Less than a year old and growing, Wilmington Brew Works offers something special for everyone that walks through its historic warehouse doors.
Wilmington Brew Works – First Impressions
Opening in July of this year, Wilmington Brew Works might be new to the Delaware craft beer scene, but the defined branding, strong social media presence, and well-appointed space makes the whole operation look like an established local staple.
Right before the holidays, I was able to sit down for an informal chat and tasting with Craig Wensell, the CEO and head brewer of Wilmington Brew Works, in the beautiful bar and retail space located in the Old Ninth Ward area of Wilmington, Delaware. It’s a big, bright, airy building – lots of open space and walls lined with big windows. Rather than a typical bar, there is only a counter in front of the taps, encouraging guests not to linger at the registers, but rather mingle at the long, family-style tables that line the center of the main seating area. It’s a lovely space for meeting up, hosting events, and relaxing with friends.
Wilmington Brew Works is Craig Wensell’s second foray into the craft brewing business, and his experience shows. Craig has a clear vision as to what he wants out of the business, and while he is majority shareholder, he has a crew of carefully chosen co-owners on his team. Each brings important skill and knowledge to the business, including social media saavy, eyes for graphic design, and strong business acumen. Due to the diverse team in charge of Wilmington Brew Works, tasks can be delegated to the right people for each job. This leaves Craig the time to focus on his true passion – the creative process. Most of his time is spent in the back of house, experimenting and trying out new flavor combinations. I couldn’t wait to give his creations a try, and in my visit I learned a lot about what is surely my new favorite brewery.
A Bit of Wilmington History
The Spanish-style Colonial building that Wilmington Brew Works calls home has a long history, having been in operation for just over a century. Designed by Philadelphia architect Robeson Lea Perot (husband of Eleanor Ball du Pont) and built in 1917 for Francis Irénée du Pont, the structure was used as an experimental laboratory, with rumors that smokeless gunpowder had been discovered between its walls. Perot had designed several buildings for the du Pont family, including the Lyndham Estate on Kennett Pike and Taylor Hall on the University of Delaware campus. The site became home to the Harper-Thiel Electroplating Company from 1946-2000, resulting in environmental contamination that left the historic building vacant for nearly fifteen years.
Now fully renovated (and still zoned for industrial use), the site is the perfect location for a burgeoning brewery. With access to foot traffic from nearby residential areas and a large parking lot for everyone else, Wilmington Brew Works is poised to became a local hot spot and lynchpin of its growing community.
If it sounds good, it is good.– Duke Ellington
Looking at the big board of available craft beers on tap at the brewery, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The December line-up included 15 varieties, each with increasingly obtuse names. The science behind these concoctions however is very precise. Each fantastical title carries along with it a classification, from a straightforward Modern Pale Ale to the far more unique Imperial English Extra Special Brown Ale.
On my visit, Craig quickly made apologies with regard to the difficulty of classifying his creations into standard varieties and types. Regardless, his deft descriptions demonstrates his sheer breath of brewing knowledge when it comes to the science behind his work. Just because a particular beer may not fit into a well-known mold doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it. He takes care to consider the techniques and flavors he utilizes in his work. Most telling, Craig quotes Duke Ellington’s critique of music – If it sounds good, it is good – in reference to the flights of beers he set in front of me. If it tastes good, it is good, and I agree with the sentiment. Flavor, after all, is always most important, even if it breaks a traditional mold.
A Beer for Every Taste
I’m typically a dark and sweet beer drinker. I rarely like anything too bitter or hoppy, and haven’t had much luck with IPAs or Sours in past experience. So, when a beer flight of mostly lighter beers was put in front of me I was prepared to appreciate, but a bit skeptical. Let me say here and now – I would happily drink a glass of any of the beers Craig put in front of me, even the ones I’d have assumed otherwise. Each had character, smooth flavors, and something special to chat about.
While the big board of available beer on tap changes often, here are a few to look out for on your visit:
- Krauch’s Creation (Helles Bock, 4.2% ABV) – In the style of an Old World, German-American lager, this simple classic has broad appeal and is almost always on tap. Light and easy to drink, it’s the perfect suggestion for the Coors Light or Corona drinker in your party who is looking to dip their toe into the craft scene.
- Superfluous Nomenclature (Modern Pale Ale, 4.5%) – This brewed IPA is made with a combination of Amarillo, Citra, and Nugget hops, giving the beer a light citrus finish (think Blue Moon’s classier sister). It’s hops forward and a little sweet, without being too much of either.
- Duvette – Various Flavors (Fruited Milkshake Sour, ABV Varies) – The variety of fruit changes often, but each one I’ve had so far – Cherry Limeade, Mixed Berry, & Blueberry Vanilla – has been incredibly delicious. Tart enough for the sour beer lovers, yet sweet enough for the person that usually only likes fruity cocktails (aka my husband), this fantastic beer is made with about 1.5 pounds of fruit per gallon. It’s definitely one of my favorites.
- Merry Pranks (Imperial Viennese Lager, 7.9% ABV) – Dubbed a celebratory beer, this lager is rich and bright in flavor. Strong without being too bitter or too sweet, Craig suggest Merry Pranks as a nice alternative to red wine at your next party.
- Mechanical Dissonance (Imperial Stout, 10.7% ABV) – By far, Mechanical Dissonance (and its slight variations) is my favorite on the big board. With heavy, caramelized notes of dark chocolate, this Imperial Stout is sweet without being cloying, and everything I love in a good dark beer.
- Eleutherian Ebullience (Semi-Dry Cider, 6.7% ABV) – Just recently added to the menu, this new cider is easy to drink and incredibly refreshing. A lovely winter alternative to any beer on the menu.
Oh, and I mention the old fashioned soda works? I love this as non-alcoholic option for kids, designated drivers, and non-drinkers, who usually don’t have anything but water to drink at breweries and distilleries.
Talking with Craig and having spent time in the brewery, it’s clear that Wilmington Brew Works is living up to its signature slogan – “Playfully Pretentious, Easily Enjoyed”. The extravagant names poke fun at the craft brewing industry, reminding customers to never take themselves (or their beer) too seriously. The team has big plans for the space they currently occupy and in expanding their offerings, including the eventual bottling of their creations for distribution in the near future.
It’s clear that Wilmington Brew Works is poised to become a favorite spot for locals, and eventually a destination brewery here in Delaware. I’m proud to call it “my local brewery”, and I can’t wait to see what more they can do.
At a Glance: Wilmington Brew Works
Location: Old Ninth Ward (3129 Old Miller Road, Wilmington, DE 19802)
Hours of Operation: Open Wednesday-Sunday, see website for daily hours
Atmosphere: Family Friendly & Casual. Non-alcoholic homemade flavored sodas available.
Food Availability: No onsite kitchen, but food trucks are often on the premises.
Must Try: I feel like it’s a cop out to say anything, but the beers on tap change often. If I have to pick, I’d say try whatever fruity Duvette and version of Mechanical Dissonance they have when you get there. Better yet, let the staff know your beer preferences and they’ll help pick out a tasting flight for you – the pours are generous and you can’t go wrong with variety.
Insider Info: Looking for something that just ran out on the big board? Check out the fridge – there are often crowlers of recently kicked varieties available for sale.
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