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Friday, February 28, 2020

Cape Crusaders: Exploring SoDel - Part 3

On Sunday, Taylor and Greg made breakast to provide a nice base on which to lay some beer. After breakfast, we loaded up in Taylor's Jeep (with his sweet dog, Lucy) tagging along and set our sights for nearby Ocean City, MD. I hadn't made the connection geographically that O.C. was so close to SoDel. The weather outside on this particular day was unseasonably warm yet a bit breezy. Still, folks were out in droves, enjoying some fresh air and a stroll down the boardwalk. Unfortunately, the appeal of the boardwalk (and the beach, for that matter) had all but vanished in my early twenties. It was all fine and good when I wanted to buy cool posters, T-shirts, or other music memorabilia for my dorm room at college. I also never was a beach bum. I mean, look at me. I'm practically translucent. With that said, put a brewery at the beach and I'm there.

Ocean City's Backshore Brewing Co.

We parked about five blocks away and took a leisurely walk down the boardwalk with Lucy in tow. Our first stop was a small brewery right on the boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic ocean, the dog-friendly Backshore. The first nano brewery in the area, Backshore opened in 2012 with a meager 6-tap draft line and a philosophy of constantly rotating those taps with new and interesting beer styles to keep folks coming back. Backshore's website features a brewery cam, where you can check out what's going on right at this very second if you feel so inclined. The place definitely has a beachy, retro vibe, which is embodied by its logo featuring a classic VW bus with a surfboard on top.

However, the brewery wasn't always known as Backshore. Actually, the name Backshore came as the result of a 2013 trademark infringement lawsuit that had threatened to put the brewery - then named Shorebilly - out of business. (The lawsuit is well-documented online if you feel like doing down that rabbit hole.)

What's on tap at Backshore.

Taylor mentioned they released an IPA called "The Professor" as a tribute to my recently fallen hero, Neil Peart. Sadly, it had just kicked a day or two prior. There was, however, another IPA in its place that sounded right up my alley. What better way is there to embrace the shorebilly mentality than with a dank-ass beer? Enter Dank You Very Much - an excessively dry-hopped IPA with copious amounts of ganga... um, I mean CTZ with some Julius hops on the side.  So what is CTZ, exactly? Well, it's basically the combination of Columbus, Zeus and Tomahawk, three super high alpha hop varieties that exhibit dank, herbaceous characteristics. The resulting aroma is very reminiscent of marijuana. While I don't have much experience toking the reefer, I love me some dank nuggs. And let me tell you, this puppy ranked pretty high on the scale of dankitude and served as a great introduction to this little brewery.

I knew it was going to be difficult to top Dank You Very Much, but we decided to sample another beer. We settled on Armstrong, an English Strong Ale clocking in at 8.5%. It sort of fell in the realm of a wee heavy, although it wasn't quite as thick and malty. Not bad, but I was still deep in the dank tank so Brewslut and I shared one final pour of it before we hit the road.

While we were at Backshore, we had the pleasure of meeting Nate, one of the brewers, who also happens to be the doppleganger of Scott Ian from Anthrax. It turns out he's also a huge Rush fan and the guy who named the aforementioned "Professor" IPA. We got to talking and of course Solar Federation came up. It's always fun to geek out with fellow Rush fans, and there's not much else that excites me more than talking about my favorite band with like-minded people. Before we left, Nate disappeared for a few minutes and brought me a crowler of The Professor, which he was saving to drink at home. This was such an awesome gesture that it really made our experience at Backshore that much more special. Cheers Nate!

After an enjoyable visit to Backshore, we set our sights to nearby Berlin, MD, and Burley Oak, which has been on my long list of breweries to visit for quite some time. Over the past few years, every time I looked at its location on a map, I reacted as such: "Damn, that's far away, and there's no other breweries close by." Well, when I found out that Taylor lived about 20 minutes away and there were plenty of new breweries to check out, it sparked my decision to commit to a long weekend excursion. In other words, my longing to visit Burley Oak was the impetus of the trip. Needless to say, we'd be there for a while.

Burley Oak... finally!

The name Burley Oak takes inspiration from its hometown of Berlin, traditional brewing methods, and the history of its brewhouse. Back in the late 1700s, the town of Berlin was part of the Burley Plantation, a 300-acre land grant pre-dating the town by more than 100 years. The town's name of Berlin is rumored to have its origins in the Burleigh Inn, a local tavern.

I was surprised to learn that the building in which the brewery resides dates back to the early 1900s and was previously occupied by a cooperage that constructed oak barrels to fill with local produce and seafood to ship off to Baltimore. Burley Oak prides itself on sustainable brewing practices and utilizing materials and craftsmen sourced locally. One such project that has manifested as a result of these practices is Burley Farming, whereby the brewery plants and harvests its own grain for the "Home Grown Ales" grain-to-glass beer series. Now that's pretty freakin' cool!

I kicked off our lengthy visit with a pour of Coffee N' Cream, a cream ale featuring Burley Oak's own house-made cold brew coffee. This definitely didn't suck, so it was a great first impression. However, I quickly realized I should have opted for a sampler flight, because the beer list was ri-God-damn-diculous! As predicted, the menu was heavy on the IPAs and sours, but many other styles were represented, including a hibiscus wheat, a porter, a pilsner, a red ale, and a pale ale. Although the Coffee N' Cream delivered, I was ready to get my J.R.E.A.M. on!

After my initial pint, I succumbed to a sampler flight. It had to be done. Here's the scoop on my flight, which consisted of six different beers:
  • Free Nights and Weekends - IPA
  • Search and Destroy - Triple IPA triple dry-hopped with Galaxy, Vic Secret, and Cashmere.
  • Double Strawberry Rhubarb Pie J.R.E.A.M. - sour ale conditioned on hundreds of pounds of strawberries and rhubarb, then finished with signature pie spices. Juicy, tangy and delicious!
  • Double Blackberry Cobbler J.R.E.A.M. - Imperial sour ale with lactose conditioned on lots of blackberry as well as cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla.
  • Blueberry French Toast J.R.E.A.M. - Sour ale with lactose conditioned on blueberry, maple syrup, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
  • Jacques Goseteau - Gose with Atlantic Ocean sea salt conditioned on pineapple, passionfruit, and pink guava.
Pleeps is ready for some nice J.R.E.A.M.s!

These beers were all very good in their own right, but I definitely gravitated to the J.R.E.A.M.s., which were all pleasantly flavorful and complex with juicy fruit characteristics, ample tartness, and full-bodied textures. Brewslut was really digging the Jacques Goseteau, which was a super-sour take on a gose with tons of tropical fruit character, courtesy of pineapple, passionfruit and pink guava. I enjoyed this one immensely as well, and as a result wended up grabbing a 4-pack to enjoy at home.
Geddy Lee, best bass player EVER. Come on!

Taylor said I couldn't leave without trying Lost IPA , which is Burley Oak's flagship year-round beer. This IPA is intensely hopped with Amarillo, Mosaic and Simcoe, which produced lots of citrus and mango flavors. But I definitely left in a state of utter "jreaminess"!

After a memorable visit to Burley Oak, it was time to head back to Dewey Beach. Our next stop, 38° 75° Brewing, is situated in the adjacent Gary's Dewey Beach Grill. Established in 1991, Gary’s has been a favorite of locals for its food and casual, laid-back atmosphere. There wasn't much going on when we arrived. A few patrons were strewn about the small place, and I don't think anyone - save for maybe one guy - was at the bar.

Pleeps doing what he does.

Upon examining the tap list, I noticed there were more guest taps than house beers, which is always suspect. This usually means that the house beer is underwhelming (hence the better-known, and often tastier, guest beers). I decided to try my luck with the Oatmeal Porter, and it delivered pretty much what I'd apticipated: a middle-of-the-road beer that lacks inspiration. While this place may have been great 10 or 15 years ago, it just seemed to have that tried-and-true mentality, which often prevents establishments from changing with the times. Maybe I'm being a little too hard on this place, but with some of the stellar beers we had over the last two days, this definitely fell short of my expectations. Still, it was fun doing a bit of sticker spotting on the walls, coolers, doors, etc. while sitting at the bar and chatting. After one beer, it was time to check it off the list and move on.

Sock monkey photo bomb!

Back at Dewey Beer Company, we decided to prolong our stay a bit by getting dinner. Also, the place wasn't nearly as crowded as it was on the previous night, so we managed to grab four seats at the bar. I was hell bent on trying some more new beers - especially Secret Machine variants - since I'd enjoyed them so much the night before. 

First up was a peach, pineapple and macadania nut beer called Thrills. This heavily fruited, thick peach and pineapple. Sweet, savory-buttery macadamia nut. This beer crushes! It might have been my favorite beer we had from Dewey and in my Top 3 beers of the trip. Of course, you can rarely go wrong with the magic ingredient of peaches! 

Next, I continued my exploration of the excellent Secret Machine series. This time, it was the "Blueberry, Blackberry, Raspberry" variant. This was bursting with a blend of earthy berry tartness and sweetness, but fell short of the Thrills in which I'd just partaken. Peaches for the win!

After a pair of fruit-forward beers, it was time to switch gears and explore more hoppy terrain. Heavily Meditated is a soft, plush tropical fruit-forward IPA hopped with Motueka, Wakatu, and Citra. Motueka and Wakatu are both hop varieties from New Zealand and carry traits of citrus and tropical fruits, especially lime. Citra lends pungent grapefruit and orange notes. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Inside Dewey Beer Co. (Photo courtesy of

I can't recall how we started talking to our bartender, a young kid, but whatever the topic, I remember it was pretty in-depth. After a while, he surprised us with a sample of the brand new Secret Machine "Raspberry, Peach, Marshmallow" variant, which wasn't hitting taps until the following day. This was another stellar beer in an amazing lineup of fruit-forward tart ales. This one boasted ripe berry notes with tart peach and sweet, fluffy marshmallow. I debated stopping in yet again the following day to grab a 4-pack, but alas it wasn't meant to be. And with that, we bid a fond adieu to Dewey Beer Co. One thing is for sure... we will be back!

Back at Taylor's, we enjoyed some more beers while watching a great Howard Stern interview with Paul McCartney as well as the latest episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Taylor was quick to break out a variety of DFH beers that were occupying his fridge. One of the best fringe benefits of working for a brewery is the insane quantities of free beer one amasses, and apparently DFH is no different than Tröegs when it comes to complimentary beer for its employees.

The first one out of the fridge was SuperEIGHT. Featuring eight different ingredients - prickly pear, mango, boysenberry, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, kiwi juices, toasted quinoa and red Hawaiian sea salt - this fruit-forward beer boasts a vibrant red tint and flavors of tart berries, tropical fruit, and juicy watermelon.

Taylor also busted out a bottle of a collaboration with The Veil called Knuckles, Bats and Homemade Tats. Brewed with a blend of locally grown and malted Violeta barley as well as ancient grains Einkorn and Spelt, this open-fermented beer features mixed yeast and bacterial cultures transferred to French Oak Chardonnay barrels. After 18 months of aging, the beer is refermented on hibiscus and red, white and black currants for an intense, complex beer. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and was glad to see that The Veil could contribute something to this collaboration besides murky haze or Oreo cookies.

Speaking of haze, we also enjoyed a can of American Beauty Hazy Ripple IPA. Another collaboration beer, this one with The Grateful Dead (yes, the actual band... or what's left of them, anyway), is inspired by the American Beauty album. An unfiltered IPA featuring spelt and a special yeast strain to complement the hop aroma, this one features notes of tropical fruit and juicy citrus. I found myself enjoying this more than I enjoy both hazy IPAs and - especially - the Grateful Dead's borning, meandering, LSD-laden space-outs. I wonder if John Mayer was involved with this one. Probably not.


On Monday morning, we woke up, packed up the CRV, and headed up the road to Fenwick Island for breakfast with Taylor at his favorite spot, Jimmy's Kitchen. Known for its chipped beef, I was also surprised to see scrapple on the menu. Turns out someone involved with the restaurant is a PA coal cracker, where love of scrapple runs deep. Since I'd already eaten some bacon over the last few days and Jimmy's didn't have any non-mammal protein available for breakfast, I opted for a slab of scrapple with my eggs and grits. The food was solid and the place was super laid back, with a definitely jam band vibe. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Taylor (and Lucy) and began our northward trek back home... but not without more brewery visits along the way!

Outside Milford, Delaware's Mispillion River Brewing.

Our first brewery of the day was Milford, Delaware's Mispillion River. I'd planned to hit this place on Saturday morning, but they didn't open until noon and I was anxious to get to DFH. Once I realized they were open on Monday, I called an audible and added it to our Monday agenda. The story of the brewery begins as a sort of midlife crisis for the owner, Eric Williams, who woke up on the morning after his 40th birthday and decided his life wasn't complete until he opened a craft brewery. After two years of planning, learning his craft, and traveling the country, Eric assembled his team and Mispillion River officially hatched in the fall of 2013.

Mispillion River distributes its beers throughout Delaware, New Jersey and a very small pocket of Maryland, as well as northern and central PA. I'd come across its beers on a few occasions while out and about at local taverns and such, so I was familiar with the name. Upon checking out the beer menu, the brewery seemed to have a penchant for IPAs (no surprise there). Lucky for me I was in a hoppy mood, so I decided to go with an IPA-centric sampler flight featuring the following beers:

  • Lightning Bug - Triple dry-hopped with Azacca, Amarillo and Ekuanot
  • Not Today Satan - An unholy joining of El Dorado, Centennial, Columbus, Cascade and Mosaic hops
  • Nor'easter - NE-style rye IPA that's hoppy and bitter with a grainy, spicy character and lingering dryness
  • Reach Around IPA - flagship old school IPA featuring Columbus, Cascade and Nugget hops

Pleeps takes flight at Mispillion River!

Not Today Satan was probably my favorite of the bunch, but all were commendable. We had a good time chatting with the bartender about beer and music (of course) while we worked on our sampler flights. They also have award-winning bathrooms! Check out the link if you don't believe me.

I was struggling to figure out where else we could go after Mispillion River. We'd recently visited Wilmington and Newark and were pretty thorough with our exploration of that area, so we decided to swing through Ephrata on the way to check out the new-ish Pour Man's Brewing Company.

The brewery stemmed from three friends' shared love for homebrewing, and over time they honed their skills, eventually winning an award in 2015 at a small competition. After three years and several more local awards, Pour Man's opened for business. I was pleased to see two ribbons from this year's PA Farm Show beer competition hanging next to two of its beers on the chalkboard. Good for them!

We decided to share a few small pours to dip our toes into this new local brewery. Here's the skinny:
  • Sampson - Crisp, refreshing lager brewed with flaked rice and hopped with Sorachi Ace and Citra
  • Oats & Hoes - Brewed with oats as well as five different kinds of malt varieties and cold brewed coffee brewed from Javateas, an Ephrata-based gourmet coffee cafe 
  • Ja'Crispy - Kolsch-style ale brewed with Pilsner malt and hopped with Hallertau and Saaz
  • Black Market - Black IPA brewed with midnight wheat, caramel malt and oats and hopped with Columbus, Simcoe and Cascade
Everything we had was commendable, with Black Market being my favorite of the bunch. I must admit I'm still a fan of this flash-in-the-pan style that seems to have all but disappeared across the craft beer landscape in lieu of fruited sours and hazy IPAs. So every time I run into one, I most likely give it a shot. 

Of course, we couldn't be in Ephrata without stopping in at St. Boniface. When we arrived, we had trouble securing a parking spot. Inside, the place was packed for a Monday. Not only was it a long holiday weekend, but they were also hosting Music Bingo, which is pretty popular. We had planned to share a pizza here, but the wait was well over an hour, so we each enjoyed a beer while standing and talking to a few friends. It seems as though we run into people we know at breweries quite often. 

I went for my go-to beer from St. Boniface, Paideia, a citrus-forward pale ale hopped exclusively with Citra. Brewslut opted for one of the one-off Offering beers, #51 - Oaked Belgian Sour, a fairly dry Belgian-style ale with plenty of woody and tart citrus notes. Since it was so packed, we just decided to pick up some Chinese take-out and relax on the couch for a few hours before veering back into reality. 

We hope you enjoyed our SoDel adventures! All in all, it was a wonderful long weekend that allowed us to catch up with some friends and continue our exploration of the country's ever-expanding craft beer landscape. Thanks for reading. Until next time...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Cape Crusaders: Exploring SoDel - Part 2

Our first stop on Saturday after our extensive tour of the DFH facility was Brimming Horn Meadery. Taylor mentioned that Deuane said it was the best mead he'd ever had. Strong words! One of the owners, Jon, was there when he arrived. Taylor also mentioned that he got his start brewing at Dogfish Head, so the two were acquainted. Turns out he brewed for DFH for about 12 years and also has 3 years of wine-making under his belt. So it was time to try something new on for size: mead. He's also really into metal (bonus points) and Brimming Horn even has a Mead & Metal series, which features collaborations with a number of up-and-coming metal bands. Horns up, people! \m/

Interior of Brimming Horn (photo courtesy of

If by chance you're unfamiliar with mead, it is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water. Other adjuncts such as fruit, spices, grains, or hops may also be used. It can be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. While the ABV content can be relatively low, most meads I've encountered are in the 8 to 15% realm, which is kind of between beer and wine. The majority of its fermentable sugar is derived from honey, which is the biggest differential between mead and beer. If you ever see a "braggot" on a beer menu, it is a wonderfully albeit rare hybrid style that melds beer with mead.

There was a lot to be had, so we opted for a sampler flight of six different selections, which was presented as a little viking ship! Here's the low-down:
  • Russian Donkey - Moscow Mule-inspired mead with honey, ginger, and lime
  • Tej - Sweet, earthy, spicy and citrusy mead made with with pure honey, woody hops and orange zest
  • Seeds of the Underworld - Sweet mead with honey and pomegranate. Brewslut's favorite!
  • Cherry Coffee Cake - cherries, coffee, and coconut. BAAAAM! 
  • Blackberry Chai - sweet mead made with honey, local blackberries, and chai tea
  • Melato - I'll let the folks at Brimming Horn explain this one in their own words: "Every two years, an amazing natural phenomenon occurs. In addition to the nectar produced by the Bracatinga flowers, bees also collect the honeydew produced by sap-sucking insects called cochineals, which live in the bark of the trees. Bees then process this honeydew, just like nectar, and produce Melato. Melato naturally remains liquid for a long time and can be compared to the best European forest honeys. Melato has been elected best honey in the world four times at the International Federation of Beekeepers' Associations."
Pleeps also does mead!

My far and away favorite was the Cherry Coffee Cake, which was absolutely mind-blowing. Sadly, this was not available in bottles. This was so good that I'd keep a cattle trough of this on-hand to enjoy at my leisure. Luckily, they had bottles of Seeds of the Underworld, which Brewslut happily picked up to enjoy at home.

After an enjoyable visit to Brimming Horn (and accidentally backing into the food truck... nobody was injured, fortunately), it was time to continue exploring the local beer scene. Big Oyster, our next stop, opened its doors in 2015 and was named the fastest growing independent craft brewery in America by the Brewer's Association in 2018. After operating for only a year or so, the brewery expanded to open a 6,000-square-foot facility and brewpub on King's Highway, just outside of Lewes, inside the established Fins Ale House & Raw Bar. The brewery distributes its beers throughout Delaware as well as into southern PA and parts of MD. It was pretty busy when we arrived, but we managed to snag four seats at the bar.

Outside Big Oyster Brewery.

By now it was around dinner time, so we decided to get some grub while we were here. A quick perusal of the menu made me hungry even if I wasn't. Obviously, oysters are huge in this particular region of Delaware, but I ultimately decided to go for a Veggie Burger featuring an organic black bean and corn patty with guacamole, mixed greens, tomato, and cheddar jack on a brioche bun. Beer-wise, I made a wise decision going with Then, a wine barrel-aged saison that was aged on 2017 crop peaches from Fifer's Orchards. This beer was pretty damn delicious, with plenty of peachy goodness and a hint of vinous and woody tones from the barrel. This beer was one of my favorites of the day! Brewslut really enjoyed the Mango Dreamsicle, which was part of her sampler flight, so I picked up a 4-pack of that before we left.

...and Then there was Pleeps.

Working at Tröegs, I've been in the know for a while about the newly opened Thompson Island, the next stop on our itinerary. The brewpub is the first of its kind opened by a Delaware restaurant group, SoDel Concepts, which operates several successful restaurants in the area. The brewery takes its name from an island between Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach known as the Forgotten Mile, an area popular with hikers and birders.

Outside Thompson Island, Rehoboth Beach.

SoDel Concepts had acted as consultants when Tröegs opened its Snack Bar back in 2012. With Thompson Island, Tröegs returned the favor and assisted with the selection of a state-of-the-art brewhouse designed specifically for the restaurant. The brewpub itself is modeled after popular SoDel activities like bonfires, kayaking, paddle-boarding, fishing, and general "salt life." In addition to the bays and beaches, local farms will play a prominent part of the theme as well.

Interior of Thompson Island (photo courtesy of Visit Delaware).

SoDel has a very good reputation among diners in the region, so it was no wonder that the place was brimming with people when we arrived. We nabbed a high top table in the bar area and perused the beer menu. Something called Beautiful, a dry-hopped kettle sour, immediately jumped out. The beer begins with a kettle soured base, after which it gets the dry hop treatment with heavy additions of Citra and Galaxy hops to coax notes of citrus peel and papaya. This one was pretty solid overall. I was also happy to hear that Thompson Island had everything dialed in prior to its grand opening. Tröegs actually did a pair of Scratch beer collaborations, which we sent down for the grand opening. The brewery also dumped its first batch of beer, an IPA that was deemed just "fine" (not flawed or infected). Other breweries should take note of this practice before releasing subpar - or worse - beer to the public.


After visiting Thompson Island, we headed over to the Dogfish Head EmPOURium, which had been given a considerable overhaul since our last visit more than a decade ago. Established in 1995, it was the home of the brewery (once cited as the smallest commercial brewery in the country... oh, how the times have changed). With the brewing facility sharing its space with the brewpub kitchen, DFH founder Sam Calagione had the luxury of simply grabbing off-the-wall ingredients like raisins, maple syrup and roasted chicory, all of which worked their way into some of DFH's earliest and most popular beers. Over the years, the "Brewing & Eats" became known as the place for craft beer, spirits, food and live original music. After more than two decades, the new site opened right next door to the original space. I was surprised to see how much everything had expanded - especially the stage! - since we'd last visited. The bar was much bigger too, and we were able to secure four seats there. One of Taylor's brewing friends also made a quick appearance while we were there, and we chatted for a bit. 

Outside the DFH EmPOURium (photo courtesy of Trip Advisor).

Taylor suggested a West Coast-style IPA brewed in celebration of national IPA day called Covered in Nuggs. Dank, piney and citrusy - all good qualities in an IPA, if you ask me - this beer covers all the bases. Hopped heavily with the classics - Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, and Simcoe - this IPA didn't disappoint. I wish more breweries brewed IPAs like this. Even the last time we were out in San Diego, the "haze craze" had infested many of the traditional old school breweries.

Obviously, DFH has come a long way since the early days, and while not every beer may be a home run, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another brewery that has made more of an impact on the craft beer scene. Sam is a trailblazer, and his experimental nature and eclectisim has raised the bar and set an industry trend that's mimicked by countless other breweries to this day.

Following our visit to the EmPOURium, we headed over to one of the local breweries I was most excited about checking out: Dewey Beer Co. The brewery opened for business on May 28, 2015 in an old eatery called Bubba's Grill just off Coastal Highway. In addition to a full restaurant offering a diverse, scratch-made menu, the brewery side of the operation churns out some amazing forward-thinking beers on a custom-made 7-barrel system. Perhaps Dewey's most popular beers stem from its Secret Machine series of fruited sours. I was anxious to dive into some of these, and let me tell you... they didn't disappoint!

Outside Dewey Beer Co.

The place was boppin' when we arrived (and for good reason, as I'd soon find out) but we managed to snag a hightop table in the back of the crowded room. Upon perusing the beer list, I noticed a few Secret Machine variations on there. The two we ended up ordering were Pomegranate Coconut Mousse and Cherry Blackberry Pie. The former is an imperial sour brewed with sweet and tangy pomegranate and fluffy coconut-chocolate mousse, while the latter is brewed with cherries and blackberries to mimic a slice of fresh-baked pie. Both were absolutely delicious, but I think I have to give props to the Pomegranate Coconut Mousse variant. Regardless, both of these beers intrigued me to the point that I was mentally making plans for a return visit the following day. Plus Taylor said the food is awesome, so another visit seemed like a no-brainer decision.

After an enjoyable session at a world-class brewery, we headed to Scotty's Bayside Tavern, a dive bar located near Taylor's house. This place is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to what we'd just experienced at Dewey Beer Co... not that I was anticipating anything more. A smoky place with colorful locals, pool tables, and questionable tunes on the jukebox, Scotty's is a quintessential local dive bar. By this time, we were all pretty schlitzed and hankering for some grub. Greg noticed a Chinese restaurant next door, so he called to place an order. In the meantime, we ordered a round of Natty Bo cans. At two bucks each, I'd say it was a bargain. After a while, our Chinese food was ready and we chowed down on sub par chicken fried rice right from the box while at the bar. I'm pretty sure the bartender wasn't too pleased with us not using plates or napkins, but we were too oblivious to take notice. After another round of Natty Bo for everyone - and a few choice tunes on the jukebox - we headed back to Taylor's to close out the night with some more beers.

Inside Scotty's (photo courtesy of Yelp)

I broke out a few things I'd brought with us, including a bottle of Corne De Bois, a strong ale from A l'abri de la Tempête, and London Balling, an Amburana wood-aged barleywine from Against the Grain. Just as my refrigerator is overflowing with Tröegs, so it Taylor's with a variety of DFH offerings. He busted out a few we hadn't had before, including Vibrant P'ocean and Slightly Mighty. The former is a combination of two unique base beers – one developed by Rodenbach (Grand Cru, anyone?) and the other by DFH. The result is a complex, ruby-colored ale that's dry and tart with notes of dark fruit, berries, and lemon zest. The latter is a light bodied, low-calorie IPA featuring tropical notes and a hint of toasted grain. At only 95 calories and less than 4 grams of carbs, this beer delivers quite a bit of flavor and aroma for such a small beer. You can definitely slam a few of these without feeling bloated! He also shared a bottle of Bourbon Barrel-aged World Wide Stout, which we'd never had the opportunity of trying. This version of the legendary imperial stout is aged in charred oak bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill Distillery. Dense, roasty and complex, this huge 18-ish% ABV heavy-hitter boasts rich notes of coffee, licorice, dark caramel and plenty of bourbon warmth. After that one, I'd say you could stick a fork in us.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of our adventures in SoDel, including our much anticipated visit to Burley Oak. Until next time...

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Cape Crusaders: Exploring SoDel - Part 1

After Brewslut and I had visited northern Delaware back in January (as documented in Dela...where? - Part 1), one of my friends, Taylor, commented that we should make the trek a bit further south next time and visit him in the Rehoboth Beach area. I considered the invitation and quickly realized that we hadn't been down in those parts since my band, herbie, used to play at the Dogfish Head (DFH) brewpub back in 2008 or thereabouts. Taylor mentioned that a lot had changed since we last visited the area, including the number of breweries. It seems as though the popularity of DFH had spawned several up-and-coming breweries around Delaware's rapidly growing Cape Region, which includes Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Lewes, and Milton, among others. Turns out all of these towns have at least one brewery. Great! More to add to our ever-expanding list. 

To backtrack briefly, I first met Taylor when he started working at Tröegs as a bartender in the tasting room. I immediately took like to his friendly demeanor, enthusiasm, and shared love of beer and music. His course would traverse a few brewing gigs in Central PA and - of all places - Alabama, before landing a job at Dogfish Head as a brewer. Fast forward three years, and he still enjoys crafting "analog beer for the digital age." So, we found a free weekend and took him up on his offer. With the impending Presidents Day holiday coming up, I decided to use one of my newfound additional PTO days and make a long weekend of it. Brewslut, being a professional educator, already had the day off (thanks to the cooperation of Old Man Winter), so it was settled. We were off to the beaches of Delaware. 

I quickly realized that not only would we get to visit the DFH brewing facility in Milton (where we'd never been... yes, I know... shame on us), but we'd also be about twenty miles or so from Burley Oak, a brewery that was on my long list of places we need to visit PRONTO! I'd been wanting to visit Burley Oak for about three years, and the time had finally come. 

But let's start at the beginning: Friday afternoon. 

We decided to head out late Friday afternoon around 4 p.m. and spend the night in Smyrna, DE, which is more or less the halfway point between the homestead and Taylor's place. We scored a sweet Priceline "Express Deal" (I swear we should get some kind of residuals for how often we mention it) with the idea that we'd get a head start on the drive and also check out a few breweries in the process. 

At first, we had only planned to hit two places in the same town as our hotel. However, Taylor mentioned that the Victory Parkesburg facility was on the way, so we decided to swing by and check it out. For some reason, I thought it was just a tasting room, like the Kennett Square location. However, when we pulled into the parking lot, we quickly discovered that this was, in fact, its main production facility. 

Outside Victory's Parkesburg facility.

I wanted to start off light since I didn't have much for lunch, so I decided to go with Home Grown, a dry-hopped lager. This beer boasts whole flower American hops, which lend hints of juicy citrus fruit and a hint of perfume. It wasn't overly crisp or carbonated, as many lagers typically are, and it didn't have quite the hop oomph I was anticipating, but it was still a pretty solid offering that I'd never had before. Plus it worked well with our delicious BBQ smoked wings and side of fried, which we split as a snack. 

With some additional food in my gut, we moved on to bigger and better things. Enter Java Cask Gold Rye, a coffee stout featuring One Village Legend dark roasted coffee as well as oats, brown sugar, milk, and cocoa. The finished beer is then aged for 18 months in rye whiskey barrels to coax additional notes of lush vanilla, tangy booze and a hint of spice amid the dominant coffee character. This one was pretty bangin'. 

Pleeps posing with Java Cask Gold Rye.

We didn't get to wander around too much, although I did take Pleeps for a little stroll to visit with some of his primate friends he recognized when we went to the bathroom. It seems as though the popularity of Golden Monkey has spawned a number of spin-off beers including Sour Monkey, Twisted Monkey, Berry Tart Monkey, Barrel-aged Rose Monkey, and presumably others. Brewslut once consumed an entire 64-ounce growler of Golden Monkey on her birthday, which is a pretty impressive feat. That same night, I think I polished off a growler of Nugget Nectar. Aaah, the good old days.

Taylor also tipped us off to a new brewery that had just opened in Avondale, PA, called Be Here Brewing. Located inside the historic Avondale National Bank building, Be Here opened its doors as the area's first brewpub on November 29, 2019. After examining the map on our itinerary, it looked like we wouldn't have to go very far out of our way to swing by and check it out. Unfotunately, this turned out to be the shortest visit to a brewery in the history of the Pour Travelers.

The place seemed nice enough, and the bartender who greeted us was super friendly. The beers sounded good on paper. Not sure what to expect, we each opted for half pours of two beers that looked interesting. I liked the sound of the Oatmeal Cookie Stout, as the variety of cookie after which this beer is named is one of my favorites. Brewslut tried her luck with a hazy IPA called North of Here, which promised it was "exploding with fruit hops" and boasted notes of citrus and melon. I was a bit taken aback when I was charged ten bucks for two 8oz. beers, but I wasn't about to get stuck with an entire pint of a subpar beer.

Outside Be Here Brewing Co.

Turns out I made a wise decision. My Oatmeal Cookie Stout tasted neither like oatmeal cookies nor, for that matter, a stout. The texture was watery and lifeless, there was no creamy foam on top, and the aroma was lacking. I could barely get through two sips of this beer before Brewslut took one for the team and begrudgingly finished my pour. After all, I was driving, and when you're married you sometimes need to make some very tough sacrifices. Sadly, she didn't fare any better with her IPA. There was no hop character whatsoever. Any citrus and melon notes were overpowered with chlorine and metallic off-flavors.

All in all, I think our entire visit lasted about twelve minutes, which also included parking, ordering our beers, and each of us visiting the restroom. Brewslut slammed them down and we quickly shuffled off to the next place.

I need not beat a dead horse when it comes to the importance of having everything dialed in before opening a brewery, but Be Here sadly did not appear to have the beer thing figured out. I couldn't believe that these beers were rated on Untappd at 3.24 and 3.47, respectively. While I do have a pretty discerning palate, I don't claim to be an authority on off-flavors. But both of these beers were undrinkable. I hate to be so abusive, especially to new breweries, but I don't understand how someone who is a brewer could taste these two beers and decide they were fit for human consumption. To offer a bit of constructive criticism, try familiarizing yourself with the common off-flavors in beers. I know not every tiny brewery has the luxury of having an on-site QA lab (or even a QA person on staff), but serving contaminated or infected beer is only going to hurt you in the long run. Dumping beer is expensive, but your reputation is on the line. Enough said.

Outside Brick Works Brewing and Eats.

Things improved a bit at Brick Works, one of two breweries situated in Smyrna, DE, where we'd be setting up camp for the night. Founded in 2016, Brick Works' name is inspired by the old brick-making factory that previously occupied the building. The owners of Brick Works liked the the idea of paying homage to the factory, and recognized a parallel between the art of brewing craft beer and that of laying bricks.

Inside, the decor was industrial yet earthy, with plenty of exposed brick (obviously), cool light fixtures, and a finished cement floor and horseshoe-shaped bar. Then of course, there were TVs with the latest sporting events on the screens. TVs aside, I was digging the vibe as we walked in.

The always photogenic Pleeps at Brick Works.

It wasn't too crowded when we arrived, so we easily obtained seats at the bar. We decided to get dinner here since the menu looked solid. I'd checked it out prior to our visit and noticed some tasty-sounding veggie options and chicken pot pie, which I thought Brewslut might enjoy. Turns out I was right. Well, kind of. Unfortunately, her food was pretty cold, especially the house-made biscuit on top of her entree. My black bean and quinoa burger was pretty solid, and you can rarely go wrong with fries on the side.

Beer-wise, everything sounded fairly pedestrian, with the majority of the offerings being traditional styles. I decided to go with a pale ale called Amarillo Sunshine. A somewhat cloudy beer, it emphasizes Amarillo hops but also features Hallertau Blanc and Centennial dry hops. Overall, it was fairly grapefruit-forward with faint hints of melon and wildflowers. The nose wasn't as pungent as I'd hoped, though. Brewslut's Citrus Mistress, and American Wheat, features a prominent lemon and lime zest character, which came across more bitter than my pale ale. Despite both beers being midd-of-the-road, they were a vast improvement over the beer we sampled at Be Here.

Pleeps' sunny disposition pairs nicely with Amarillo Sunshine.

Overall, we weren't enticed to stick around for seconds, so we decided to head to our final stop of the evening. Thankfully, we were able to end the night on a good note at Blue Earl Brewing. Also situated in Smyrna just a stone's throw from our hotel, I'd first heard of Blue Note a few weeks earlier during our weekend trip to Wilmington and Newark. The hotel at which we were staying had a small bar area, and although the tap list consisted of just four beers, one of them was a Blue Earl beer. I love when hotels carry local craft beers, so I ordered it. It was a Wee Heavy, a style I don't typically order too often, but I gave it a shot. Thankfully, it was solid and overall enjoyable. So I remembered the name of the brewery, thinking it may pop up in the future at some point. And here we are!

View from our seats at the bar at Blue Earl.

I kicked off our visit with a pour of a coffee porter called I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. I love this style, and even better was the fact that it's brewed with locally sourced coffee beans from Little Goat Coffee Company. Bonus points for goats! The beer is then aged on cacao nibs, vanilla bean and caramel. While not as mind blowing as, say, Ethereal's Baba Yaga (which stirred my loins during our last Drinksgiving trip), this beer was fantastic. The bitterness of the the cocoa nibs really pushed through but were quelled courtesy of sweet vanilla and caramel notes, yet it still maintained a prominent coffee-forward character. Nicely done, Blue Earl!

Pleeps is never gonna die!

Meanwhile, Brewslut worked on a pour of Magical Mystery Tour (more bonus points for the Beatles reference)! The first component of this beer is a Flanders-style sour ale aged in a whiskey barrel for a year. This is then blended with a second base beer, a Belgian-style dark strong ale, to add deep, complex notes of dried stone fruit and dark caramel. Another solid beer. Two for two!

Things were going well by this point, so we decided to extend our stay a bit. I ordered a 5-ounce pour of a bourbon barrel-aged version of Blue Earl's imperial stout, Dark Star. This beer starts with 100% cocoa nibs and fresh roasted Bolivian coffee beans from a local roaster called The Young Bean. The malt bill includes lots of dark malts as well as flaked oats to achieve a velvety mouthfeel. The base beer is aged in a Heaven Hill bourbon barrel for six months. Rich and full-bodied, this decadent stout boasts lively notes of Belgian chocolate, espresso, bourbon, vanilla and dark fruit.

I can't say I really remember drinking Hazy at Heart , but I checked it in so I must have at least tried it. For some reason, Brewslut has been ordering lots of hazy IPAs lately. This one is brewed with a blend of 2-row barley, oats, wheat and lactose, and double dry-hopped with Citra, Mosaic and Cascade for a pungent slap of citrus fruit across the palate. That was about it for me. When you don't remember your last beer, it's best to close out your tab and head back to the hotel... which is exactly what we did. Of course, we enjoyed sharing a bottle of 2017 Kriek from New Glarus in sweet plastic hotel cups before getting some shut-eye.


On Saturday, we planned to visit Mispillion River Brewing on the way down to meet Taylor at Dogfish Head. However, we had to check out by 11 a.m. and the brewery didn't open until noon. So, we called an audible and decided to meet Taylor about 90 minutes ahead of schedule. We were a little early arriving at the brewery, which I must say is quite impressive. I never saw so much wood on the exterior of a brewing facility!

Outside the DFH facility in Milton, DE.

It was still pretty early in the day, so the tasting room area wasn't packed to the gills. We bellied up to the bar and immediately noticed a myriad of different, unusual sounding beers available on tap... as I was expecting, of course. A beer called Koffie Koyt immediately grabbed my attention. My eyes quickly scanned the board and both the words "coffee" and "cask" jumped out. Unbeknownst to me, Koyt is a long-forgotten Dutch beer style brewed primarily with malted oats. For this particular beer, DFH uses a malt bill of 55% oats, 25% malted white wheat and 20% pilsner malt as well as a touch of milk sugar to provide a dense, golden base beer, which is then aged on a single-origin organic Guatemalan coffee from neighboring Rise Up Roasters, as well as roasted cocoa shells from Askinosie Chocolate and whole Madagascar vanilla beans. This beer came across as intensely bittersweet with hints of dark roast, followed by a rich vanilla latte finish.

Tasting Room bar at DFH.

While we worked on our initial beers, Taylor showed up with another familiar character in tow - Greg (aka "Little Ryan Seacrest"), another friend I met through Tröegs. These two are quintessential hetero life-mates (I love that term), and I can't think of one of them without thinking of the other. In case you're wondering, the nickname "Little Ryan Seacrest" comes from a comment card I once received at Troegs describing an excellent server as the aforementioned moniker. But what Greg lacks in height he more than makes up for in personality and general charm. Greg's mom was also along for the ride, which was about to include a private VIP tour of the brewery, courtesy of Taylor.

Pleeps digging into my Koffie Koyt.

OK, now that we've introduced the cast of characters, let's get back to the beer.

We caught up over a glass of Pivo Prossim (pronounced "PEE-voh prah-SEEM"), which is Czech for "Beer Please." This classic Czech-style pilsner features Moravian pilsner malt and is mashed using the traditional decoction method. Light and toasty with a pleasant, zesty Saaz hop bite, this is a delicate yet flavorful version of this classic, often overlooked style. Midway through this beer, we got to go outside and check out the infamous steampunk treehouse that has been a centerpiece of the brewery since 2010.

DFH's steampunk treehouse.

This amazing piece of art was conceived and created in 2007 by an Oakland, CA-based artist named Sean Orlando with the help of the Five Ton Crane Arts Group. The sculpture was unveiled at Burning Man later that year. Measuring 40' tall x 40' wide, the treehouse weighs 8 tons and was constructed primarily with recycled and reclaimed materials. DFH later stumbled across the treehouse on the internet and eventually contacted the artists about making it a permanent fixture at the brewery. Here are a few photos I snapped during our exclusive peek inside the treehouse:

"I could really use a hand here..."

Cell phone, circa 2112.

Set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Back on the tour, there were several stops along the way, including the pungent cold storage space, where all of the hops and specialty adjunct ingredients - and DFH uses A LOT of 'em - are stored. We also checked out the fermentation cellar, barrel-aging space (which included large Palo Santo wood foeders), and eventually the main brewhouse.

These are NOT the old Palo Santo foeders.

Along the way, we got a taste of a beer called The Bellini Bambini, which is a take on a peach and blood orange Bellini, a classic Italian cocktail. This beer starts life as a light kettle sour with equal parts pilsner malt and malted wheat. It's then fermented with fresh peach puree, Italian blood orange juice, and white wine grape must to unearth flavors of juicy peach and citrus fruit with a champagne-like finish.

The original brewhouse on which Sam honed his brewing chops.

Once we got to the brewhouse, we sampled some 60 Minute IPA, one of DFH's long-standing flagship beers. Everyone reading this is undoubtedly familiar with this beer, so I needn't delve much further other than to say that it's a fine old-school IPA.

On to bigger and better things since that first little brewhouse.

Along the way, there were several examples which exemplified the irreverent collective sense of humor of DFH. Here are a few photos I snapped throughout the tour:

Gotta love a good Space Balls reference!


It's business time!

Too many mutha'uckas 'uckin' with my shiiii... 

Me so hoppy... "The racist dry hopper"

We ended our tour with a glimpse into the fermentation cellar and barrel-aging space, which was pretty impressive. Gotta love those walls of wood! 

Getting a personal tour of a brewery as amazing as DFH from a passionate employee ranks as among the best possible brewery experiences one can have. It was a joy to have Taylor lead us around the place where he spends the majority of his time. I must admit that one of my very favorite things to do at Tröegs is show people around - especially areas that aren't included in the tour. And this was just the tip of the iceberg of the weekend that was in store for us.

l to r: Greg, Geddy Lee (ok, me), and Taylor.

We're just getting started, kids! Tune in for episode 2 of this three-part extended weekend getaway to Delaware (and Maryland, too!) when we hit up more amazing breweries. Until next time...