I thought it was busy at the Dewey Beer Company and, I guess for the uninitiated it looked that way. But there were seats to be had and no wait for tables in the Friday afternoon lull between lunch and dinner. Another way to tell there’s a lull in the action is to catch Brandon Smith, one of the partners, chatting with a beer in his hand. He and brewer Michael Reilly, who do much of the day-to-day running of the Dewey Beer Company expedite food, pour drinks and generally act as support staff to keep guests happy during even the busiest rush.
Even though they’re both young, the guys have a ton of restaurant experience. This is a huge plus on the beach, where having a brewery isn’t always enough in the summertime. In the wintertime, though, running a beach brewery is increasingly the opposite of not busy enough. All along the Maryland and Delaware coast restaurants close up over the winter in favor of the larger margins associated with a nine-month business. Brewers are different, as are breweries.
Brewers are obsessive when it comes to cultivating their craft. One of the great complaints about success from those running larger operations is that the amount of brewing they get to undertake personally drops dramatically as a result. When they first began planning what would become the Dewey Beer Company, the principals envisioned a production brewery with the aim of brewing all year.
The practical side of this is, and this has been true since Dogfish Head first opened in Rehoboth, it takes a more steady flow of revenue to run a place near the beach. Even off the beach, brewer after brewer discovers that if you’re not selling pints, it is going to be a tough time for all involved. For people with a culinary bent, it isn’t too long a leap to selling food as well.
Craft Beer culture at Dewey Beer Company
Setting aside the economics of it, there is a practical aspect that restaurants have been learning at the beach for the last few years: If you’re going to be there anyway, you might as well be open for business. Since breweries have to produce beer all year, the result recently has been a spate of places that have not only included restaurants in the plans, but have created menus that take the beer into consideration.
Partly because of the Boomers retiring and partly because of the number of year-round businesses in the Dewey Beach vicinity, expect to see some changes as the years go on. There are people living near the beach all year and they want options for entertainment and nightlife as well as good beer. Over the last decade, even through the economic downturn (or maybe because of it), beach businesses that have stayed open have begun to thrive.
The short observation is that beach towns are perfect for brewing for this reason. The margins are sufficient that they can brew all winter to distribute to the busier areas in the region and brew all summer to meet their local needs. Moreover, though, the winter distribution can act as a tourism advertisement. If you try something you like in, say, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Wilmington it is all the more reason to make an effort to swing by the brewery for a day trip.
People love local beer
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the guys in Dewey Beer Company. For me, it never gets less amusing to hear new brewers talk about how surprised they are that demand is so significant here. I have yet to speak with a brewer who started up and then had plenty of beer to meet demand. No matter how many breweries open it seems as if there is pent-up demand. Likely this has to do with proximity. People love local beer.
Talking to Smith, though, it’s the right kind of problem. As with many of the local places, the brewhouse is visible from the seating area. There’s something about drinking in a working brewery that might never lose its novelty. Certainly it hasn’t lost it for me, and I’ve had a lot of beer in a lot of breweries. I think it has something to do with proximity. Looking through the glass or across the bar and realizing that what you’re drinking never existed outside of the building you’re drinking it in is pretty cool.
Novelty is kind of another novelty when it comes to craft breweries. That is, there is something quirkily innovative about nearly every one. At the Dewey Beer Company, for example, the brewery has a roll-up door that opens it to the main drag. When they can, the guys work with the door open and the number of people who are legitimately tickled to look inside must be encouraging. Many of the lookers on stop in for beers. Lots of them, I’m sure, were on their way in anyway, but certainly some weren’t. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks it is super cool to see where the beer was made right before you drink it.