For years, I have driven through Delaware without thinking twice about stopping. Delaware, despite being the second-smallest state in the United States, always seems to take forever to drive through, relatively speaking. My whole life, I have taken the drive from New Jersey to Virginia and/or North Carolina, and Delaware was never an attraction to me.
I’m being a bit more open-minded about things, though, and I’m sure there’s lots of good stuff in The First State (yes, little Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution). So this time, we decided to check one of those cool places out. On our way down to the Outer Banks this December, we stopped at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Dogfish Head has earned a reputation for being one of the United States’ top craft breweries since its inception roughly 20 years ago. Now, its beers can be found on shelves in over 30 states across the country, and it has earned a reputation for its creative flavors and tastes.
If you’re traveling down the Eastern Shore, Dogfish Head is a quick detour that can be easily enjoyed in under two hours. Additionally, it’s easy to access if you’re staying at Delaware’s shore points. Located in a neighborhood of townhouses, you don’t necessarily expect to have a brewery pop up at the end of the street – but there it is. Dogfish Head, once America’s smallest brewery, is now its 38th largest (of over 3,000 domestic commercial breweries). This is evident with its plethora of vats on the premises, as well as a large warehouse up the street.
We went inside at quarter of 1 on a Saturday and immediately were able to hop on the 1 PM tour. Granted, it was December, so crowds weren’t too large; I have read that during the summer, you may have to wait over an hour for your tour. The tour is free, and it comes with four beer samples, so theoretically, you could go and enjoy the experience without spending a single cent. The one-hour tour gave us a background of the history of the brewery and how they have expanded over the past twenty years. I learned a lot about the beers and also, the nomenclature behind the beers. (For example, Dogfish Head is named after a town in Maine. Their trademark 60-, 90-, and 120-minute IPA’s are named after the amount of time used to gradually add hops during the brewing process.) One of the highlights included seeing the exclusive Paraguayan palo santo wood vats. Among the hardest woods in the world, palo santo, or “holy tree,” is constructed into a tank used to store the Palo Santo Marron, one of Dogfish’s exclusive beers. Additionally, we were able to get a glimpse into Dogfish’s large bottling and distribution facility, which bottles and labels over 600 beers per minute during peak production hours.
In addition to our four sampler beers, we enjoyed some lunch from their on-site food truck. For a reasonable $5, you are able to order a variety of sausages. I opted for the bratwurst, and Jolyn got a sausage with Greek seasonings and feta cheese. We opted to not order any beers, as we already had our samplers and had three more hours to drive before reaching Virginia Beach.
Here’s a recap of the samples of beer we tasted. They offer two beers of their choice, then you get to choose your last two.
Piercing Pils – Similar to a traditional Czech Pilsener, but, as the name implies, more “piercing.” The hops are quite powerful, with crisp, fruity notes of pear.
Punkin Ale – A tasty brown ale with pumpkin notes. The pumpkin flavor is not too overpowering, so those who aren’t huge fans of pumpkin (me) can still enjoy it.
Burton Baton – This mix of IPA and English ale is heavy (10% ABV) and hoppy. It soaks in oak tanks for one month to complete the brewing process, so you may notice an oaky taste.
Raison d’Etre – A Belgian-style brown ale that is brewed with raisins. It goes down smoothly with sweet hints of molasses and raisins. Some may say that it’s too sweet, but we really enjoyed this one.
Higher Math – At 17% ABV, one of the strongest beers you can find at Dogfish. Syrupy and sweet, Higher Math is brewed with fermented cherries, and you can really taste it. It’s a bit like a port wine. Overall, it’s a unique beer that’s worth tasting, but I wouldn’t order it (especially for $36 for a 4-pack).
Palo Santo Marron – The most complex tasting experience we had at Dogfish Head, the Palo Santo Marron sits in the aforementioned wood casks for over a month before bottling. With tastes of caramel and vanilla interspersed with distinct flavors of smoky wood, it’s probably as close as you’d want to come to eating wood. (I mean that in a complimentary way, too.) This strong 12% ABV ale is unlike any beer I had ever tasted, and is definitely worth trying. I’ll probably pick this up in the future.
So that ends our tour of Dogfish Head. The next time you’re in Delaware, do yourself a favor and pause for a pitstop at this fantastic American craft brewery.