When Brian Frueh and his wife, Lynda, traveled to Ocean City this summer for a week of vacation they brought their taste for craft beer with them.
And so on a recent Friday afternoon the couple was lunching at Island Oasis, a small restaurant on Route 611 just west of Ocean City. Choosing from 12 beers on tap, Frueh sampled a Pale Ale from Evolution, a new craft brewery in Delmar, Del., just north of Salisbury. After lunch he enjoyed a glass of Peg Leg Stout, made in Baltimore by Clipper City Brewing.
FOR THE RECORD - A story in Sunday's Travel section incorrectly identified the co-owner of 16 Mile Brewing Company. His name is Chad Campbell.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
For Frueh, the afternoon rendezvous with craft beers was a welcome part of his vacation. A member of the mug club at Red Brick Station brew pub in White Marsh, Frueh said he likes to sample new brews even as he works on his tan.
Locally made beers do not flow as freely at beach bars as they do in Baltimore-area pubs, but the craft beer scene on the shore is improving. Two new small breweries, Evolution and 16 Mile Brewing Co. in Georgetown, Del., have fired up their brew kettles in the past four months. They join Delaware's Dogfish Head, one of the nation's best-known craft brewers, and an operation that started as a brew pub in Rehoboth, then subsequently built a large brewery in Milton, Del.
In addition to providing a fresh supply of brews for beachgoers, these breweries also offer an attraction that few beer enthusiasts can resist: a chance to tour a brewery and sample the goods. On a couple of summery days in July when the sun was hot and the ocean waves were crashing, I hopped over to the shore to tour the three breweries.
My first stop was Dogfish Head. Milton is one those picturesque small towns with flags flying on large front porches, flowers blooming in front yards, and speed limits designed to snag type-A drivers. Meandering though the narrow streets I came upon Cannery Village, the industrial park that Dogfish dominates.
Times have been good for craft beers and Dogfish is outgrowing the space it moved into seven years ago. An expansion is already under way to add office space and up brewing capacity to 150,000 barrels. Also in the plans are new bathrooms for visitors, replacing the portable toilets that sit on the perimeter of the brewery.
Brewery tours start at 2 p.m., and while they are free, registration on the brewery's Web site is required.
"The tours fill up," said Sam Calagione, Dogfish's exuberant founder. Articulate and inventive, Calagione has become one of the poster boys of the American craft beer movement. He was a central player in "Beer Wars," a recent documentary film about the American beer scene, and figured prominently in a November New Yorker magazine article on craft brewing.
Calagione, the top officer in the company, wore jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt as he greeted me in the brewery's gift shop.
"We get 600 to 800 people a week on tours," said Calagione, who does not usually lead the tours. The brewery is one of the top tourism sites in Delaware, he said, adding that about half of the visitors come from out of state.
The tours are part of the marketing program, said Calagione. "We don't advertise," he said. "We rely on word of mouth."
The tour consisted of a swing around the plant where I saw lots of tanks, hoses and machines. Dogfish labels itself as a place that brews "off-centered ales for off-centered people," so some of the machinery was out of the ordinary.
For instance, there were the towering barrel tanks made of Palo Santo wood from Paraguay. The idea of aging beer in this wood came from John Gasparine, a Baltimore flooring company owner who traveled in South America. A fan of Dogfish beer, Gasparine sent a message to Calagione suggesting that it might be a good idea to trying aging one of his beers in this exotic aromatic wood. Palo Santo Marron, unfiltered brown ale, packing a whopping 12 percent alcohol by volume (most mainstream American beers are 5 percent) is now part of the Dogfish line.
We stopped for a minute at the "yeast nursery," a room where computer-assisted machines dispense the exact amount and type of yeast needed for each of the brewery's beers. Dogfish beers are known for their large dose of hops. Years ago the brews were hopped by placing the hops on a vibrating electric football game placed above beer kettles. Then came a device called Sir Hops A Lot. Now the hop dispenser is called Sofa King Hoppy.
Humor aside, Calagione showed off a quality-control lab, one of four labs that test the beer. He also showed me the tasting room, where a panel of super-tasters, graduates of a 40-hour FlavorActiv training program, regularly check the beers.
At the end of the tour, visitors are offered samples of four Dogfish brews. They are encouraged to roam the gift shop, where fans can buy Dogfish Head hats, shirts, visors and more. My favorite item was a $2 container of lip balm, made with Festiva Peche, one of the brewery's seasonal beers. Beer-flavored lip balm would, I figured, be just the thing to take to the beach.