It was less of a beer festival and more of a party.
That’s what I thought when I slipped in the fourth annual Shore Craft Beer festival downtown Ocean City last week. The day was scorching, and I found out that you can in fact get sunburn through your clothes. I was grouchy, sweating, and had walked three blocks to Sunset Park because all the good parking spots were taken. I needed a beer to soothe my spirits, and this was the place to do to it.
When I arrived, I was confronted with a crush of people, laughing loudly, chattering with friends and neighbors, clutching their commemorative festival glasses or plastic cups, rimmed with suds. I missed out on the dress code: ballcaps, shorts, T-shirts.
People were packed in groups, quickly forming friendships with the power of liquid courage, and I suddenly was gripped with fear of missing out on the fun.
I elbowed through the crowd, slowly weaving my way through Sunset Park to see this year’s line-up … and to pick out my first drink.
The festival is a perfect way to sample all the craft beer that the shore offers at a beautiful park with a killer vista of the bay. I’m sure the Indian Summer kept everything thirsty and merry too. But this year, organizers went all out and brought in 14 breweries from Delaware/Maryland. With the funky vendors, the festival had to fan out in the gravel lot south of the park!
I passed by the usual suspects, Evolution, Burley Oak, which had groupies hanging nearby like fruit flies, waiting for the line to die down so they can get a second (third?) round. Instead, I made my way to my all-time favorite Belgian Blonde, served by my favorite Delaware brewery: Blue Earl Brewing Company.
Owners Ron and Rosemary Price were behind the taps, serving the occasional customer. I’ll never understand why people in Maryland don’t flock to these guys, but hey, more for me.
At that point, I offer Rosemary a trade: a photo for a cup of the Honeysuckle Rose blonde ale. Seems fair, right?
She laughs at me, “I would have given you a glass anyways!”
After the trade is done, she hands me a plastic cup brimming with a citrus-colored beer. I sigh, inhale the sweet orange and lemon, and the crowd’s shouts and conversation fades away. I wasn’t a nobody any more, I became a woman with a beer, joining the communal toast. It’s light and fresh, the perfect drink for a hot day where you know no one.
It might be my imagination, but the crowd parts easier for me now that I have a beer in hand. Quickly, I made the same deal with J.R. Roundtree of Delmar darling, 3rd Wave.
“That’s a fantastic last name,” I told him, sipping on the cinnamon-peppered Jack’D Belgian Pumpkin ale. I figured, like a bar, if you know no one, chat up the bartenders.
“I know it is, I’m trying to get it,” Traci Huggins deadpanned, giving J.R. the side-eye. I almost snorted in my pumpkin ale, laughing with them.
“Hope I didn’t start anything, man!” I said, to J.R who smiled merrily back at me.
The crowd became less intense, or maybe it was the libations working their magic through me, and I managed to make my way to the crowd. A duo (he on the guitar, she on the drums) crooned Clapton’s “Layla” to a group lounging on beach chairs. I watched two women danced playfully to the music, and I found myself swaying to the tune.
As I got my last beer (a dessert, the Rise Up Stout) around 4 p.m., a half-hour before closing time at the largest one-day happy hour, you’d think the party would die down. Instead, I looked around, and I was still surrounded by people. From-heres, come-heres, tourists on beer-cations, craft vendors chatting up window shoppers, all mingling with red-faces from either from sunburn or the booze.
In its fourth year, the OCtober beer festival grew into one of the best kind of gatherings – where the drinks are cold, good tunes, the faces are friendly and we’re all united with beer and brotherly love. Shore craft’s shindigs started off small, but they’ve really blossomed into the kind of parties that everyone in town wants to be invited to.