Beer is a draw

Just because it doesn’t have a brewery or and real strong desire to have a massive beer festival that competes with the other massive beer festivals doesn’t mean that Laurel has to watch the economic boost attached to the craft beer culture pass it by.

Four years ago the chamber of commerce inaugurated the Bike ‘n’ Brew, a multi-teared bike tour event. This year it drew more than 500 people, who came because they heard it was among the best run events in the region. Plus, there’s beer.

Laurel actually is pretty centrally located for people looking to hit multiple breweries on the Shore. Striking distance from the Mid-Shore places, the Delaware beaches as well as the Salisbury and Ocean City area breweries people dig the opportunity to double dip.

But not everyone knew that there was fresh beer to be had. Since I was there and walking around with a camera on my neck, people asked me about the breweries in the area. Generally they asked whether I got to Dogfish much. My answers made those who didn’t have to be home that night happy and those who did a little disappointed. People planned to visit a brewery or two but a lot of them didn’t know they were within 30 miles of something like 10 breweries and less than an hour from 20 or so.

It was really kind of cook to be the ambassador in stead of the guy taking pictures of the ambassadors for a change and as I spoke to out of towners, I got to show off a little.

Sure Laurel was a little po-dunk-y, but you can get some of the best beer in the country at it’s (only?) good restaurant or jus a short hop from its city limits.

Somebody’s gotta be first

Doug Griffith of Xtreme Brewing opened up in Laurel nearly two years ago and has been participating in the Bike ‘n’ Brew since he set up his third, largest homebrew store in Laurel. He come because he’s a member of the chamber, even though he isn’t allowed to offer tastings of the beer that can be made from the kits in his shop. The Chamber ladies I spoke with had nothing but wonderful things to say about Doug and Patti (his wife) who are welcoming and accommodating.

Xtreme is part of the scene, as much for cred as to sample soda. Laurel doesn’t have a brewery but wants to set itself up as craft friendly. Lacking a strong craft beer culture, it’s seeking to import one and possibly incubate from the inside. To accomplish this, it has Xtreme Brewing on one side of the highway training and supporting home brewers, who almost inevitably become craft beer enthusiasts. On the other side it has Ryan Cunningham at Abbott’s
On Broad Creek, cultivating a spot to enjoy craft beer.

The question is why not Laurel?

Laurel still is trying to recover from a bypass that was installed a generation or more ago. It’s one of those small towns constantly trying to kickstart a cultural revolution. The latest gambit is the redevelopment of the downtown park, which is picturesque if underused. The park includes a riverwalk and just past one of the intersections is Abbott’s On Broad Creek.

It has no business being there, but I’m happy it is.

The mastermind, or one of them, is Ryan Cunningham, a chef who isn’t afraid to take chances. Abbott’s has the best selection of craft beers in town, superior even to the liquor stores. They have an exclusive IPA from Mispillion River Brewing Company and rotating taps highlighting all the best beers in the region.
The menu also is impressive and proportionally inexpensive.

The real Mr. Popularity

I only got to be a big shot when I wasn’t near Matt Funk, who was running the Dogfish Head booth. Matt and I met at a joint event at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth wherein he poured beer and I signed copies of my book (PLUG ALERT!) Eastern Shore Beer. He was more popular than me then, as he was at the Bike ‘n’ Brew. But I didn’t take it too hard.

Matt was there for the event and also had booked the evening at Abbott’s, which was having a Dogfish Head Tap Takeover that evening. So while he was stuck in the coolest restaurant in town, talking craft beer with people, handing out cool gear and enjoying Indian Brown Ale responsibly, I got to do not that. So somehow I win. I think.

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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