Big Things Brewing in Lewes

The Current Sits Down with Dave Jones and His Wife Christine to Talk Lewes’ Newest Craft Beer Haven

Fermenting a new passion

The property at 1145 Savannah Road has come a long way over the last year. Whether by foot, bike, or car, passersby grow anxious for what is next. As I pulled into the parking lot, it felt ironic, almost serendipitous, that Tom Petty was singing “The waiting is the hardest part” over the radio. The good news is that the wait is almost over, as the countdown has begun for Lewes Brewing Company’s opening.

Dave and Christine Jones have known for years that one day they would be brewery owners, although Dave’s path to the job title Brewmaster looks a little different than others in the field. Almost 25 years ago, they launched a business in the auto industry, a collision center in Millsboro called “Auto Works.”  With a little hard work and determination, Auto Works grew into a second location, having over fifty employees before they decided to sell the business in 2022. Dave has always been passionate about cars, so this was a natural fit, but a homebrewing hobby and burgeoning craft beer scene sparked an interest in him that inspired this new career path.

Let it be known that before cars and brewing, there was cooking. Dave, a Delawarean through and through, was born on Dover Air Force Base. He recalls his childhood where he spent hours in the kitchen with his Sicilian grandmother, who showed him that a recipe was more creativity, heart, and love than a precise measurement of ingredients. Taking what he learned from those early years in the kitchen and pairing it with what he discovered traveling in Italy, Mr. Jones opened Luca Ristorante & Enoteca in Millsboro. Situated in a historic bank building, Luca served authentic Italian cuisine that rivaled the finest dining of surrounding cities. While this project certainly checked a box for Dave, the notion of craft beer still bubbled in the back of his brain.

The passion began to transform from cooking to brewing when Dave picked up homebrewing as a hobby over 20 years ago. Like a lot of homebrewers, Dave started out on a small Mr. Beer homebrew kit, tinkering with recipes and ingredients. Over time, his setup evolved, his knowledge deepened, and his product improved. It also happened that the craft beer community was a pretty fun place to be, so Dave and Christine began incorporating beer into their travels. They found themselves sipping on Lil Slurps at NoDa Brewing in Charlotte, having a few Hazifys in Fort Myers at Palm City Brewing, and falling in love with the uniqueness that is Burial Beer Co in Asheville (a favorite of yours truly I might add).

The more they explored the world of craft beer, the more they wanted to be a part of it. The wheels started to turn for them. They had experience running multiple successful businesses and Dave’s homebrewing was getting really, really good. Handing out samples to friends, family, bartenders, brewers, engineers, heck anyone they could, the feedback was always the same; – positive. He consistently heard “What is this and where can I get more?” from his growing fanbase. That’s all they needed to hear; they were ready to take the plunge. They just needed a place where they could turn this dream into a reality.

Walkers, runners, and bikers will all be able to go directly from the Trail to the bar top to order themselves an ice-cold refreshment.

Location, Location, Location

When scouting locations for the brewery, they first focused on the old Preservation Forge building, a former iron foundry on the corner of West 3rd and Chestnut in downtown Lewes, now home to Old Wood Delaware. Although they loved the building and its history, they could not land a deal there. While disappointing at the time, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Their search continued and led them to a hop (pun intended), skip, and a jump up Savannah Road to a triangular parcel, a little slice of heaven, if you will. Formerly home to a bike rental shop, vintage goods store, and a warehouse, the site needed some serious TLC. But Dave and Christine had the vision. It’s certainly taken them a little bit longer than expected to get the work done thanks to that pesky pandemic and some supply chain issues, but they’re getting closer and closer to completion. You can see the progress as you drive into town, as the stainless steel brewhouse, Brite tanks, and fermenters glisten in the sun, practically making your mouth water.

As if being less than one mile from town and less than two miles from the beach wasn’t enough, the brewery itself is nestled right alongside the Lewes-Georgetown Trail. Talk about a cherry on top. Assuming they are of age, walkers, runners, and bikers will all be able to go directly from the Trail to the bar top to order themselves an ice-cold refreshment. Dave mentioned how a group of twenty or so cyclists ride by almost daily chanting “WE WANT BEER! WE WANT BEER! WE WANT BEER!”  On days when he’s feeling down about the progression of the construction and figuring out the finishing touches, those moments always give him a little boost.

With Lewes Brewing Company’s opening right around the corner, Dave and Christine shared what we can expect to see at the brewery. While they won’t be doing any of the cooking this time around, you’ll be sure to see your favorite food trucks there every day. Live music will also occur regularly, with acoustic sets and the occasional open mic night. During the off-season they plan to incorporate more entertainment options and community-focused events.

The Beer

Okay beer guy, so what can you tell us about the beer? I’m glad you asked. Let’s dive into the most important part. Thanks to a recent change in state regulations involving self-distribution, you’ll likely see some Lewes Brewing Company beers floating around at your favorite bottle shops, bars, and restaurants. However, the majority of the beer will be flowing from behind the bar. Brewmaster Dave is a big IPA guy, but the draft list will have something for everyone. You’ll see plenty of ales and lagers spread across their fourteen taps. Variety is the spice of life after all. Recognizing that they are right on top of a highly trafficked trail, Dave also plans to have plenty of sessionable, lower ABV beers available.

Lewes Brewing Company prides itself on offering unique approaches to beer fans’ favorite styles. Much like how he would experiment in the kitchen as a kid, Dave plans to bring a similar approach to the brew deck as well. He often gets creative with new flavors and ideas, bringing a culinary flair to his recipes. He teased a Lemongrass IPA and an Orange Crush Pale Ale. Put me down for both, please. Dave plays around with ingredients, too. Most brewers have a favorite hop varietal, and Dave is no different. Like many, he loves hop juggernaut Citra and the citrusy flavors and aromas it presents. That said, he also likes trying new varietals and playing with unique growing regions. The vast majority of North American hops used in craft beer are grown in the Pacific Northwest. Recently, Dave has been testing out hops from California and Canada as well. Think of it like terroir in wine; where hops grow can actually have a pretty substantial impact on their composition, aroma, and flavor.

Christine and David Jones.

How the Magic Happens

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts, quite literally. Dave has some shiny, fun toys to play with beyond the bar. Fair warning: this section might get a little technical, so buckle up. In the southwest corner of the building sits a 10-barrel Craftmaster Stainless brewhouse. In addition to the larger brewhouse, Dave will be bringing in his 1-barrel homebrew system to experiment with so that there is always something new and different on tap. Hold up… what’s a barrel and what’s a brewhouse? Barrel refers to the volume of beer. One barrel equals 31 gallons. If you prefer to visualize, that’s 2 kegs or about 330 cans of beer. As for the brewhouse, simply put, this is where the hot side of things will happen when making their beer. Hot water and milled malted barley will be mixed, creating an oatmeal-like mixture called mash. This produces a sugary liquid called wort, which is then boiled in the kettle. During the boil, hops are added, offering bitterness to the eventual beer. For those of you who like the tropical aromas and citrusy flavors hops present, that comes later in the process.

So, we’ve talked about water, malt, and hops. That’s all we need right? Wrong. We still have to add a little magic, and that magic is called yeast. From the kettle, that hot, bittersweet liquid is run through a heat exchanger to cool things off before finding its way into the fermenters. Yeast then joins the party, going to town on those fermentable sugars found in the liquid. Carbon dioxide and alcohol are created in this fermentation process, officially turning that wort into beer. Lewes Brewing Company houses six fermenters, meaning they could have six beers coming to life in the back at any given time. So, we can drink it now? Well yes, you could, but we’ve got a few more steps. From the fermenter, the beer is transferred to a Brite tank, of which Lewes Brewing Company has two. In the Brite tank, the beer matures a bit, like a coming-of-age soap opera where beer is the main character. The beer is carbonated and clarified (style depending) and then sent to packaging. This varies from brewery to brewery, but Lewes Brewing Company will be kegging and canning their beers, so don’t forget to take a few cans to-go.

Bottoms Up!

The beer is now ready for consumption, and nothing beats drinking a barley pop outside on a warm summer day. Lewes Brewing Company will have green spaces where guests can lay out on a blanket and relax, as well as a sunny, spacious, patio. From the patio, you can see clearly across to Kings Highway. You’ll notice the backside of The Brush Factory, the weekend home of my favorite little farm stand, Rays Produce. Just beyond that, you’ll see Big Oyster Brewery. In most industries, it might be a little daunting having your competition lurking in your own backyard, but that’s the beauty of beer. With camaraderie at its core, the craft beer community has always had a “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality. Dave mentioned how many of his local brewery competitors have been nothing but supportive of him, offering tips, advice, and well wishes throughout the process.

When thinking about their three businesses, Dave and Christine find a common thread in the social component. They both love meeting new people, talking to and building relationships with customers, and seeing the smiling faces of someone pleased with their product. When asked what he wants readers to know about Lewes Brewing Company, Dave has a simple response. This will be a place where people can “sit and enjoy life,” he says. While the last few years have been challenging to many, he is confident that their brewery will allow people to return to a “happy state of mind.” I think I speak for us all when saying that sounds pretty nice right about now. Dave and Christine are cautiously optimistic they will open their doors this summer. If you’re cruising by on your bike before that day comes, be sure to throw out a “WE WANT BEER!” chant. Somewhere on the property Dave and Christine will be grinning from ear to ear.  

Zeke Ottemiller, Certified Cicerone, has been working in and around beer for the last decade. As a Certified Cicerone® (think Sommelier but for beer), he has covered all things craft from coast to coast, from sunny San Diego to the laid back Lower Slower. Zeke is the owner of Otter Craft Consulting, where he specializes in supporting craft breweries in their branding and marketing efforts.

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