Big Oyster Brewery's expansion in Lewes will increase production by 2,500 barrels Produced by Megan Raymond
If you walked into the wildly popular Fins Ale House and Raw Bar on the Coastal Highway in Rehoboth Beach, it would not be obvious that a microbrewery is in the same location.
But the Big Oyster Brewery has been sharing space with the restaurant since 2015, cranking out tasty craft beers for Fins and other establishments on Delmarva.
Though Big Oyster beer has gained a stellar reputation among aficionados, the brewery itself has been a bit of a secret because it is too tiny to allow visitors in for a tour.
That is about to change — big time.
The Big Oyster Brewery will soon emerge from the Fins shadow with a new place that shifts the balance: A microbrewery that emphasizes great beer. And, by the way, it will have a restaurant, too.
Blue Oyster's new digs will be on Kings Highway in Lewes, convenient to the town, the beach and a few miles from the Coastal Highway thoroughfare.
"This will be a big brewery with a small kitchen as opposed to a big restaurant with a small brewery," said Andrew Harton, head brewer at Big Oyster.
Added Harton: "This brewery is about Big Oyster Brewery breaking away from Fins and going in its own direction."
Construction of the 6,000-square-foot microbrewery and restaurant began in 2016 with the hope of opening later that year.
But like so many construction projects, this one is seriously behind schedule.
On a recent August day, the building was bustling with construction workers, carpenters and painters.
"It looks like chaos now but it is close to being done," said a confident Harton during a recent tour of the new brewery and restaurant.
Currently, according Mike Anderson, Big Oyster director of sales and distribution, the more realistic timetable has the new brewery and restaurant open in October.
"Got our fingers crossed," he said.
"It will be completely open"
The new Big Oyster Brewery is designed to look like a barn to reflect the farming heritage in the region. The design choice seems appropriate since the back patio area is surrounded by a corn field.
Considering the sheltered nature of the current Rehoboth brewery, Harton and Anderson said the new building is designed with a lot of windows so visitors can see every aspect of the operation.
"It will be completely open because we want people to see the brewing process," Harton said.
Indeed, every part of the brewery has a viewing window, including one outside in the patio area.
Even the kitchen will be visible to visitors.
"You should even be able to hear the chatter in the kitchen," Anderson said.
Seating reflects the shift in emphasis from restaurant to brewery. The taproom will seat about 75, and the dining room about 25. But food can be ordered from either location.
The bar area in the taproom will be illuminated by a unique chandelier — a suspended vintage rowboat fitted with lights.
"We want it to be an intimate experience," Anderson said.
There also will be additional seating on the patio, along with popular brewery games like cornhole and ladders.
Though the menu will be different than at Fins, there will be a raw bar, which is not surprising, given the brewery's heritage.
"After all, the name is, Big Oyster Brewery," said Harton.
Anderson said Fins chef William Somoza will be in charge of the new kitchen.
Geared toward beer geeks
On the beer production side, the larger space will allow Harton to create a 24-barrel aging room. The converted wine barrels give the beer a distinctive flavor, Harton said.
"We are really focused on barrel aging," Harton said.
The new space also will allow Big Oyster to significantly increase production from 500 to 3,000 barrels annually.
Also included in the new brewery is a canning system that will provide Big Oyster with a better way to distribute its beer.
That will put Big Oyster in the same league as Dogfish Head and Mispillion River Brewing. Both sell their most popular craft beers in cans.
Harton said the plan is to can their most popular offerings — Hammerhead IPA, Noir et Bleu Tripel, and Solar Power Wit. They also plan to can beers from their "Onomatopoeia Series" — a rotating selection of unusual IPAs.
Mostly, though, the bigger brewery will allow more opportunities to explore new beers.
"Right now, because of demand, we find ourselves brewing flagship beers most of the time," Harton said. "This will allow us to do a lot more experimentation."
And brew selections that will appeal to serious beer drinkers.
"Our focus will be geared more towards beer geeks looking for super hoppy IPAs and funky barrel-aged beers," Harton said. "We want to really push the boundaries."
One of Harton's goals is to produce a Brett Saison beer, which is done in wine barrels. It also takes time to ferment, which is why it has not been produced in the current brewery.
"It is a very time consuming beer," he said. "It also is the beer I am most excited about."
As the new brewery and restaurant near completion, Harton, standing next to the brand new stainless steel tanks, reflected on the new facility.
"It is every brewer's dream to build a brewery from scratch," he said.