Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New destinations

Though the overall economy may be stuck with a stubborn case of anemia, the craft beer industry is clearly in vigorous health, growing by 12% last year, according to the Brewers Association trade group. In northern Delaware, that robustness is evident in the launch of three new businesses in nine months -- a neighborhood bar, a taproom, and a gastropub -- each proudly specializing in serving craft beer.

Two Stones Pub, a self-described "temple for beer," opened in April of 2011 at Chesmar Plaza in Newark, boasting 24 free-flowing taps of carefully selected craft brews and an equally enticing bottle menu.

Michael Stiglitz, the youngest and most adventurous partner in Rehoboth's Pickled Pig Pub, broke from that venture to open Two Stones and to bank on his sense that the beer culture in northern Delaware is ready to support a pub with a deep specialty in craft brews. In addition to the overall growth of the market segment, Stiglitz also cites Delaware's abundance of great local breweries and the state's general business friendliness as factors in the recent start-ups.

"You also have city people who are retiring to Delaware or moving here to find a less urban environment, but they've come to expect good beer," Stiglitz said.

Next on the scene was Ulysses American Gastropub at the Shoppes of Graylyn in Brandywine Hundred, also outfitted with 24 taps and a deep list of bottled beers. Its grand opening was on December 21, 2011.

General Manager Chris DiNuzzo agrees that the Delaware beer scene is hitting its stride. He left his job at the City Tap House in Philadelphia to come here and help it grow. DiNuzzo says being on the doorstep of the highly developed Philly craft beer market contributes to Delaware's fortunes, as does "our proximity to some of the most refined and progressive breweries in the world -- Dogfish Head, Victory, and Yards."

January 19 brought the beer scene its latest boost with the debut of Ernest & Scott Taproom on Market Street in downtown Wilmington. Its specialty will be cask-conditioned beers, small-batch spirits, and boutique wines.

Proprietor Scott Morrison, who also owns Chelsea Tavern just up the street, says, "I believe in the craft beer movement. Its growth has been phenomenal, especially in this bad economy."

But more than anything, his decision to start Ernest & Scott, with its unique cask offerings and exclusively craft beer menu -- sorry, no Corona or Miller Lite will be on sale here -- was influenced by conversations with influential beer advocate Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewing. "Sam was the one who really got me excited about cask beer, because it made sense to me as the natural outgrowth of the craft beer movement."

So it will be easier than ever for local beer lovers to try something new or quaff a previously obscure pint, but will this new wealth of destinations cause turf wars between the businesses? Not according Stiglitz, DiNuzzo, and Morrison, who were remarkably unanimous in their views.

"I think the greater good here is more important than competition. We all need to work together to help increase Delaware's access to beers, both from existing sources and new breweries," said DiNuzzo. Stiglitz feels similarly that his own work to forge better relationships with distributors benefits all Delaware beer bars. Morrison's philosophy is that "positive energy begets positive energy," and he embraces the mutually supportive approach of the New York restaurateurs he once worked among. " In the long run it's a net win."

But there are some differences between the three businesses that will distinguish them in the market. Two Stones, for example, works to create the feel of a traditional corner bar for beer lovers. "That's what we want to be," says Stiglitz. "A neighborhood bar with a really deep beer list."

For Ulysses American Gastropub, high quality food is a big factor. "It's a massive part and an intricate balance to make sure we're helping guests appropriately pair their beer with the meals they're having," says DiNuzzo.

The particular draw of Ernest & Scott, Morrison predicts, will be their cask beer program. His cellarmaster, Scott Witzlsteiner, has purchased a large batch of firkins (nine gallon casks that are usually drained using only gravity), which the breweries will fill with custom formulations of their standard releases. The current breed of well-informed beer connoisseur, Morrison says, "will travel long distances to taste and be part of something unique."

1 comment:

  1. I've visited all three, and highly recommend them! Great post, Dave.