On First State Brew Tours, you can sample beer while leaving the driving to someone else
At Liquid Alchemy Beverages—“Delaware’s one and only producer of award-winning hand-crafted meads (honey-based wines) and hard ciders”— there is a sense of community.
“If you’ve noticed, there are no TVs in here,” says Jeffrey Cheskin, co-owner of the meadery. “We wanted to make this more like a speakeasy—you’ll talk to the bar staff, you’ll talk to your neighbor, your surroundings will be your entertainment.”
Liquid Alchemy, located in an industrial area on Brookside Drive in Wilmington, is run by Cheskin and his partner, Terri Sorantino. While most of their focus is on the three-year-old company, their other passion project is First State Brew Tours. And again, community is the theme.
Since its beginning in December, First State Brew Tours has conducted 11 tours, and counting. The tours, on the first three Saturdays of every month, take bus riders to upper, middle, or lower New Castle.
Today I’m visiting Cheskin at Liquid Alchemy before going on the middle New Castle tour, which consists of Argilla Brewing Co. at Pietro’s Pizza, Dew Point Brewing Co. and Twin Lakes Brewing Co. Buses are provided by All In One Transportation, which, conveniently, is located next to Liquid Alchemy.
Cheskin and Sorantino’s idea behind the tours was to make craft breweries in northern Delaware as accessible as possible to customers while eliminating the need for those customers to drive. “If we can cut down on the number of drinking and driving arrests and fatalities, and this can be part of the answer, I’ll be happy as hell,” says Cheskin.
Tickets for the tour are $59, with a $5 discount if you take an Uber or Lyft to the bus pickup location, which is usually the first brewery on the tour. Today it’s Argilla Brewing at Pietro’s Pizza. I thank Cheskin and hail an Uber for a ride to the first spot.
Argilla sits in a strip mall in Newark, near the Kirkwood Library. Inside, it’s dark. Pizzas are being pulled from an oven. It’s about noon, I’ve just had mead for the first time and I’m excited to move to something a little more familiar: beer.
At Argilla, I meet a fellow tourist, Michael Berninger, an architect and homebrewer who has been helping out at Liquid Alchemy for two years, almost since the start. He’s even won a bronze medal in a brewing competition, just working from a brewing kit. This is his first time on a First State Brew Tour.
“I brew beer and I enjoy drinking beer and learning about the stages,” he says, looking at a menu and writing down on a slip of paper what he wants for his flight.
This is the second tour for Michael Ray, who is 39 and from Bear. “I went on the first tour and it was a blast.” He’s familiar with Argilla but he wanted to check out both Dew Point and Twin Lakes.
Our guide is Joe Conway, who wears almost all black and a Guinness hat. He has a grey beard and speaks with a rasp. Conway knows craft beer. He runs DE Brew Trail, a website featuring craft beer news and a map of local breweries. He leads us out from Argilla to the bus. Normally it’s an unassuming 16-seater, but today it’s a school bus, with all of the nostalgic fixings—a musty smell, gray leather seats, an absurd but charming way to go from brewery to brewery.
I look out the window as the sun begins its slow afternoon descent. We’re smack in the golden hour. I’m drinking water as we coast through hills and clusters of woods en route to Dew Point Brewing Company. I can relax. I’m glad I don’t have to drive.
Dew Point is stunning. It occupies an old brick snuff factory in Yorklyn. There are picnic tables near a tower by the entrance. Inside, the barroom is open and bright. Exposed wooden beams interlock across the ceiling. It’s the kind of place I’d love to bike to.
I belly up to the bar and pick the first four beers I see on the board.
“I’ve never had a flight before,” says Stanley Taylor, who came with Ray. This is also Taylor’s first beer tour. “Now when I come back I’ll know what I want and I have three different places to do that at,” he says.
After an hour of talking and drinking, our group goes back to the bus to head to the third and last stop, Twin Lakes Brewing Co. in Wilmington.
It’s a big warehouse, nestled among other warehouses, located near the Christina River. When you enter Twin Lakes, it’s quiet, but the bar is full. There’s a massive portrait of George Washington on the wall.
During the tour I got to take a handful of Cascade hops and smell them. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to the raw ingredients of beer. You also get samples of beer and refills, lots of refills. Sitting at the bar, I hesitate to order another flight, because I don’t want to go home a drooling, stumbling mess.
But there is more to the tour than sampling great beer. I’ve met an interesting group of people, and by the end of the tour everyone had kind of intermingled. And that’s intentional. First State Brew Tours—i.e., Cheskin and Sorantino—want you to engage, to talk and connect not only with the breweries you visit but the people around you, too.
Take Peter Fomin, for instance. At 23, he’s among the younger people on the bus. “I was slightly curious how a brewery works,” says Fomin, who came with buddies from his days at the University of Delaware. “But I was more interested in hanging with friends.”
I take a sip from my flight. At this point, I have no idea what I ordered, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve had some great beer, acquired a sense of the brewing process and met some interesting people. And I let someone else do the driving.