The route, which runs through the entire state, touts a fermenter’s dozen of three wineries and 10 craft breweries. (Two beermakers, Iron Hill and Dogfish Head, appear twice.) Despite Delaware’s petiteness, you’d have to chug like Bluto in “Animal House” to squeeze all the venues into one day.
For a more civilized pace, I followed a rainbow of beer mugs that arced from the border of Maryland to the edge of the Atlantic. At my first stop, Evolution Craft Brewing in Delmar, I bumped into a pair of pilgrims who had taken the vertical tack.
“We do beer road trips,” said Charlie Ohrnberger, of Long Island, N.Y. “We started at Iron Hill, then went to Stewarts and now we’re here. We’re going to hit about five of the breweries on the trail.”
Ohrnberger and his companion, Cynthia Eagle, were seated at the compact bar sampling the five drafts. Since it was too early in my drive to claim the bar stool beside them, I asked Carter Price, who was lording it over the taps, for a history lesson on Evolution.
Brothers Tom and John Knorr created the brewery in 2009 to accompany their five restaurants on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The beers, however, quickly gained their own identity and following: Kathy and Craig Krauss, return visitors from Maryland, had popped in on their way home from Rehoboth Beach to refill their empty growlers. But first, two pints, please.
Evolution produces 3,500 barrels a year, a mere teardrop compared with its eastern Delaware neighbor Dogfish Head, which churns out 120,000 barrels. All the operations — fermenting, aging, bottling, labeling — take place inside an old grocery store, with an occasional spillover into the parking lot.
“There’s never an empty tank,” Price said as he poured Ohrnberger another porter. Nor an empty pint.
The beer continued to flow like a tawny-colored tributary about 20 miles northeast in Georgetown, where 16 Mile Brewery Co. is an even smaller operation: The four-person staff, including the two founders, produce 2,500 barrels a year. The brewery inhabits a century-old barn furnished with the requisite machinery plus a counter with chairs and a handful of tables and kegs refitted as padded stools.
The two-year-old brewery makes “classical English session” beers, which marketing director Claus Hagelman described as “easy to drink. It’s not about having to think, but to relax.”
While the other visitors indulged in the six free samples, I gulped down Hagelman’s informative tidbits. He explained the company’s name (Georgetown is no more than 16 miles from anywhere in Sussex County) and illustrated the owners’ allegiance to the state: Each beer is rooted in local lore. For example, Blues’ Golden Ale pays tribute to the Delaware Blues, the state’s first Continental Army regiment, which fought in most of the major Revolutionary War battles.