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Delaware Restaurants and Brewpubs: Experimental Beers

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There are two generations of “normal” beer drinkers.

One is the 20-somethings a few years out of college who still demand two things of their favorite beer—that it’s cheap and that there’s lots of it.

Then there is an older generation, stuck in its own time warp. The last thing exciting in their beer drinking experience was dropping a wedge of lime into a Mexican brew.

While both generations realize there has been a rebirth of regional beer-making led by the rise of brew pubs—and they may drink pub pulls over lunch—they seldom buy bottles of local stuff at the package store. And both might be frightened by some of the ingredients that now lurk in those brown and green bottles—fruits and vegetables are just a start—and some of the weird, but yummy, tastes that are competing with the hops.

This is not your father’s beer that we’re drinking, folks.

I stopped by Frank’s on Union Street in Wilmington the other day to pop caps with Gregg Truitt, Frank’s man in charge of extreme beers. “For experimental breweries locally,” he told me, “look no further than Iron Hill’s Afternoon Delight, brewed with coffee, Stewart’s Honey Summer Ale, and Philadelphia Brewing Co.’s Fleur de Lehigh, with ginger, lemon grass, rose hips, cardamom and rhubarb.”

And, of course, there is a steady flow of experimental beers out of Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head in Milton. “I am a fan of the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth,” Truitt says, “where I am a long-standing mug club member. Every patron is a guinea pig there, whether they know it or not!”

Most of these weird beers are “savory” (herbs, nuts, dark flavors), while others are “sweet” (fruits, grape juice, flowers). Some of Dogfish Head’s beers are also in the alcohol range of wines—starting about 10 percent— or more than twice the kick of regular beers.  And they are frequently quite expensive.

Truitt guesses that specialty beers account for only 5 to 10 percent of the store’s total volume, but that the percentage continues to increase. He says that the people who are buying non-traditional beers are “mostly blokes, aged, say 25 to 45,” although there are women and couples who buy. And many love trying them with foods, as they would with wines.

I decided to take a few bottles home that I hadn’t had before. My wife liked the Dogfish Tweason’ale, gluten-free with sorghum, strawberries and honey, but I prefer for my Dogfishes to have a bit more bite at the end than this one did.

The Victory Saison du Buff—a joint venture with Dogfish and Stone breweries—was a good savory brew with sage in the front and rosemary in back, great if you scarf up herbal teas. But my favorite was the Dogfish Red & White with coriander, orange peel and Pinot noir juice aged in barrels, which went delightfully with the ham quiche we were having for dinner.

But I drew the line at Yards’ Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce. My reaction was the same as Truitt’s when I asked about the worst beer he’s ever tasted.

“Hands down it was Dogfish Head’s Arms Akimbo, a spruce-flavored porter,” he says. “It was like drinking the water under your Christmas tree.”

Then he reflected, “I probably will have my membership revoked for that comment.”

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