It is cold in Crisfield. Cold and gray and lonely. When asked about the Saturday afternoon crowds, Carolyn Marquis, who owns Chesapeake Brewing Company with her husband David, shrugs. Crisfield is deathly quiet in the off-season; in fact the Blue Crab Cafe, where the brewery is housed, is apparently the only year round restaurant. Carolyn’s shrug said that winter is for locals and brutal winter afternoons are for hardy locals.
A couple jumpstarting their weekend joined us at the bar. He was from D.C. via Germany. She, comparatively, was a local. They were excited to be in out of the cold, and excited to have stumbled upon the brewery.
“I thought, at first, your sign was advertising a brewery that was someplace else,” the visitor said. His accent was subtle enough that he could have passed for Austrian. But, being a good German, he announced the fact before praising the beer he was drinking.
The couple shared a flight. He started from the dark end and worked down, she from the light end. As it turned out, the feminine half of the couple would nurse the pale ale as her escort burned through the Oyster Stout, DIPA and Amber.
The Oyster Stout at Chesapeake Brewing Company is outstanding. Mineral-y (the other descriptor I lighted upon “dirt, but in a good way” just didn’t get at it) with a rich smoke aspect that tips neither toward bitter nor sweet, it shouldn’t even count as a prediction that this will emerge as the brewery’s breakout beer.
It was good enough to make the German philosophical enough to attack and defend the Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity laws) in the same breath: “In Germany, this would be a malt liquor.”
Even as Stone opens in Germany, (sidenote: every second Stone doesn’t employ Billy Dee Williams as their German spokesperson is a wasted second) the notion of American experimentalism is spreading around the globe. If you walk in to any local brewery, even one in the (apparently) empty town of Crisfield, you expect to be able to drink at least one challenging beer and one accessible beer. America joined much of Europe when it began embracing beers with body and complexity, and this is what has opened minds all over the planet to the possibilities of American beers.
But David and Carolyn are part of another returning trend that is really exciting—the mom and pop brewpub. Restaurants are done dipping their toes into craft beer culture. Most anyone who patronizes an independent restaurant is going to expect the place to have craft beer. As an accomplished homebrewer (and baker, apparently) David took the next logical step and begin brewing on a three barrel system. There were some bumps between the earliest batches before the current lineup was decided upon, but the brewery now sells its beers alongside the best the region has to offer.
The emerging trend might help save the independent American restaurant that is under continued chain restaurant assault. “House beer” is common, generally well received and, critically, has a fantastic profit margin. Plus, regionally they work well together. In the case of the Shore, places like Specific Gravity, Fagers and even Seacrets have become as enthusiastic promoters of drinking locally as they have been of eating locally.
Seeing first hand as local restaurants and brewers lock arms and work together for the region’s success as well as for one another’s success, is a great reminder about how far we’ve come as a culinary destination in the last decade, and how open is the future.