Baltimore City Paper

Labor Day ushers in the best beach time of the year

Battling the end-of-summer blues? Here's my prescription: Head downy ocean, where Labor Day ushers in the best beach time of the year. Spend a September weekend (or three) enjoying the mellower crowds, the slanting sunlight, the summer-warmed surf, and the fattest crabs of the season.

Still not cured? Perhaps you're neglecting the three essential beverage groups: wine, beer, and spirits. Increasing numbers of wineries and microbreweries make their homes in the small towns of Delmarva, and craft distillers have established a modest presence. Sipping through the highlights would make for an afternoon well-spent.

Nine miles from downtown Ocean City, the Maryland Wine Bar ( opened last summer on Berlin's quiet, brick-lined Main Street. A wall-sized bottle rack sits across from an eight-stool bar laminated with labels from state wineries. By all accounts, this is the only bar anywhere serving exclusively Maryland wines. The inventory represents roughly half the state's 60-some wineries, with 20 or so offered by the glass on a rotating basis. With an all-Maryland cheese plate, I enjoyed a flight of Eastern Shore wines ($10 for three 2-ounce samples). My favorite, St. Michael's Winery's Island Belle Sangiovese 2010 ($20, 12.26 percent alcohol), shows dusky ruby, with a nose of spiced cherry and sweet tobacco. Darker cherry and leather flavors finish with notes of orange peel and turned earth.

Before leaving Berlin, hop by Burley Oak Brewing Company ( The two-year-old microbrewery and alehouse exudes the happy-slacker vibe of serious beer lovers. Quaffs on tap typically include a cask ale, seasonal specialties, Belgian-style variants, and powerhouse IPAs, available in flights, pints, growlers, and occasional batches of hand-filled bottles. Pale Ryeder Double IPA, with its rye spice and triple-hop profile, is, for my money (the only kind I get to spend), Maryland's best beer. Burley Oak kegs reach some of Baltimore's hophead haunts, but production remains limited to about 1,700 barrels annually.

A comparative giant among craft brewers, Dogfish Head ( distills a lesser-known line of artisan spirits that deserve their own following. The brewing operation outgrew Dogfish's popular Rehoboth Beach brewpub and moved to Milton, Del., in 2002, replaced in part by a second-floor pot still Dogfish uses to make gin, vodka, and rum. I'm partial to the Brown Honey Rum (80 proof, $25-ish), which pours medium-dark amber. Oak-aged and flavored with wildflower honey, it packs a woodsy sweetness perfect for fireside sipping-because, alas, it won't stay summer forever.