According to the absolute first Google search return, fruit and flowers are the appropriate gift for the fourth anniversary. I’m sure they were referring to wedding anniversaries, but the idea, the internet said, behind fruit and flowers is in the hope and support of fertility and renewal. That was enough to register it as a theme I wanted to bring out as 3rd Wave Brewing in Delmar prepares to celebrate its fourth year in business. Let’s start with the party and work our way backwards. The two-day event, noon to close Friday Sept. 30 and Sat. Oct. 1, will feature sour barrel-aged beers, one watermelon and the other peach, which have been aging four and three years, respectively. There also will be bands and giveaways and the like. Check the link above for more information.

As with any business, the key to success is fortitude. When 3rd Wave opened in the brewery Evolution had vacated there was a lot of learning to do and sometimes the lessons were tough. Although there was a very small a craft beer community at the time, the true boom hadn’t yet started. As with every revolution, events shape decisions way more than do plans, so as the pair got started, there was a little  on-the-fly decision making and expectation realignment than they had counted on. The practice of running a brewery is a lot different than the plan for running a brewery. There were pleasant surprises as well. That’s what makes the job worth doing.

Here’s a brief history of 3rd Wave from DelawareOnline.

Here’s a longer one.

Jerry, one of the brewers, mugs as head brewer John looks on.
Jerry, one of the brewers, mugs as head brewer John looks on.

The best laid plans

“I didn’t realize that we had to consistently create different events, and keep our thumb on it all the time to be creative,” said Suellen Vickers, who purchased the business with Lori Clough. “I thought just having a brewery that made good beer and a talented, creative team would be enough.”

Getting people to the brewery and getting people to know about it and become fans is a daily struggle. Even today folks walk in and say they never knew there was a brewery in Delmar. But Clough, Vickers and their team pushed the brewery as a destination, even letting a guy set up a table to sell food and barbecue there, while they evangelized in the restaurants, bars and liquor stores.

It worked so well that they couldn’t grow as they had anticipated. The plan had been to distribute far and wide, but a combination of market factors and the incredible demand for local beer reduced their range, but entrenched their brand as a staple. Another surprise was that making whatever beer you like only will take you so far.

“I didn’t realize that it was going to be so trendy,” Lori said of the craft beer culture. “I never looked at the industry that way.”

Beers become popular for sometimes no reason whatever and then brewers have to choose whether to participate in making the beer or not. Pumpkin beers were like that. This summer, Blood Orange IPAs came into vogue. So, while there was a little something to the “If you build it they will come” model, there also was some distance between the way 3rd Wave wanted to grow and what it would take to get there. Craft brewers fight wars on two fronts: keeping the established beer drinkers engaged and convincing new people to try craft beer.

pouring beer
Participating in festivals as well as sponsoring on-premise events themselves has been critical for 3rd Wave’s continued success.

Moving forward with a purpose

3rd Wave was first the name of Lori and Suellen’s home brewery and then the name of their business when they decided to make a go at starting a brewery. The earliest glasses didn’t even say “Delmar, DE.” on them because the glasses were printed when the team were still looking for a brewery. Glasses, logos and even the color selection were all part of the pre-brewery development process. They blue and orange color scheme they selected, they discovered after they chose Delmar, happened to be the Delmar town colors. Do you know your town colors? I didn’t even know there was such a thing before I moved to Delmar, but the town takes its colors very seriously.

In the four years since they’ve opened Lori, Suellen and the rest of the folks at 3rd Wave have become a real part of both Delmar and the larger community. There’s kind of a rockstar quality to it that surprises them regularly. Not just when people recognize them (or their brand) in the stores, but when they recognize their own brand. Each has a story about the surreality of seeing their beer in places they never thought they would.

For Suellen, it was going into Smitty McGee’s, which she never really thought of as a craft beer bar, and seeing two 3rd Wave Beers on tap. These weren’t friends of hers, or people who wanted to help, this was a popular local restaurant that recognized that 3rd Wave was good beer and wanted to sell it. For Lori, it was seeing 3rd Wave on special at local gas station marquis. The idea that having 3rd Wave available was something the store owners thought would entice people was both humbling and gratifying.

They certainly have been fruitful. On the anniversary of their opening and in the coming year expect to renew their commitment to the area as well as its beer drinkers. They hope to add a canning line and maybe even a larger outdoor seating area. More important, Lori and Suellen continue to employ the surfer’s attitude that so far has propelled their reputation, they respect the people who drink their beer and the people who drink their beer respect them.


Tony Russo
Author: Tony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies and dailies before joining the team that produces and among other destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer was published in 2014 and Delaware Beer in 2016. He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their two dogs comfortable.

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