Just because you're on vacation at the shore doesn't mean every drink has to come with a tiny beach umbrella. Pitch the slushy or cosmopolitan, and think more along the lines of craft.
Craft beer, that is.
For a long time, beer drinkers lacked choices beyond "light or dark?" But the increasingly popular craft beer movement has expanded in imbibers' minds the possibilities for beer. Independent microbreweries have existed for years, but America's growing appreciation of small-batch, handcrafted products — and their never-quenched love of beer — seem to signal that this trend is not going away.
And going to the beach doesn't mean you need to miss out on the action.
In recent years, beer fans on the Eastern Shore have established new companies to create never-before-tasted products in their own backyards. The popular Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales in Delaware is only one option.
Here's a sampling of some breweries in and around Ocean City:
Danny Robinson grew up in New York, but he knew from an early age he had to live in Ocean City. Each year, he and his family would pack up the station wagon to visit his aunt and uncle, who owned a small hotel on the boardwalk.
His family also taught him the power of a fine product. On trips to Europe to see relatives as a child, Robinson would smuggle olive oil and cheese on the airplane ride home.
"I saw the value of homemade, handcrafted items," Robinson said. "It was always ingrained into me: 'Yeah, you can get this stuff anywhere, but the stuff that's homegrown and homemade ... there's huge value in that.' "
In May 2013, Robinson combined his two loves when he turned a former ice cream shop next to his boardwalk bar, Hammerheads on the Beach, into the Backshore Brewery. (It was formerly known as Shorebilly Brewing Company until an existing company forced Robinson to change it.) Now patrons can take a seat, order a beer and watch brewmaster Adam Davis at work.
While Backshore makes six types of beer, the flagship is its Boardwalk Blonde Ale. Robinson calls it a "gateway beer," a light brew for consumers used to the usual domestic light lagers. The drinkability of the Boardwalk Blonde Ale makes it familiar but distinct enough to lead consumers to Backshore's more adventurous beers, such as the Downtown Sugar Brown Ale.
Backshore will begin distributing kegs to local bars for the first time this year. But the ultimate goal, Robinson said, is to show off his love of Ocean City in the final product. All Backshore employees left jobs and loved ones behind, he said, to live at the beach, and it's that same intoxicating allure that drives the company.
"None of us regret [relocating]," he said. "Not everybody can do that, but if you can do it for five minutes while you're drinking one of our beers and feel like you're a part of it, then that's what we love."
Standing inside the loft of Hooper's Crab House, Fin City Brewing Company co-owner Michael Glavich is surrounded by beer-production equipment. Although Fin City is entering only its third year of production, Glavich and the company have plenty celebrate. Fin City has distribution throughout the state and BeerAdvocate magazine ("the Bible of craft beers," he said) recently gave Fin City its first national review (and a positive one at that).
But for Glavich, the driving force behind Fin City is much simpler.
"Our thing is crafting well-balanced beers because we come from a restaurant background, and we want stuff that's satiable and balanced, that won't overpower food and won't overpower you on alcohol percentage," Glavich said. "We want you to sit out and enjoy a few as you eat crabs and enjoy your time on the water."
While Fin City produces five types of beer regularly, Glavich said it is best known for Captain Jack's Pumpkin Ale, which is only made in the fall. But White Marlin Pale Ale, a Fin City flagship beer, continues to gain popularity.
"It's catching on. It's getting picked up by a lot of dock bars across the state," he said. "It's a really easy-drinking, light, citrus-y beer. It really does well in the summer."