Craft beer brewers abound beyond the Bay Bridge

PARSONBURG, Md. — If you stopped at every brewery between Kent Island, Maryland, and the Atlantic Ocean, well, odds are you would probably end up in jail before you ever saw the ocean. But visiting one or even two along your way to the beach, or when you get there, would be well worth your time if you enjoy good beer.

Truthfully, in recent years there’s been such an explosion of new breweries that it’s hard to cite each one along the shore. The lists you’d find online typically fail to mention a couple that another list might have. But a little bit of searching online, and, then a glance off the beaten path, could be worth your while.

Swapping stories at Tall Tales Brewing

That’s how you’d find Tall Tales Brewing, which is in what’s technically known as Parsonburg. It’s a brewery a couple hundred feet off the westbound lanes of U.S. 50 — an intersection with no light, mind you — that’s just a couple of miles east of Salisbury. But it’s clear more beer drinkers are finding it.

“We just tripled our size,” said owner Jason Hearn. “We just added a full bottling line and expanded into five states.”

As you might get from the name, there’s a gimmick to Tall Tales.

“All our beers are based on folklore,” said Hearn. “Some of them are not necessarily American folklore, but just stories or legends, old sayings, like Red Headed Step Child (an Irish red ale), which is our biggest-selling beer. It’s not necessarily a true tall tale, but everybody has always heard the expression.”

“We try to find fun things to do with the beer,” said head brewer Eric Camper. “People ask me all the time, ‘Do you make the beer and name it or do you name it and then make the beer?’

“We’ll come up with a couple of new things. You know we’re making a key lime beer so we’re trying to find something, a play on words for that. We’re going to call it Skeleton Key,” said Camper. “It could be some sort of pirate folklore. There’s all kinds of things you can do.”

Other beers found at Tall Tales have names like the Sasquatch Imperial Stout, the Paul Bunyan Belgian Strong Ale and the Blue Ox Blueberry Porter. A riff off Snow White is the Evil Apple Ale.

There’s also a full restaurant there, which makes it a convenient stop for lunch or dinner going to or from the beach.

The story behind Burley Oak Brewing

Another popular brewery can be found in Berlin, Maryland, only two minutes off U.S. 50 and a 10-minute drive from the ocean.

Bryan Brushmiller started Burley Oak Brewing company from out of his Salisbury garage, and made it a new career when he lost his job the Friday before Christmas 2008.

“I was in construction when the recession hit,” said Brushmiller. “I have a biochemistry degree, but I never got to use it, so making beer in my garage was super fun for me.”

But after spending 2009 trying unsuccessfully to find a new job, Brushmiller spent 2010 turning his hobby into his new career. He moved out of his Salisbury garage into Berlin, where he said town leaders were more than welcoming.

“Considering it was pretty much do or die, it was something that had to work,” said Brushmiller. “I basically lost my job and had a wife and two kids to support. To do so I worked an easy 16 hours a day every day for probably two or three years straight. Almost every day.”

Even then, Brushmiller said he took out a second mortgage, cashed out his retirement plans, and maxed out his credit cards to get started. He worked several months and wrote hundreds of checks before he even sold his first pint. And on Aug. 1 of 2010 he realized he needed to open by the end of the month or else. He opened on Aug. 28.

Flash forward to today and you can find Burley Oak beers on tap in Baltimore and stocked in stores throughout the region. And the stress of trying to make it in the beer industry has seemingly faded from Brushmiller, who comes off as laid back but also very passionate about what he’s doing.

His beers tend to be full of life, too.

“We just make new beers all the time,” he said. “We just have a tendency to make beers we want to drink, or beers we want to perfect, or beers we want to tackle that are technical, or beers that are just fun.

“Some of the more popular styles have a tendency to be IPAs or hoppy beers, and then we go on the other end of the spectrum with sour beers.

“It’s wild, man,” said Brushmiller. “Delaware, D.C. and Maryland. We’re trying to keep it real small, but we definitely get recognized.”

Breweries abound along the shore

There are lots of other breweries on the shore — some you’ve heard of, and some you haven’t.

Nearly all of the startups talk about the influence Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware, (roughly 20 to 30 minutes from Rehoboth Beach, depending on traffic) has had on the industry there. And it’s all positive. A tour of that facility, which is much bigger than any of the other breweries in the area, takes about an hour and you probably want to reserve a spot before you go. It includes free samples and the tour guides tend to be creative and funny. You’ll definitely be entertained.

In the heart of Salisbury you can find Evolution Craft Brewing, which also is found throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

When Evolution moved out of its original Delmar, Delaware, location, 3rd Wave, which bills itself as the only all-female owned brewery in the region, moved in. It’s in downtown Delmar, just five blocks north of the Maryland line.

You also can find lots of craft brew when you finally get to the beach.

In Delaware, in addition to Rehoboth’s Dogfish Head bar and restaurant, you have the Dewey Beer Co. on Coastal Highway in Dewey. It’s almost a contradiction to the rest of the town. The craft beer is served with a menu you’d normally see in Rehoboth, and that makes it stand out in a party town otherwise known for cheap beer and cheap food.

In Ocean City you have the Ocean City C Brewing Co. and Assawoman Bay Brewing on Coastal Highway in mid-Ocean City, and Backshore Brewing Co. at 10th street on the Boardwalk.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up