From chapter 1: Good Morning! Would You Like a Beer?
Welcome to Delmarva
Towns sprung up every seven miles along Route 13 on Delmarva—the peninsula that includes Delaware, Maryland and Virginia—clustered around the train stations that carried grain and people north and south for the better part of the 19th and 20th centuries. Some people say that’s how far trains could travel without needing water, others, that seven miles is a half-day trip by horse and wagon. The latter fact better accounts for the east-west distances that crisscross the peninsula, but railroad people argue their point passionately and it is a fact easier let go than debated.
Whether attributable to the difficulties with horses or with trains, modern Delmarva communities, like so many in rural America, tend to be clusters of box stores surrounded by car dealerships and strip malls that punctuate empty stretches where agricultural supply stores and the odd McMansion break up the farmland. As late as 2007, the farmland increasingly was being converted into potential developments. Even as the odd small business went under, and those with land to sell dismissed whispers of a housing bubble on the horizon, the housing market continued to burn hot on Delmarva.
This was good news for Bryan, who was doing well in the construction business. Although things were slowing down, the For Sale signs along the highways and backroads in his travels bolstered his confidence in the market. People were still cashing in on their land. Farmers continued to command and receive top dollar from developers who, leveraged though they were, still couldn’t subdivide fast enough. Baby-boomers were selling their homes in Northern Virginia and all over New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a king’s ransom and retiring to homes they could purchase, or have built, with cash. Bryan leveled the land in preparation for new construction. His would be one of the first industries hit by the coming storm, which everyone still was calling a “correction” in 2007.
Bryan had been brewing beer for some time and Saturdays were his errand days. He would make the trip to the nearest homebrew store, pick up a kit—all of the components one needs for making beer, including the ingredients and a detailed recipe—for a beer he hadn’t tried, and spend the rest of the weekend brewing. For Bryan, the hour-long ride to the brewer supply store was a pleasant one, now that he knew how to find it.
Driving on the back roads of Delmarva is a pleasant experience if you have nothing better to do. A combination of mediocre planning and history make for road patterns that make sense, except when they don’t. Traditional roads, pre-auto leftovers, have been paved but not widened in many areas. Development during the four post-war decades meant some roads end at large swaths of housing, or at a major throughway and are continued on the other side with no mechanism for crossing.
The widened roads seem built for speeding, with long, straight flat stretches among the soybean fields. If the sun is shining, no matter your musical preference, you imagine a banjo-picking soundtrack accompanying you as you drive. You’re on an adventure and it’s a hopeful one. Overcast days soundtrack to something ominous—late Johnny Cash or early Bruce Springsteen—but the drives are always road trip-cinematic. Until the turn, the hill, or the deer materializes. Then it is all adrenaline and swearing.
In the stretch along Hudson Road before the final turn onto Wiley Branch Road where the homebrew store is, the road barely and comfortably winds through the trees. The 50-foot tree wall gives way to a 10 foot tall corn wall in the summer, which, added to the road’s narrowing, gives the impression of a funnel. It is not until reaching the narrowing point that you realize the road bends, and another, smaller road (the road is listed as “Road 411A” on maps and on Google, but the signpost that has been replaced at least once says “Delberts Strip”), branches from it. Bank left, and after a few hundred feet, turn right and creep along. When Bryan was a patron, Google maps could only get you within half a mile of the place and then you were on your own. Only the lucky few and those following someone who knew the way, found the store on the first go, even though there was a small, hand-painted sign along the road announcing its presence.
The shop was the epicenter for the home brew boom and a vanguard of the craft beer revolution through the turn of the century. When Bryan started buying kits there, the operation was called Delmarva Brew Craft. It wasn’t so much a business as a grand shed, situated just off the long driveway that ran past the modest home of Doug and Patti Griffith.
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