With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached the eighth state, most commonly nicknamed The First State, Delaware. While it’s the second smallest state we’ll cover, it’s also 6th in population density with a total population of roughly 935 thousand, ranking The Blue Hen state 45th in total population. As of 2014, there are 8 brewers making up the Delaware Brewers Guild, and a total count of roughly 11 craft brewers. The state ranks 44th in total breweries and 19th in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation
The history of beer in Delaware goes as far back as the first Dutch, English and Swedish settlements between 1609 and 1638. While Englishman and noted explorer Henry Hudson (of Bay and River fame) was the first to “discover” Delaware, it was ultimately the Dutch and Swedes who brought in the brewing traditions from their homelands, primarily as a safeguard against water-borne illnesses and was primarily done in beer taverns or in the home.
There were a few larger brewers that only brewed ale into the early 1700’s, then in the 1850’s when lager yeasts reached American shores via Philadelphia, the industry was reborn. While three breweries (Bavarian, Hartmann & Fehrenbach, and Diamond State – all operating out of Wilmington) dominated the landscape until prohibition, just two of them reopened after prohibition, then even two newer breweries (Delmarva and Krueger) attempted to take up the mantle, yet all five were gone by 1955.
After 40 years, brewing dormancy in Delaware expired in 1995 when Sam Calagione opened the state’s first brewpub, Rehoboth Beach’s Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats (the production brewery is in Milton). To do so he had to lobby and actually write legislation at the statehouse, successfully accomplishing this feat only days before opening their doors. Starting off as “the smallest commercial brewery in America,” Sam has propelled Dogfish Head to become one of the nation’s preeminent craft brewers.
They’ve won 15 GABF medals over 20 years, led the charge in craft beer/cuisine pairings, were featured in the Beer Wars documentary and the Discovery Channel’s Beer Masters, not to mention other innovations like their continual hopping process to create those beloved 60, 90 and 120 Minute IPAs. From Ancient Ales, Wine-Beer hybrids, barrel-aging, micro-distilling, as well as their line of Randal infusion machines, there’s no denying the fact that DFH is one of the most innovative brewers and a humble leader within the craft beer movement.
Five More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Fordham and Dominion Brewing (Dover) – This craft beer partnership in Dover was originally founded as Fordham Brewing in Annapolis, MD in 1995 and Old Dominion in Ashburn, VA in 1989. Together since 2007, FoDo in many ways still operates as two independent breweries. Over time, Old Dominion has produced more than double the varieties than Fordham, yet they both offer some of the most unique styles in the state, with some of the most distinct label art around.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (Newark) – Named after a Revolutionary War battlefield in Delaware, Iron Hill has flourished since their opening in 1996. Not only does each location in this chain of 11 brewpubs brew their own beers, but they’ve raked in 42 GABF medals as a result. Over nearly 20 years, they’ve collectively created over 600 unique beers and while they don’t distribute, they do embody the best practices of what a brewpub represents: the fusion of great beer and great food, served fresh and local.
Mispillion River Brewing (Milford) – Seen by many as the most exciting up and coming brewery in Delaware, MRB has been brewing since 2013. Equipped with a 15 barrel system and a 1 barrel pilot system, they’ve been hard a work cranking out over 110 styles in less than two years. With plans to release 1 style per month, effectively creating 12 seasonals each year, they’re a younger brewery to watch.
Stewart’s Brewing (Bear) – Founded around the same time as DFH in 1995, Stewart’s has seen great success in their 20 years as one of Delaware’s destination brewpubs. Still brewing on the same 7 barrel system they opened with, their five mainstay beers are all English styles, open fermented, using their own yeast strains they create in-house, possibly explaining the 10 GABF medals they’ve won over the years.
Huge Thanks to DelawareBeerHistory.com and BrewTravellers365.com for the invaluable resources they provided.