When it comes to craft beer, Big Oyster Brewery has proved to be a big player. The Lewes-based brewery recently ranked second on the Brewers Association’s 2018 list of the fastest growing craft breweries in the United States. Lake Time Brewery in Clear Lake, Iowa, ranked first.
According to the nonprofit trade group, small and independent craft brewers experienced a 163 percent growth with the median size being 1,350 barrels of in-house production in 2018. The 50 breweries’ output ranges from 50 barrels to more than 40,000 and grew from less than 70,000 barrels collectively in 2017 to more than 170,000 barrels in 2018.
Big Oyster, which is part of Fins Hospitality Group, started in June 2015 with a small operation next to Fins Ale House & Raw Bar on Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach. That year, the brewery produced between 100 and 150 barrels, says Mike Anderson, director of sales and distribution. With the addition of the Big Oyster Brewery brewpub in 2017, production should reach 5,000 this year, he says.
We talked to Anderson about the secrets behind Big Oyster’s success and plans for the future. (The answers below have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
You have two brewing locations right now. Is that enough?
We are at full capacity. The Lewes building was designed so that we would grow into it within two or three years, and it’s been 18 months. We’re not scrambling, but we’re looking at a few options to keep the growth scale happening, whether it’s expanding the current brewery, partnering with some contract brewers or building another spot. All those plans are on the table.
Photo by Pam George
Are you looking to grow through brewpub locations or as a brewery operation with ancillary restaurants?
It would be nice to stay small like we’ve been doing. But you’ve seen successful models like Two Stones Pub and 2SP Brewing Company. It’s an interesting way to do things. It’s more difficult to open brewpubs, where you brew in each location. It’s difficult to stay consistent with all the brewers in all the different operations. We’d rather the beer come out of a central location. All seven of us employees are just trying to maintain the velocity.
Is your goal to sell most of the beer in liquor stores or in restaurants?
Our ratio is a little different than most. Because the Fins Hospitality Group has four Fins restaurants, our ratio to on-premise (bars and restaurants) to off-premise (liquor stores) is about 50-50. Breweries like Yards and Troegs probably sell 70 percent of their beer in liquor stores and 30 as draft. We didn’t have canning as an option until January 2018.
Why have Big Oyster’s products gone over so well?
[Because of] the quality product. Our brewers are super passionate. They’re up on the trends while also being super traditional about their styles and brewing processes. We’ve tried to be trendy as well as be true to the styles of beer. That makes my job easier, having [a] quality product. The brand is cool with art by local artist Laura Erickson. It sticks out on the shelf.
Also, our Fins crowd has been super faithful. Our brand communicates well over social media with older fans, who’ve been with us since day one, and younger audiences. Our beer applies to everybody, which is great.
Is Big Oyster planning any events for the holiday weekend?
We will release two IPAs on Saturday, April 20 [at 11 a.m.]. The first is called Unbelievable, which is made with dry hops. The other one is part of our dreamsicle series. It’s Tropical Dreamsicle, made with pureed pink guava and passion fruit. [The beer] is available until we run out—about a week. On Easter Sunday we have brunch menu items at the brewery.
1007 Kings Highway, Lewes • 644-2621