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A guide to the best beers and breweries at the Delaware beaches

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The Southern Delaware beaches are the birthplace of modern craft brewing in Delaware, ever since Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione decided to open a little brewpub serving chicory stout and maple-vanilla ale.

The zone surrounding the state’s southern beaches remains true to these roots, a suds-dense area with more than a dozen brewpubs within a half hour’s drive of each other, some of which named among the best in the mid-Atlantic and the country.

But with so many to choose from, the options can be dizzying (especially if you drink all of them.) So here’s a little guide to the breweries and brewpubs of Delaware’s Southern beaches, from Lewes to Rehoboth to Dewey to the Inland Bays to a little river town en route to the beach.

Delaware breweries in and around Lewes

Big Oyster Brewery

1007 Kings Hwy. Lewes, 302-644-2621, bigoysterbrewery.com.

Big Oyster’s original location is the kind of rambling beer hall you always hope you’ll find near a beach: a rural-styled barn of a place with steamer clams and oysters, a bar made from a solid hardwood slab, a wooden stage out back for local bands, and a sizable playset for the kiddies.

Big Oyster offers newfangled hazies and Willie Wonka sours, but our favorites are the classics. Oyster makes remarkably crisp lagers free of flaws — in particular a lovely and biscuity Helles — and their flagship Hammerhead is the sort of bright, modern, generously dry-hopped pine-citrus IPA you rarely see on this coast.

A second Big Oyster outpost, at the new Southern Delaware Golf Club outside Milford, is also due for summer 2024.

Crooked Hammock

36707 Crooked Hammock Way, Lewes, 302-644-7837, crookedhammockbrewery.com.

Crooked Hammock is a brewpub with the approximate personality of a Jimmy Buffett concert: a fun-themed Southern-beachy backyard of a place with rainbowed adirondacks and ping-pong and an actual hammock we’re not sure is crooked.

The beers you should order also are the ones themed for “fun.” This could be a pineapple-fruity Jungle Juice sour that tastes more sweet than sour. Or it could be a “Joint Collaboration IPA,” infused with cannabis aromatics, which smells like a lit bong but tastes mostly mild.  

Especially, it should be the Hammock Light. 

The Hammock Light, a crystal-clear beach lager if there ever was one, is the most basic and frictionless beer you can expect to find in this world: It is low calorie, low hop, low gluten, low alcohol and low effort. It’s what you’d drink in a parking lot or while thinking about mowing a lawn, the flavor of a life lived without care. A life led, we presume, mostly on a hammock.

Dog Pirate Beer Co.

32191 Nassau Road, Nassau, 302-644-2850, facebook.com/dogpiratebeer.

A stone’s throw from Delaware’s oldest winery, Nassau Valley Vineyard, stands one of its newest breweries. 

Since August 2023, in a wee tasting room at the back of quaint barn of a building also home to a bakery, Dog Pirate Beer Company offers European-inspired, mostly malt-forward ales that offer a respite for those weary of the single-minded hops obsessions of much modern craft brewing.

And so a recent malty-sweet tripel is filled with the banana and dark-fruit aromas of Belgian yeasts. A German-inspired Kolsch — trapped somewhere between lager and ale — starts clean and ends with the lightly mineral notes one expects from the style.

But if the beer is mostly traditional, the space is a bit of a hybrid. Owner and brewer Greg Christmas founded Dog Pirate last year in the same tasting room as his other business, Beach Time Distilling. This makes for a heartening truce among drinkers of different flavors. Come as a couple, and one can sample fruit-flavored rums (including Beach Plum) or a promising 3-year bourbon, while the other chooses to sip saisons and stouts.

Or, theoretically, both of you can drink both. But be warned: This could lead to the life of a pirate. 

Breweries in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach

Dewey Beer Co.

2100 Coastal Hwy, Dewey Beach, 302-227-1182; 21241 Iron Throne Drive, Milton, 302-329-9759; deweybeerco.com

The original Dewey Beer Co. taproom feels like any old beach bar for surfers and kooks, and that’s pretty much the point. 

Just feet from sand and shore — along a street filled with head shops and beachy hotels — you can get your hands messy with hot wings and peel-and-eat shrimp, watch neverending surf videos on a pair of flat screens by the bar, and buy more merch than you’d find at a stadium tour.

But it’s not just any old beach bar. Dewey Beer is also home, perhaps, to Delaware’s most accomplished scientists of hops. More than half the entries on its long beer list are big, fruity, juicy, hazy IPAs with silly names and even sillier volumes of dry hopping. A pineapple-yellow Futuristic Future, on a recent visit, tasted like every fruit Carmen Miranda ever wore on her head, from pineapple to orange to guava. 

In some ways, the IPAs may even taste fruitier than the rotating array of Secret Machine fruit beers that dominate much of the rest of the menu — though those fruit flavors in the IPAs come only from the hops themselves.

It’s likely this combination — a locals bar with world-class hazy IPA — that drove USA Today’s 10Best to name Dewey Beer the best taproom in the country in 2024. It’s hard to wander within 20 miles of the place without the urge to stop by.

A bit inland, the production taproom in Harbeson is just a few miles from the Milton production brewery of Dogfish Head, if you want to be closer to the source. You also can visit Dewey’s new brewery taproom in in Denver, Colorado, if you wish

Dogfish Head Brewery

Brewing and Eats, EmPOURium and Chesapeake and Maine, 316-20 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-3600; Dogfish brewery, 6 Village Center Blvd., Milton, 302- 684-1000, dogfishhead.com.

Delaware’s oldest, biggest and most famous craft brewery is still worth a check-in even for locals. For out of towners, it’s a rite of passage.

Dogfish Head’s food and beer complex in Rehoboth Beach is like a little Epcot Center for beer and spirits: a choose-your-mood tour of bottle shop, brewpub and seafood bar. 

If you arrive hungry or at happy hour, our favorite of Dogfish Head’s taproom options is Chesapeake and Maine, for its namesake mix of local and Maine oysters — really one of the only places to slurp actual Delaware oysters — alongside ale-soaked mussels and steamed littleneck clams.

Pair your shells with a seasonal or rotator Dogfish Head beer you can’t find anywhere but here, and you’ve officially had the Delaware beer experience that people from Florida or California are sure to ask about. Add in a stay at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes and a tour of the production brewery in Milton to boot, and you’re probably taking it all too far. But in this part of Delaware, the world is your Dogfish.

Iron Hill Brewing

19815 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 302-260-8000, ironhillbrewery.com.

Iron Hill, a Delaware-founded brewery just a hair younger than Dogfish Head, is the kind of place you could easily take for granted. It’s a multi-state chain, for one. Each location looks pretty similar to the other ones, whether in Delaware or elsewhere.

But take a look at the wall, at the vast array of national beer awards earned over Iron’s nearly three decades, and you’ll see a different story. Stick to the stouts and lagers especially, or to the clean and crisp and clear hoppy pales, and you’ll find a brewery well in control of its craft.

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It’s not for nothing you see Iron Hill on the resume so many excellent brewers around the region: Jean Broillet IV at Philly’s Tired Hands brewed at Iron for years. So did brewer Bob Barrar, who can’t stop winning national gold medals for his Russian Imperial stout at 2SP. Same goes for Larry Horwitz, who inaugurated Crooked Hammock’s excellent Hammock Light lager.

Anyway, the Iron Hill at the Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach is not very beachy. Nor is it overly different from the Iron Hill up the road aways in Wilmington, or in Newark. Nor at any number of locations in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Consider this an acknowledgement that consistency like this is quite difficult to achieve.

Revelation Craft Brewing

19841 Central St., Rehoboth Beach, 302-212-5674’ 413 S Bedford St., Georgetown, 302-515-1100; revbeer.com.

Revelation Brewing is perhaps undersung, as home to some of the tastiest beer in Delaware. But to beachy locals, hardly a secret.

Its original Rehoboth Beach taproom is humble and out of the way, a backroad bar with chalkboard beer list that feels made for the neighborhood. A little shack out front serves wood-fired pizza, and its beertenders justly have been voted some of the friendliest in the state.

But its beers, likewise justly, have won national awards year after year. Mostly, this stems from Revelation’s deftness with sour beers conditioned on unholy amounts of fresh raspberry or apricot or blackberry: beers that are balanced, light and beauteously expressive of fruit. But don’t sleep on a clean and crisp Pilsner, nor a brown ale accented with on woody notes from Caribbean Mama Juana wood.

As of last year, Revelation also has expanded to a Georgetown brewery and taproom far from the beach, but conveniently located at a cross-section of highways for those coming in from parts south or west.

Thompson Island Brewing

0133 Veterans Way, Rehoboth Beach, 302-226-4677, thompsonislandbrewing.com

Thompson Island is the original beer outpost of Rehoboth Beach’s omnipresent SoDel Concepts, the restaurant group behind well over a dozen restaurants and bars and breweries along the Delaware coastline.

Thompson’s better-than-usual taproom food menu shows evidence of this, from stacked smashburgers to seafood to locally famous wings. So does the minimalist white-on-white cottagecore of the restaurant’s interior, whose self-consciously rough-hewn furniture looks a little like its painters left early for the day.

But if you’re here, you’re almost certainly here for the indoor-outdoor back bar, the spacious firepit patio with multiple cornhole courts, and an array of beers from a spot-on Baltic porter to No Bad Days lager that starts dry and ends with a strong noble-hop finish. Hopheads should always spend a glass with a truly excellent piney-citrusy, malt-balanced Thompson Island IPA.

Some far-flung beer flavor experiments, like a maple pancake sour, might reward caution. But,a mixed-culture Brett saison, a style known for barnyard funk, scored national medals in 2024 at both of the biggest craft beer competitions in American beer. 

Southern Delaware breweries: Inland Bays and further Inland

Bethany Brewing

38450 Hickman Road, Ocean View, 302-616-2691, bethanybrewing.net.

Bethany Brewing is perhaps the closest any Delaware beach brewery comes to being a secret. Tucked away at the back end of an inland Ocean View parking lot next to a seafood store and a restaurant called Munchies, Bethany is unknown to some who live mere miles away. 

The beers feel a bit like homebrews, rough-hewn and malty. The best are those where that’s a virtue, in particular a coffee-forward Rick’s Brown Ale named after the owner who came up with the recipe. The bartender on our visit favored instead the porter and the stout. 

But really, a visit to Bethany Brewing feels like traveling back to a time before beer hype existed. It is a bare-bones and somewhat sleepy place, more locals-only than any beachside surf bar that might claim the same. It’s the sort of daytime haunt you often hope to find while far from home: a place full of regulars and a life that exists only here, in this becalmed backchannel of the Inland Bays.

Ocean View Brewing

85 Atlantic Ave., Ocean View, 302-829-1530, oceanviewbrewingde.com.

Ocean View is, of course, Thompson Island’s other half — the other brewery from the Delaware beaches’ ubiquitous SoDel Concepts.

It’s not the same brewery as Thompson Island. And it’s not quite the same menu either. But it’s not not the same, either. The two share a brewmaster, and some of Thompson Island’s brews tend to show up at Ocean View. Some of Ocean View’s brews also show up at Thompson Island.

That said, the mood is much different at inland Ocean View: There’s a calmer, family-friendly vibe. Fewer cornhole courts, and more street-corn nachos. The namesake beers are different, as well. Where Thompson’s namesake IPA is an old school, balanced West Coaster, the Ocean View IPA is a light, low-bitterness, low-friction hazy. 

As at Thompson Island, your best move is to skip the novelty beers and order the classics. On a recent visit, our favorite beer by far was an unassuming English mild: It tasted, wonderfully, like a chocolate-covered toffee without the sweetness.

Brick Works Brewing and Eats

36932 Silicato Dr., Long Neck, 302-287-0077; 30 S Dupont Blvd, Smyrna, 302-508-2523, brickworksde.com

Brick Works, founded in Smyrna in 2016, wandered down to beer-starved Long Neck three years later to open a similar burger-filled brewpub at the western edge of the Inland Bays.

Brick Works is named after an old brick factory in Smyrna. But the vibe at both locations is more like mini-mall sports pub, filled with TV screens and ballcaps and burgers. The beer is mostly straight down the middle of the plate, but there are a few curve balls.

The brewer at the Long Neck location brewer might discover a sudden fondness for new-fangled Medusa hops one week, as we found on a recent visit. Medusa, if you’re unfamiliar, is a “Neo-Mexican” hop variety that imparted wild guava and melon flavors to a recent lager and IPA. Both were worthwhile experiments.

A stout from the Smyna location might offer the sugar and cinnamon of a shopping mall Cinnabon, while one from Long Neck serves up the vanilla and white-chocolate notes of an Otis Spunkmeyer cookie. 

Beer-spotters take note: While Brick Works is currently the only brewery within 10 miles of Millsboro, SoDel Concepts (Thomspon, Ocean View) told Delaware Online/The News Journal in 2023 that they were eyeing the city for a third brewery location. So the neighborhood might get a little more crowded. 

Mispillion River Brewing

255 Mullett Run St., Milford, 302-491-6623, mispillionriverbrewing.com

All right: So Milford’s hardly a beach town. But for the northern half of Delware, it’s en route to and from the beaches. And so it’s also worth including here as a possible detour. Besides, the gravel of the expansive patio at Mispillion River Brewing could be considered a river town’s version of a beach.

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Besides, the taproom at the decade-old brewery is an experience worth having. The room is a nest of weirdo knick-knacks from Imperial TIE fighters to wall-mounted dinosaur heads spouting expletives, and the customers might be equally lively with local gossip and perhaps a few bawdy jokes. This is true perhaps especially if the brewer wanders out from his station, visible through glass from the little bar. 

Mispillion brews an unpredictable variety of new beers each year, and the names are often unpredictable. Standbys include an IPA named Not Today Satan, and another named Reach Around. That said, the IPAs themselves often are no-nonsense: malt-balanced, classically bitter-hopped beers of the sort they used to make on the West Coast.

Matthew Korfhage is business and development reporter in the Delaware region covering all the things that touch land and money. A longtime food writer, he also tends to turn up with stories about tacos, oysters and beer. Send tips and insults to [email protected].