Tuesday, October 19, 2010

#1 - Delaware, "The First State"

I am currently sitting here in my kitchen watching my first home brew boil on the stove (only one boilover so far), so while I wait, I may as well get the wheels rolling on my trip down the U.S. Beer Trail.

State Beer Stats:
Population: 885,000 
# of Micro Breweries: (EDIT: 5)
Microbrewery density inverse* (people per microbrewery): 177,000. I predict mass shortages of beer, and/or giant profits for Delaware brewers. So hurry up and go buy some before it runs out/ requires a loan to purchase.

*made up statistic.

The state that ratified the Constitution before any others was Delaware and in an inspired moment, someone tasked with thinking of a state nickname offered up "The First State." I wish they went with "The State That Ratified the Constitution Before Any Others."

I like to imagine that the guy in charge of nicknaming had been out partying and celebrating possible statehood when he got a call from the Governor, who in a rush to make Delaware the first state in the Union, mistakenly thought one of the requirements for statehood was a nickname. So the guy left the bar, went to his room, took some Adderall, threw some Phish on his iPhonograph and started pounding out possible nicknames with his quill pen*. Only, halfway through the first song, he passed out. Waking up in the morning and realizing he was 10 minutes late for the state nickname press conference, he decided on "The First State," with hopes that he would come up with something better on his horse ride into town.

He didn't, and when the people of Delaware heard the nickname most thought "Seriously, that's the best we could do?" But everyone had barrels and horseshoes and powdered wigs to make, so they went back to their daily lives, leaving Delaware stuck with the least inventive state nickname on the books.

*historical accuracy of this sentence is questionable.

And now, the beer.

The majority of Delaware's early brewing history took place in Wilmington. And being in the shadow of Philadelphia did not prove profitable for most breweries that tried to begin operations prior to and soon after Prohibition.

The first of the modern microbreweries in Delaware started operations in the mid 90's and the new microbrewery era has proven to be good to Delaware as it has to the rest of the country. According to beermapping.com (check it out, great site), Delaware has four fully functional breweries, and several brewpubs. (EDIT: I found another one - Evolution Craft Brewery, in Delmar, DE)

These are the four (EDIT: 5) microbreweries that are operational in Delaware, in reverse alphabetical order, simply because the end of the alphabet does not get enough respect. I'm a middle of the alphabet guy, so this is my unbiased opinion.
  1. Twin Lakes Brewing Company - Greenville, DE
  2. Fordham Brewing Company - Dover, DE, originally founded in Annapolis, MD
  3. Evolution Craft Brewery, Delmar, DE
  4. Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales - Milton, DE, originally founded in Rehobeth Beach.
  5. 16 Mile Brewing Company - Georgetown, DE
1. Twin Lakes was founded in 2006 and its home base is a farm slightly northwest of Wilmington in the Brandywine Valley. They pride themselves on using 100% all natural ingredients and are in the process of becoming a completely green brewery by using hydro and wind power made on the farm. The don't yet bottle their beer, but they distribute kegs to beer stores in Delaware and their beers are on tap in Delaware and Philadelphia. 

2. The Fordham Brewing Company was started at the Ramshead Tavern in Annapolis, MD in 1995, but moved into a modern brewery in Dover. They currently have six beers that can be found in bottles and taps all across Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District. 

3. The state's most successful brewery is Dogfish Head, which was started in Rehobeth Beach in 1995, and has since moved to a new facility in Milton. The founder, Sam Calagione, has become a beer geek celebrity, appearing in the documentary Beer Wars. In November he will make his small screen debut as the host of a international beer show on Discovery. The name escapes me, and I am lazy, so look it up yourself. Now, I haven't had the beers from any of the other Delaware breweries (I'll do my due diligence and try each eventually) but Dogfish Head makes some of my favorite beers period. They stand up to breweries from the rest of the country and internationally. They just don't make bad beer. 

Including collaborations with other breweries, they have 36 beers, 8 of which they make year round. They also have 43 beers that are exclusively offered at their brewpubs and 8 beers that are no longer made. Raison D'Etre is my favorite, but I've only scratched the surface. Their tagline "off-centered ales for off-centered people" is evident in the combinations of flavors that they try. Just one example; Their Sah'tea beer is a limited and is "a modern update on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer." They are a forward thinking brewery and I would bet that the amount of combinations that they have tried is 3 or 4 times larger than the number of beers that they have actually produced, which is 87 if my math is correct. I can't say much more. Great organization. Here's to hoping that the other Delaware breweries have just as much success as Dogfish Head.

4. 16 Mile is a very new brewery and is located in Georgetown. The name 16 Mile comes from the fact that Georgetown sits "16 miles from anywhere." What they mean is "anywhere in Sussex County, Delaware," so perhaps a more appropriate slogan would be "many miles away from anywhere important." That doesn't mean they can't brew good beer. And right now they have three beers that are available in bottles and on tap in Delaware and Maryland. Like I said they are very new, and they focus on Delaware history and tradition in their brewing and label artwork, so I expect that they will pick up a pretty sizable local following in the years to come.

Time to hand out some completely made up and meaningless awards, the "Trailies." I had been up for 38 hours straight when I came up with that name. It's genius.

Trailies: (based solely on my opinion, which may or may not take into account actually tasting the beer):
Most Widespread Distribution: Dogfish Head.  By a lot.
Most Likely to Get a Visit from Al Gore: - Twin Lakes. Those guys love the Earth. 
Best Beer Name: Dogfish Head - Piston Honda (brewpubs only). Named after the Japanese boxer from Mike Tyson's Punch Out! Amazing.
Best Beer Concept: Dogfish Head - Theobroma. Based off of chemical analysis done on pottery from ancient times in Honduras. It is made with cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, honey, chillies, and annatto (tree seeds).
Least Likely to Know the Delaware State Nickname: Fordham. 
Most Likely to be Seen Tied to the Goalposts: 16 Mile. Everyone loves rookie hazing.
Most Hyped Brewery: Dogfish Head. Ok, so I got a little carried away with the Dogfish love.

Trips within a days drive of the breweries:
Delaware is a state that can probably be seen in a weekend, so the entire thing is within a days drive. The main cities are Wilmington and... that's it. Anything else that might be officially considered a city is really just a small town. Wilmington itself is a small city, but you could check out a Wilmington Blue Rocks game if you are in town during the summer. The Hotel DuPont is probably the nicest hotel I've ever stayed at. It was free because I was interviewing with DuPont, and I was almost late because I didn't want to leave the shower. The beach towns are always packed in the summer. Dewey Beach apparently has some good party spots and live music bars. The Monster Mile at Dover Downs is a good place to go if you want to spend a Sunday drinking light beer, watching guys drive in circles, and sitting in traffic. Twin Lakes is near Wilmington, which is less than an hour from Dover, where Fordham is located. The other two are probably less than 45 minutes from there and are fairly close to each other. So you could probably do all four in one day granted the timing works out with tasting hours and you have someone to drive you.

Not much from the First State in the music department. I didn't mention anyone that I didn't immediately recognize, and this is it, at least according to my cursory research (Thanks Wiki.)
- George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
- Bob Marley briefly lived there, while working at the GM plant in Newport. Should not count, but I felt bad only having one on the list.

Delaware may be "A Small Wonder" but craft brewing is alive and well there all the same. And at least someone from the state is making up for it's lack of naming creativity by brewing some pretty off the wall beers. Off to state #2, north on 95 through the horrible Delaware tolls, and up to Pennsylvania. It might be a while, this took me longer than I expected.

Delaware Beer Trail Map

Friday, October 1, 2010

The United States Beer Trail

Lately I have been doing a lot of travel that has taken me many places around the U.S. and at each stop I have been trying to taste the local craft beer. After realizing that great beer is available almost anywhere you go in this country, I had the idea to explore each state's brewing history and breweries in the order that the states were admitted to the Union.

So I will be starting with Delaware and working my way to Hawaii, writing about beers from each state and finding some new favorites along the way. A small percentage of states produce a large percentage of the craft beer available, but I expect that every state will have something interesting and unique about how they contribute to the American craft beer culture.

I'm going to also include road trips and attractions that can be experienced near the breweries that I write about. So, anyone that is in search of great craft beer can enjoy the surrounding area and culture and anyone who is mainly looking for travel ideas can find refreshment though that same beer.