There must have been something in the Delaware water supply in the mid-1990s, because local entrepreneurs started jumping on the bandwagon by brewing beer in the back of their pubs and selling it out front. Iron Hill and Brandywine Brewing were founded upstate, and Dogfish Head downstate. Bud might have had more horses, Coors a faster silver bullet train and Miller better football-playing dogs on TV commercials, but the local beers were fresher and more interesting.
Brandywine Brewing Co. stopped producing beer a few years ago, then re-invented itself as a Greenville pub (BBC Tavern) that has other people’s brews on tap and in bottles. But Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant and Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats are still going strong as brew pubs—Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach and Iron Hill in Wilmington, Newark and Pennsylvania.
While Dogfish Head has gained national attention with its bottled beers, Iron Hill remains largely an on-premises business. I had lunch recently at Iron Hill’s original pub on Main Street in Newark and tasted its regular sampling of six all-the-time-beers and two seasonal or occasional beers, one called Elvis (a double-hops head) and another named Bourbon Port.
Part of the fun of drinking craft beers—whether in brew pubs, on tap in regular bars or by the bottle—is their diversity. Light beer, hoppy beer, malty beer, dark beer, fruity beer. No one matches Dogfish Head celebrity brewer Sam Calagione in the diversity and sometimes weirdness of his specialty beers, but everyone tries.
Plus there are craft brewers without pubs that are worth trying. Twin Lakes in Greenville, which schedules tours, has adopted Buckley’s Tavern as its local brewster, and you can sit at Buckley’s big bar and compare Twin Lakes’ offerings with those of Dogfish and Evolution (from Delmar) on tap. Also downstate are Fordham & Dominion in Dover and 16-Mile in Georgetown.
If all this beer talk makes you thirsty, here’s an eight-pack sampler to try:
Evolution Exile ESB Strong mocha and bitters flavors; great for Southerners who like ice coffee.
Iron Hill Ironbound Ale Very refreshing, middle-range hoppiness, spicy finish.
Iron Hill Raspberry Wheat Like raspberry cheesecake in a glass.
Twin Lakes Greenville Pale Ale You’ll want more than one. Very fresh with nice bitters finish.
Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA A classic blend of richness and tangy hops.
Dogfish Head Aprihop Yummy seasonal beer blending apricots and hops. You may still find one in the back of the cooler.
Dominion Oak Barrel Stout An espresso double-shot, but not mocha. Rich but less stout than most stouts.
16-Mile Old Court Ale Good blend of hops, malt, bitters flavors, but a little flabby.