Zach Newton and I go back to a time when there was no such thing as Burley Oak Brewery, just a bunch of people hanging around in the husk of a former barrel factory fighting the cold or sweating in the heat and hoping that before too long there would be beer to be drunk. Often people just would bring there own. “Their own” at the time heavily favored Lot 3, by Evolution, which recently had hit the shelves in bottles. This was fewer than five years ago but feels as if it were a billion.
After Burley opened, we referred to Zach as the hot blonde behind the bar. He was full-faced at the time, beautiful in a masculine way, and we liked to tease him because he could take it and because he had a beer vocabulary that made the rest of us ashamed. In a time when craft beer still was just starting to happen in a big way, Zach new beer. He had an educated opinion of beers the rest of us maybe had heard of, but just as often didn’t.
Zach is an old hand now, and he’s still hot but keeps his hair too short to pass for a blonde. He still has an outrageous sense of beer flavor, names and expectations. Moreover, although he makes more than a respectable living in a grown-up job, he still takes shifts behind the bar at Burley because he likes talking up the beer and being a part of the culture. For these and a host of other reasons, I was really happy to see him behind the bar when I blew into Burley for the second crowler in my “God Bless Crowlers” series.
“What is that?”
Burley, like Rubber Soul (and, I assume but will confirm shortly RaR) does brisk crowler business. In case you didn’t follow the link and don’t get the gist a crowler is a 32 ounce can of beer, canned to order at the bar. It has all the flexibility of the growler in that you can have it filled with any beer you want and all the portability and longevity of a can. In this reporter’s opinion, it might be the perfect craft beer vessel for the coming decades.
Zach told me that the crowlers are moving pretty briskly at Burley, which isn’t much of a surprise. Burley draws a healthy mix of aficionados and fans along with a smattering of lay beer drinkers. Saturdays, he said, are particularly insane.
I only had to wonder why for a second, because after I got him to pour one for me, I became something of an object of attention myself (and I’m not the guy who draws looks at a bar).
“What do you have there?”
Is was Nina Cameron. She and Bill Baumgardner are members of what I like to think of as the Shore Elite: locals who make it a habit to visit and evaluate Shore Craft breweries with some regularity.
They’re not homers, per se, but living in Georgetown makes them partial and conversant about 16 Mile Brewery. My “home” brewery is 3rd Wave (eight blocks from my house, thank you) so it’s easy to know a ton about them without making any effort. But I do make an effort, as do Nina and Bill.
I explained crowlers to them and told them about the current three places you can get them on the Shore and they were more than a little intrigued. It occurred to me that that is the reason that Burley fills so many on a Saturday night. One person gets one filled, it attracts other people’s attention. Then, if they prefer, they can have one as well. Taking your favorite beer to go, and being able to save it for a dinner you have planned some time in the distant (not not-so-distant) future is a legitimate privilege. It adds an extra layer of leisure to craft beer.
I chose Rude Boy, which is not only my favorite Burley beer, but also one that isn’t being canned yet. The couple suffered me to pose with it, but I got the distinct impression they would be leaving with one or two of their own as well. (Author’s note: I chose it for my wife as well who would not have forgiven me if I came home with anything else)
Unlike Rubber Soul (for now) Burley Oak brewery does can beers. Rude Boy isn’t one of them. The great thing about crowlers is it makes local beer even local-er while making it more regional and national. Breweries that have crowlers give both locals and visitors the oprion of being their own exporters.
Craft beer can be, and at its best is, an extremely personal thing. The best beer in the world is a very subjective honorarium. Rude Boy isn’t a great example because it is well loved and almost certainly will be more widely distributed. But the one-offs, or the everyday beers that are popular enough, or barely popular enough to get regular tap time now can be shared.
For example, Burley makes a beer called “High Whhheat” which is a wheat and hibiscus beer. It is wonderful, but, to be fair, hibiscus isn’t a beer attribute that smacks of wide distribution.
But if you go to Burley and if you fall in love with this beer and want someone to be able to taste what you taste, get the freshness that is only possible in a hand canned beer, than the fact that you can ask Zach (or whomever) to put it in a can for you to take with you is irreplaceable.
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 OceanCity.com and ShoreCraftBeer.com 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.