It was a rainy, gray day when we ducked for cover inside the construction site that’s about to be Big Oyster’s newest, biggest brewery. In spite of the weather–the kind that makes you want to stay inside, bundled up and sipping on a craft beer from the comfort of your own home–construction was in full swing as workers bustled around, in and out of the big, red, barn-like structure, barely acknowledging the heavy rainfall. They’re building a brewery from scratch in what seems like a race against time, especially since the brew pub is slated to open the week of September 10.
Luckily, it seems like Big Oyster can do just about anything in any amount of time. They’ve only been around for two years, but they’ve already felt a need to expand physically as the demand for their beer grows throughout the lower shores of Delaware and Maryland, and increasingly up north. The quick expansion was inevitable.
A new brewery for the Big Oyster
“We’re at max capacity, so we really need this brewery open. Because we not only have our own restaurants that we want to carry more beer in, but there’s a higher demand for our product both on draft and in cans, and people are really excited about it.”
Mike Anderson is the Director of Sales and Distribution at Big Oyster. He, along with sales rep Emily Vachris, gave us a tour of the work-in-progress new brewery in Lewes, and then showed us around the current working brewery, just 10 minutes down the street in Rehoboth.
“Right now we only have draft beer, we’re looking to get a canning line and start canning some of our beer and distribute that locally and in Maryland,” Anderson said.
The canning line isn’t the only change that will come with the new brewery. The menu in the new brew pub’s restaurant will be a bit different from the other location’s, focusing more on smoked meats while continuing the Fins tradition of seafood and raw bar offerings.
And what’s possibly the biggest change for Big Oyster is the amount of beer they’ll soon be able to produce. Each tank in the Rehoboth brewery holds seven barrels of beer, while the industrial-sized tanks in the new brewery will be able to hold 30 barrels.
“One of the new tanks can fit all four of these barrels,” Anderson said, pointing at four of the Rehoboth brewery’s much-tinier tanks.
Growing with the grain
Anderson has been with Big Oyster for a decade, while Vachris has been with the brewery for two months. Still, they’re both just as excited to watch the business grow and to contribute to its expansion.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Vachris said. “I have to say, I’m kind of glad I started two months ago, because I can kind of see it grow into what it’s going to be.”
And Anderson has literally grown up with Big Oyster.
“I started when I was 15 or 16 working in the kitchens, grew up with the company and then thought it’d be a great idea to open a brewery,” he said.
Both employees look forward to the adventure that working with the new brewery will bring.
“Although it’s been really successful for 10 years, the Fins brand, we’re ready for something a little bit different,” Anderson said. “And we’re really excited to kind of break apart and have our own home up the street, and still be under the same umbrella at the same time.”
The road to operating a successful craft brewery isn’t always a smooth one–as Anderson said, although the competing local businesses are friendly, “it’s still a war for tap handles.”
And, he pointed out, the craft brands that are owned by larger corporations can set their prices lower and often sell more bottles than smaller, locally-owned companies.
“But we’re seeing a bit of a movement, especially down here, that people really want to support local businesses because they know that money is staying local and it’s staying back in their hometown,” he said. “So you’re not sending your money out of state, you’re sending it to your neighbors.”
The slow-growing trend toward buying local beer on the Shore might be reflective of a larger movement on the mainland.
“It’s the same for up north,” Vachris said. “You’re definitely seeing that movement where people go into a restaurant and say, what’s local? That’s the first thing out of their mouth, especially when they’re looking at beer.”
Hopefully, on Delmarva, drinking locally is a trend that will stick.
A look at Big Oyster’s brews
Big Oyster has three flagship beers that will be coming soon in cans, described here by Director of Sales and Distribution Mike Anderson.
West Coast-style IPA • Citrus and pine taste • 6.3% ABV
“Hammerhead we’ve had since day one, it’s our flagship beer, the recipe hasn’t changed since we’ve started and it’s been our best-seller.”
Noir et Blue
Classic Belgian-style tripel • 9.0% ABV
“The Noir et Blue is a Belgian tripel and we cold-steep it with dried blueberry and black tea, so it’s super unique in that we don’t use any extracts or purees or anything. It’s just dried blueberry and black tea straight from a local spice and tea exchange in Rehoboth, so it’s all locally sourced and very organic, which is nice.”
American Blonde Ale • 4.7% ABV
“The Solar Power is a Belgian wheat beer, a little like a Blue Moon, we use organic oranges, and then we zest them–[Vachris] zested like 35 or 40 oranges yesterday, and then we cold-steep the zest in the beer after it’s made. It’s like a 45-minute, hour process, but the only other choice is to buy it frozen, and it’s just not the same quality. Even though it’s time-consuming and difficult for the brewers, we like to really pay attention to that and make sure it’s the highest-quality beer we can serve.”