The seaside town of Lewes, Delaware, has a charm quite different from the other beach towns of Maryland and Delaware. Instead of turning toward the water, Lewes leaves the beach across a canal and turns more inward, toward its historical buildings, shops and restaurants.
It’s been growing in recent years, with new shopping centers and suburban communities spreading west along Routes 9 and 1. And, oh happy day, now this is where you can find local, hand-crafted spirits. Gin and vodka, rum silver and spiced. Craft beer and local wines. All within three miles of each other.
We took a tasting tour of all three as the Memorial Weekend bore down on us. The vacationers were coming but mostly, we enjoyed the last quiet moments before the season began.
Nassau Valley Vineyards, Delaware’s first winery, has been producing wine from local grapes for nearly 30 years. The tasting room and winery are right off busy Route 1, behind neat rows of grapevines. They produce everything from a leathery cabernet to a sunny peach wine. Some of their signature wines are produced from grapes grown on the property while others, including the peaches and blueberries, are made from fruit grown around the mid-Atlantic and New York state.
A tasting costs $5 for six sips. Take a self-guided tour of the winery to learn about the property here as well as get a glimpse of wine’s glorious history. Or find a gift of wine or wine-related items to take with you.
I was a fan of their Naked Chardonnay, fresh with a hint of fruit. The Delaware White, sweet and fruity, is made with Delaware grapes grown on the property. We took that home and made a fresh, lively sangria.
Nearby brand new Beach Time Distilling, opened in August 2015. It’s down just about a half mile from the winery, across Route 1 and down Nassau Road, next to Old World Breads bakery. (Glad we stopped there for some delicious carbs!)
Beach Time Distilling is the work of a Dogfish Head alumnus who considered opening a brewery before opting to produce “leisurely refined spirits.” Beach Time makes its wares in a 66-gallon Polish still you can see from the tasting room. There’s a smooth vodka, gin that turns tonic into a fresh botanical cocktail, and four rums, silver, gold, spiced and java. A toasted coconut rum is on its way later this summer. A tasting costs $5. Cocktails are also available. The occasional tours are listed on the website.
After a busy morning, we were famished. Our final stop on our tasting tour was Crooked Hammock Brewery. Opened in December 2015, the beach-themed brew pub has everything for a happy meal. A big cavern of a dining room with a beachy theme opens to a picnic deck with pingpong and, yes, hammocks. Great pub food and a wide range of beers. I chose a flight of their four signature beers. I’m always a fan of IPA and brown ale. Here I liked these the best.
All three are on the Delaware Beer Wine and Spirits Trail, a spirited way to visit the First State.
ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman