg Christmas offers tours between 11 a.m. and noon, most visitors opt for the $5 tasting, which allows customers to sample six varieties of gin, rum and vodka. Christmas pours between an eighth and a quarter of an ounce for each sample. That’s between one-twelfth and one-sixth of a full shot.
Though some visitors shoot the samples back in one gulp, Christmas says he prefers to sip, take a break, and return to it later. His next variety will be a malt rye corn whisky.
He said it’s possible to do a tasting in 10 or 15 minutes, but most people hang out a bit longer.
5. Dewey Beer Co., deweybeerco.com. Another recent upstart, this brew pub opened in May 2015.
Co-owner Brandon Smith said he created a sampling system based on the way he and other brewers like to sample beer. Instead of a flat fee, Dewey Beer Co. sells five-ounce glasses of beer for $2.50. Of their 10-beer selection, three are sold year-round.
“We rarely brew the same beer twice,” Smith said.
Smith recommends Blonde’s Blonde, a citrusy light beer with plenty of personality. A pick from the ever-rotating IPA selection is another popular choice.
The block-from-the-beach brewpub also prides itself on locally sourced ingredients prepared in a simple, home-cooked style.
As with many smaller brewpubs, tours are offered but rarely scheduled. If a customer wants to explore, Smith or someone else is usually on hand to show them around.
As is typical for beachside destinations, parking can be a hassle. There is free parking on Monday through Wednesday evenings in the summer and free parking citywide in the off-season.
Here are a few details on other beach-area stops on the trail.
Big Oyster Brewery (inside Fins Ale House and Raw Bar), finsrawbar.com.
Open: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.
Tours: Upon request
16 Mile Brewing Company, 16milebrewery.com.
Taproom Hours: Monday through Thursday, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Friday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Tours: Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Mispillion River Brewing Co., mispillionriverbrewing.com.
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tours: Not currently running due to construction