(May 1, 2015) Ocean City Brewing Company hosted the third installment of the ongoing “Beer Talk & Tasting” series on Monday, designed to spread the word on the growing movement in the area, both to businesses and consumers.
Sponsored by ShoreCraftBeer.com, the latest discussion included representatives from nearly a dozen different breweries on the Eastern Shore.
“We started this effort last fall,” organizer Ann Hillyer, from OceanCity.com, said. “We decided that Ocean City and the Eastern Shore make a fantastic craft beer destination.”
Hillyer touted the fact that eight craft breweries are now within a half-hour drive of Ocean City, with another 10 in the immediate area.
Two more breweries, in Snow Hill and Salisbury, are also on the way, Hillyer said, adding that area hotels, restaurants and transportation companies are all working together with area breweries to develop new beer-centric activities.
“This is an amazing thing that’s happening just since the fall,” Hillyer said.
Following the introduction, several brewers participated in a TED Talks styled roundtable.
Asked about the “moment of insight” in becoming a brewer, Burley Oak Brewing Company founder Bryan Brushmiller said, simply, “I got fired from my job.”
“The recession of 2008 hit and the company I worked at … fired 52 employees the Friday before Christmas,” he said. “I figured that’s not really want I wanted to happen again, so I decided being in business myself would be a better activity. It just so happened I really liked brewing beer and was doing it in my garage a lot. Now I just have a bigger garage and a bunch of people helping me clean up.”
Hillyer asked the brewers about new trends in brewing, including the recent explosion of sour beers.
Lori Clough, owner of 3rd Wave Brewing Co. in Delmar, said fruit wheat beers were among her top sellers.
“I do think as far as drawing people in to craft beer, this kind of sweeter fruit wheat beer will draw some people in,” she said, adding that she believed lambics and Berliner weisses would be the next trend.
Dave Marquis from Chesapeake Brewing Co. said he expected “a lot of off-the-wall brews” in the coming years.
Adam Davis, from Backshore Brewing Company, suggested saisons and farmhouse ales could be on the rise.
“These styles of beer [are] traditionally brewed with farmhouse ingredients – whatever the farmer had available to give,” he said. “It’s a really wide-open category. If we’re talking about beers that can have a lot of different flavors, a lot of different aromas … the style category is wide open. If you read the style guidelines it says that it can range from low alcohol to high alcohol, light in color to dark in color. There’s really no holds barred with a saison.”
Asked if the large influx of breweries on the shore would help or hurt the overall cause, Eric Camper of Tall Tales Brewing Company brought up the rise of brewery bus tours.
“I know friends that never would have come to a craft brewery until they had all these tours coming down,” he said. “I have friends that get on these bus rides and they go from brewery to brewery. It’s a great idea. It’s very portable [and] it’s very safe, so I don’t think it’s a competition at all. I think the more that come down here the more people will see us as a craft brewery destination.”
Reflecting on other craft beer destinations, Clough cited Ashville, N.C. as an excellent model.
“You can walk to eight breweries. I had some phenomenal beers there, and that’s what we would like this area to become,” she said. “We need to work on this area becoming a craft beer destination. There’s 18 breweries for these guys to come to, which will then support all the restaurants, all the hotels in the area.”
Mike Lee from Ocean City Brewing Company talked about the value of education in the craft beer movement.
“Formal training of your staff is the way to go,” Lee said. “Whether you’re a restaurant owners or hotels or whatever it is, there are certain things that you can mention to every single guest that will increase your sales big time.”
Tap takeovers, or bringing a brewer in to talk to customers and pour samples of their beer, Lee said, can also be beneficial.
“When you get the brewer in front of people that might be your Bud Light drinker out at the bar they might say, ‘oh this is the brewer? Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’ We try to do a lot of those,” he said. “It’s really cool for us to get out to places we normally wouldn’t be … and get to talk to the guests directly about our product when normally they might just be reading a description on a menu.”
Anthony Towey of OceanCity.com also underscored the importance of educating staff in hotels and restaurants, citing the work-in-progress craft beer certification program.
“As a beer drinker there’s nothing more frustrating than when go into a place and ask … what do you guys recommend and they say, ‘I don’t know,’” he said. “Education is key to us. I guarantee if you have servers in your restaurant that can’t explain to a beer drinker what they’re drinking, why they should be drinking it and what they may or may not like, they’re going to find somewhere else.”
Towey is working towards creating a “universal … training certification course” for local servers using the “Server 101” beer course on CraftBeer.com.
“We’re going to take that material and actually take that basis for the course and add a local component to it with information from all these guys,” he said. “Be on the lookout for that in the next couple weeks or so. We’re hoping it goes a long way in helping your staff and keeping your customers happy.”
For more information visit www.shorecraftbeer.com.