Birthday Road Trip: Dogfish Head and Ocean City

We’re quite old hands at visiting craft breweries now, so had an idea what to expect when we visited Dogfish Head brewery at Milton, DE. This is the brewery that makes a couple of my favourite beers out here – their 60 minute IPA and Indian brown ale are perfect after a long walk.

The brewery was surprisingly busy, so the first tour we could get on was rather later than we’d hoped. However, it was close to lunch time, so we figured we could enjoy a few tastings and grab some lunch before the tour. The brewery has a ‘beer-centric’ food menu available from ‘Bunyan’s Lunchbox’ – a sort of stationary food truck – just outside. Here they serve beer-dosed bratwursts, hop pickles (totally weird and amazing), and bowls of ‘hard-tack’ clam chowder, made with dark beer. You can also get a lot of this food at Dogfish’s brew pub ‘Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats’ in Rehoboth Beach. And they apparently stock the chowder and brats in some branches of Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.

This wide availability of Dogfish Head’s non-beer produce might give rise to a suspicion that the brewery is not quite as ‘off-centred’ as its slogan suggests. In fact, the brewery has a very established commercial arm, and its on-site shop was overflowing with merchandise.

The story of its founder was also slightly different from what we were used to – a graduate of a liberal arts college borrowed money from his parents to start this brewery. The story’s main tension revolves around the founder screwing up the courage to tell his father: thanks for all that expensive college education, but I think I want to brew beer for a living. The conversation happened while father and son were out jogging, and ended with the father suggesting the brewery’s name.

There was another obstacle to the founding of Dogfish Head. Thinking he saw a gap in the market in the fact that Delaware had no craft breweries, the founder happily went ahead with his plans, only to discover that the reason there were no craft breweries in Delaware was that it was illegal. He was undaunted though – for a very good reason: his wife was the daughter of one of the main guys who ran the state. So husband and wife lobbied for a change in the law and even got to help with drafting the legislation that made the enterprise possible.

Now I don’t want to suggest that any other craft brewery foundation story is that of a working class hero making good, but there is something a little more endearing about the story of the New Belgium founders making their start-up money through their jobs in industry, becoming successful and then handing over ownership of the brewery to their employees.

Despite all this, we still enjoyed our time at the brewery – and we still enjoy the beer.

One of the main highlights of the day though was the drive out across the Chesapeake Bridge. We saw it stretching out across the water before I drove out onto it…

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… and I think I grinned for the entire time I was driving across it!

One of our ambitions since watching the Danish/Swedish detective series The Bridge has been to drive across the bridge between Denmark and Sweden. While the Chesapeake Bridge isn’t as long as that bridge, it did give us the feeling we’d imagined of being in the middle of the ocean, driving towards the horizon, part of a great feat of engineering. More than this, the sun came out, and we enjoyed flying across the water with the seabirds.

Finally we made it to our destination for the night – we were staying in a large hotel in off-season Ocean City. We weren’t alone – the hotel was pretty full of people avoiding Christmas – but the deserted, wind- and rain-swept beach certainly lived up to my standards of bleakness.

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Perfect!

Read on in my next post

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