“Delaware was a little behind the times,” said John Novosel, a volunteer tour guide at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton. “But they’ve been a quick study.”
The 16-year-old company is a cult classic: A North Carolina mom and adult son I met on the tour had driven six hours to score a four-pack of 120 Minute, a limited-release India Pale Ale. This was not their first odyssey.
The facility, in a turn-of-the-20th-century cannery, is immense and hospital-clean. Novosel stood on a stool and spoke through a microphone, his voice pinging off the stainless steel tanks. He passed around pungent hops for our sniffing (dis)pleasure and pointed out the 10,000-gallon tank constructed of Paraguayan palo santo wood. “It’s like Guinness on steroids,” Novosel said of the resulting Palo Santo Marron brown ale.
That brew was not on the tasting menu that day, but the coveted 120 Minute was. The sippings followed a light-to-heavy gradation, mimicking a four-course menu that starts with, say, a spring salad and ends with Death by Chocolate cake.
The first cup contained Chateau Jiahu, an airy ale based on a 9,000-year-old Chinese recipe. “This was the oldest-known alcohol recipe,” said Novosel, who narrated my imbibing. “It was drunk in the afterlife.” Punkin Ale, a seasonal variety made with pumpkin puree, was next in line, followed by Olde School Barleywine, a fermented bowl of figs and dates. Then came the coup de grace with the kick of 18 percent alcohol.
The syrupy ale tingled on my tongue. I assumed that was the hops, poured into the brew for 120 minutes straight, performing their happy dance. A considerate guest, I drained my drink. Then I quietly slipped away from the bar in search of a strong chaser of water.
142 Second St., Lewes
Boutique hotel that’s a short hop from the breweries and wineries along the shore and in other southern points. Rates from $80.
Dover Downs Hotel and Casino
1131 N. DuPont Hwy., Dover
Full-service hotel minutes from the two Dover breweries and central to other stops along the trail. Rooms from $145.
Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats
320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach
The birthplace of Dogfish Head also serves food, including some dishes infused with the company’s beers (i.e., Raison D’Etre short ribs). Main dishes from $7.
Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant
710 Justison St., Wilmington
Pair craft beers with heightened pub fare, such as buffalo chicken egg rolls and blue cheese burgers. From $9.50.
Delaware Wine and Ale Trail
Thirteen stops throughout the state. Some tours and tastings are free (i.e., Dogfish Head); others cost a nominal fee ($5 for a sampling at Evolution Craft Brewing Co.). Check hours in advance. Reservations strongly recommended at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.