Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Hazy New England IPAs—once hard to come by—are getting a boost from local brewers, including West Chester’s Levante

My wife and I have a game we play. Perhaps there’s someone in your life with whom you play it, too. It’s called “can I have a sip of that?”

It’s usually played when I’m drinking beer and she’s drinking wine. She asks for a sip from my pint or bottle, hoping what she finds might be to her liking. Since I am invariably drinking an India pale ale, I usually warn her: “You won’t like it. It’s pretty hoppy.”

Nine times out of 10 she agrees, after scrunching up her face at the upfront bitterness and handing the vessel back.

It’s not an unusual scenario in the beer world. Maybe it’s a non-beer drinker looking to branch out, or someone who started his beer drinking at college keggers with fizzy, soda-like pilsners. Either way, that first hoppy slap in the mouth of an IPA was off-putting and perhaps dissuaded someone who was honestly trying to broaden his or her taste from expanding further.

It was almost as if brewers, for the longest time, were issuing a challenge, with each IPA coming out with more of a hops punch than the last. Drinkers, it seemed, were being dared to take a bitter hit, say thank you and then get up for more.

The hazy appearence, with creamy and tropical flavors, are characteristic of New England style IPAs.

But along the way, brewers in Vermont were taking a different tack. In 2011, at The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, there emerged a new brew called Heady Topper, which flipped the script on an IPA’s typical hops flavor. It was a brew that, while still technically an IPA, presented something far different from what most craft beer drinkers were used to. Instead of a clear amber color, crispness on the tongue and bitter bite, this new IPA, which poured cloudy, proffered front notes of floral, fruit and citrus, and a creamy, dessert-like mouth feel.

Once word got out, the lines started to form. Drawn by murmurings in the beer world, fans of the new IPA—who, seeking to distinguish it from its more bitter West Coast version, began calling it Vermont or New England IPA—lined up for the hard-to-get canned releases. Nearby brewers got wind and reverse engineered their own versions of this new variation on the venerable IPA.

Picking Up on the Trend

With the emergence of what has come to be known as the New England IPA, however, those reluctant beer drinkers who up till now suspected the craft beer world was a hop lovers-only affair might change their minds. And fortunately for those who’ve already discovered the creamy, cloudy delights of this evolution in the beer world, local breweries and beer drinkers are picking up on the trend.

Beer aficionado Dana Dillon is a perfect example. The resident of Lincoln University, Pa., just over the state line from Newark, grew up in Ohio as a drinker of wine and “crap beer—mostly because wine was too expensive,” she says. Later, she moved up to more flavorful—but still corporate—beers like Killian’s Red and Blue Moon. But it wasn’t until she moved to Pennsylvania and discovered Downingtown’s Victory Brewing that she fell in love with craft brewing.

“Victory was my gateway,” she says. “I was like, ‘There are good things?’”

As she worked her way into craft beer culture, it didn’t take long for her to get word of Heady Topper and—because it has never been sold outside of a 25-mile radius from the Vermont brewery—its almost forbidden delights. Fans formed queues for canned releases like they were camping out for Springsteen tickets, traveling across states and trading for cans when they couldn’t make the journey, turning the pursuit of a true New England IPA into something akin to Jason and the Argonauts chasing down the mythical golden fleece.

Levante Brewing Company’s Cloudy & Cumbersome IPA has been so popular that they brew it almost weekly.

But in the early days before Heady Topper became such a commodity, it met with something of a marketing problem. It was cloudy.

“People are used to clear beers and [the brewery] didn’t want you to pour it in a glass if you hadn’t had it because it was cloudy,” Dillon says. “But then people got used to that cloudy thing and it’s sort of taken off from there. They’re very drinkable, and I think that makes it a little more accessible to people who think they might not like IPAs. It can have such a variety of flavor—you can have coconut, citrus, strawberry—and it fits in better with that style than a hoppy West Coast IPA.”

While the quest for home-grown New England IPAs continues (The Alchemist has instituted a three four-pack limit on Heady Topper purchases), nearby brewers have begun their own experiments in the New England style.

Taking It to Its Limits

Along Philadelphia’s Main Line, Ardmore’s Tired Hands Brewing Co. has begun offering a couple of styles that, while not labeled as such, hew to the new traditions of the New England IPA. American pale ale HopHands throws in oats and three kinds of hops with a juicy finish that suggests notes of citrus, honeysuckle and kiwi.

And not be outdone, Tired Hands has, with its Fruit Punch Milkshake IPA, taken the style to its limits, with oats, hibiscus and lactose sugar added in the brewing process. The nearly-finished brew is conditioned with Madagascar vanilla beans and a variety of tart fruit purees, then dry hopped with Mosaic and Citra varieties.

Down the road in West Chester, Pa., the brew masters at Levante Brewing have crafted their own takes on the New England IPA with their Cloudy and Cumbersome, Spring Till and Tickle Parts varieties. 

Even though cans of its New England IPAs typically sell out, Levante Brewing Company usually has them on draft for customers to try in its taproom.

The first batch of Cloudy and Cumbersome, cooked up in the brewery’s one-barrel (31-gallon) brew kettle, was Head Brewer Greg Harris’ attempt to recreate the flavors of a Dark ‘n Stormy cocktail in beer form, says Assistant Brewer Spencer Holm. The original batch started with a wheat-and-oat-heavy malt base aged in a rum barrel, which was then finished with lime leaves, ginger and additional hops.

“It was such a big hit that we scaled up the original malt base, got rid of the ginger and lime leaf and kicked up the hops,” Holm says.

That was the fall of 2016, and the initial demand was so great that the brewery found it impossible to keep up. The variety went into a periodic brewing schedule, but staff noticed that customers in the taproom were enjoying it on tap, in growlers and in on-demand-canned “crowlers.” At the same time, local bars and restaurants that stock Levante’s draft selections were looking for a locally-brewed New England IPA to serve. “It’s hard to find a New England IPA available for production, so since then we’ve been brewing it almost every week,” Holm says.

Low Bitterness

As for its appeal, Holm notes that the first thing that always comes to mind is the low bitterness, despite the IPA’s reputation for the opposite. That’s a result of adding the hops later, preserving the flavor profile while not allowing it to break down over the brewing process. The variety’s signature creaminess is achieved through the combination of specialty grains, such as oats and wheat, and by adding lactose sugar to the boil.

“It may seem like dumping a lot of hops in later would be the golden ticket, but what we’re trying to do is find a balance between the varieties of hops and the malt interaction, so all the ingredients are still noticeable,” Holm says.

“It just seems to hit the spot taste-wise kind of across the board, whether it’s summer and you want something refreshing or whether it’s winter and you want some kind of tropical escape,” he says. “It’s much more approachable. It’s really hard to find an alienating quality of this style.”

The appeal of Levante’s New England IPAs isn’t going unnoticed, with locals and “beer tourists” now forming lines outside the brewery on release days for cans of Cloudy and Cumbersome much like those at the Vermont breweries that launched the trend. Holm says he’s beginning to see cans traded online and in invitation-only beer groups on Facebook.

But waiting in line for canned beer and enjoying a draft in Levante’s taproom are two different experiences, and Holm says the brewery considers keeping on-site customers coming back to relax over a pint or two. So even though canned releases of Cloudy and Cumbersome typically sell out, it and several other New England IPA varieties are usually available on draft.

Asked to theorize about the legs of the New England IPA trend, Holm hesitates, but does note that aspects of the New England IPA style have influenced brewers not just to recreate it, but to take elements and apply them to other styles.

“The style is going to continue to get more refined as the drinkers determine what they enjoy most,” he says. “It’s definitely the drinker that dictates what breweries end up brewing.”

From Home Brewers to Craft Brewers

The microbrewing craze continues unabated, with four more on tap

At this point, it might seem like everyone has that neighbor (or perhaps you’re that neighbor) who has given home brewing a try in the basement or garage.

In fact, so many of the booming microbreweries around the First State (and pretty much everywhere else) began as garage brewing operations that it’s almost become a cliché.

But you’ve got to give credit to Middletown’s Kevin and Dawn Schatz for taking that “garage brewer” idea and pushing it so far that it goes beyond cliché right back around to cool. The two are the proprietors and brew masters of Volunteer Brewing Co., perhaps the most micro of Delaware’s microbreweries, located in a renovated two-car garage at 120 Main St., behind the Middletown Volunteer Fire Company.

Volunteer is just one of several new microbreweries popping up this year and into 2018, a growth spurt for the local brewing scene that may add as many new brewers during a nine-month period as we’ve seen over the last few years.

The Schatzes were originally attracted to Middletown from Chadds Ford, Pa., 12 years ago, when they went looking for a smaller-town feel and an escape from the traffic of the Route 202 corridor. What they found, they say, was a place that was gradually growing while struggling to retain its small-town vibe.

Crowlers from Volunteer Brewing Co. in Middletown. Photo Jack Pickett

The decision to go with such a small space, says Kevin Schatz, allows them to focus on their motto: “Serve Local Beer,” which also includes an emphasis on local community service and support for other local businesses, along with brewing superior small-batch.

“Local is really where we want to focus one hundred percent of our time,” says Schatz. For example, Volunteer’s Orange Blossom Honey Wheat is made with honey from a local beekeeper.

And while Volunteer has yet to commit to regular hours—beers and opening days are posted each month—their opening during the Middletown Peach Festival was met with long lines of thirsty customers for pints and 32-ounce “crowlers” (cans of fresh beer filled and sealed at the brewery).
“We’re asking people what they’d like to see and drink and putting that together and keeping it local whenever we can,” Schatz says.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Microbrewing, by its nature, often starts as a hobby pursued after spouses and children have gone to bed. And so, Midnight Oil Brewing Co. has taken that work-into-the-night ethos and applied it to its full-time brewing philosophy.

Founder and brewer Mike Dunlap had been brewing for about 10 years, and four years ago he and cofounder T.J. McGrath decided to move forward with a brewery distribution model focusing on a venue space within a tap room, rather than a brewpub model. Two years ago, a third partner, Joe Stickel, joined the team. A brewery/tasting room is slated for a late fall opening, says Patrick Jones, director of sales and taproom operations.

Midnight Oil Brewing Co. founder & brewer Mike Dunlap (top), with (l-r) Joe Stickel, Patrick Jones, and T.J. McGrath. Photo Jim Coarse

That distribution model, thanks to Delaware laws, means a location at 674 Pencader Dr. in a light industrial park outside Newark. The focus on the taproom environment is welcoming to beer lovers. The finishing touches are being put on Midnight Oil’s taproom, which will open in December with 90 seats, eventually expanding to about 120, Jones says.

Above all, he says, the emphasis will be on quality in an area that’s already full of great brewers. “We have great respect for our peers who were here before us. We’ve done our homework and developed communication and relationships with those who’ve already been here, so we’re super excited about working with people around the state who’ve already paved the way.”

A Stitch in Time

In 2016, the building at 829 Market St. in Wilmington was already on its way to becoming a restaurant. Local restaurateur Scott Morrison, who owned Chelsea Tavern and Ernest & Scott, was renovating the long unused industrial property for a new brewpub. Then, in February, Morrison died suddenly from a heart attack.

Not long after, Dan Sheridan, who had already successfully opened Wilmington Pickling Co. and Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington’s Little Italy, was looking for his next venture. Ideally, one that wouldn’t dominate his life the way the two previous openings had. And he thought a brewpub might be just the ticket. The fact that the former Morrison property was available made it seem like Sheridan’s next project, Stitch House Brewery, was almost meant to be.

Looking at an opening late this year, Stitch House aims to be a full-service brewpub with a wide selection of house-made beers and a food menu that will keep the downtown lunch crowd fed while offering a welcoming destination for the dinner and evening crowd as well.

Stitch House Brewery’s logo.

“Obviously, the beer is the focus. But to group it with a nice atmosphere and to be in the city of Wilmington, then couple that with good food? That got us excited,” Sheridan says.

The plan is to have 12 beers on tap always, with a rotating list of specialty and seasonal brews. The food menu will be heavy on cast iron skillet dishes and cassoulets at reasonable price points. Plans are for an opening before the end of the year.

The building itself, which at one time was a linen mart and the pole house for the Diamond Electric Co., informed the brewpub’s name. Work crews have been busy rehabbing the space, which has yielded some treasures, Sheridan says.

“Once all the crews got in there and ripped out everything from people trying to cover stuff up, we really uncovered a lot of cool steel and brick and architectural details that we’re trying to incorporate everywhere we can,” he says.

North of the Border

What’s a Delaware brewer to do when the right space just doesn’t present itself nearby? Head north, of course.

That’s what took Kent Steeves of Braeloch Brewing, soon to open in Kennett Square, out of the Diamond State and into the Keystone State. After he spent nearly a year trying to find the right space in Newark, Pennsylvania eventually beckoned with a building at 225 Birch St., just up from the Creamery of Kennett Square.

Steeves started out as a homebrewer, then got serious about owning his own brewery when his daughters left home for college. After visiting Germany for ideas and inspiration, he began hashing out a business plan with his wife, Amy, and partners Kathy and Matt Drysdale of Hockessin.
Plans are for 12 taps, with a running selection of IPAs, a few seasonals and at least one experimental brew.

Braeloch Brewing’s logo.

“We can and need to offer a broad range,” Steeves says. “For the IPAs, we want to always be highlighting different hops to really try to help customers choose what they want to taste.”

Some of that hops—as well as much of the beers’ barley—will be sourced locally. “There are a lot of barley growers in the region, and a local hops grower wants to be able to expand his acreage,” he says.
As for food, a small kitchen will provide light fare like nachos and flatbread pizzas, with a rotating cast of food trucks—vetted for quality and speed of service—adding variety. The space will also be fitted out for catering and to accommodate large groups.

The building, erected in 1903, will boast a 4,000-square-foot taproom with a 3,000-square-foot beer garden that overlooks the east branch of Red Clay Creek.

“We wanted that large taproom and outdoor space,” Steeves says. “We wanted this to be a place you want to go and hang out and completely relax and enjoy.”

Brewing Up the Perfect Storm

Never mind getting started as a brewer in your garage. Local entrepreneur Craig Wensell started with his own brewery.

One of the founders of Bellefonte Brewing Co., Wensell has since sold his interest to his partners at the Old Capital Trail brewery and embarked upon blazing a microbrewery trail in the underserved northern reaches of Wilmington by creating the first production brewery to be located within the city limits in more than 60 years.

Wensell’s new baby, Wilmington Brew Works, will occupy a former brownfield site at 3201 Miller Rd., just a stone’s throw from Route 202 and, conveniently, in his own neighborhood.

“I wanted to create this synergistic effect between my small business and other small businesses and bring it to my neighborhood to enhance the nightlife in that area,” says Wensell. “My goal was to bring to my neighborhood the things that I wanted to be near.”

The cleaned-up Spanish colonial-style building is the former site of the Harper-Thiel Electroplating Co. The building was where the duPonts are thought to have developed smokeless gunpowder. The renovated space will include a 1,400-square-foot taproom with a second wing that site owners Ralph and Rose Pepe will likely lease to a restaurateur or a group of restaurateurs as a dining room or upscale food court.

Wilmington Brew Works also will feature two outdoor spaces, one patio overlooking Haines Park across the street and the other adjacent to the Northern Delaware Greenway Trail, from which Wensell hopes to draw thirsty bikers and walkers.

Wilmington Brew Works’ logo.

He hopes to create a family-friendly neighborhood spot with live music and excellent beer—from IPAs and lagers to his forte, wood-aged sour beers.

“We’re a neighborhood microbrewery, and the challenge for me at this point is to navigate that brand concept in a way to tie my brewery to the city and the neighborhood,” Wensell says. “I’m really trying to distance myself from the concept of ‘bar.’”

He says he feels he is filling a need in the city and the neighborhood that for too long had been devoid of such amenities.

“I feel like we’re adding the right touch at just the right time to do what the city’s trying to do. It’s kind of a perfect storm of rainbows—everything coming together at the right time.”

Comfort Food, Local Sources, Exotic Spices

Bibimbap with steak from Homegrown Café. Photo Jim Coarse

Those are some of the trends area restaurants are adapting for the cooler months

What you put in your mouth has surprising parallels to what you put on your body. The restaurant world—much like the clothing world—follows fashions and trends.

Think of it in terms of that scene in The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep’s haughty magazine editor Miranda Priestly explains to 20-something assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) the precise provenance of her blue Rayon sweater, from haute couture runway item to the department store rack, to her back.

Food isn’t so different, with trends often starting at the “top” of the industry and gradually trickling down to where you and I are exposed to new flavors and ideas as our regional and local chefs incorporate them into their own kitchens and menus.

One of the great advantages of being in this sweet spot between New York City and Washington, D.C., is that many of our area chefs possess both an awareness of the trends, and the confidence to create some of their own.

So, with the change in seasons from hot and soupy to clear and crisp, we took some of the area’s leaders in the culinary field aside to chat about what they look for in a fall/winter menu, what trends they’re seeing among their peers and competition, and what they’ll be plating for the hungry masses now that cooler weather has kicked in.

Two words that dominated our conversations would be no surprise to anyone who has hunkered down for a long, dreary Delaware winter: comfort food.

Less than a trend, it’s more of a human need to seek out those foods that make us think of the warmth and safety of home, says Amanda Nichols, chef at Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa. But she indicates that even comfort foods should be prepped with the bathroom scale in mind. 

That Homey Feeling

“I’m not afraid to put lots of butter and cream in things, but I do think that healthier comfort food is going to be the trend this year—people finding classic comfort foods and trying to find healthier ways to prepare them. So, what I’m looking forward to is maybe I’ll use a little less butter,” says Nichols, laughing.

At Home Grown Café in Newark, owner Sasha Aber agrees that it’s important to create that feeling of home during the cooler months.

“Fall and winter are always exciting,” she says. “The bright fruits of summer go, and people are always looking for those warming foods. That’s when we transition to root vegetables, heartier salads and different sides.”

That change also means more density in the dessert menu, with things like apple cider bread pudding and maple syrup crème brulee.

“You’re not hibernating, but you’re not getting your nutrients as much from the sun, so if you can watch your portions, you can still enjoy some of those richer desserts,” Aber says.

Nichols is also seeing a trend toward one-bowl meals, similar to what might be found in a ramen restaurant, but adapted to American tastes. In the red, white and blue version, the bowls take elements usually served separately on the plate and layer them together, creating more complex flavors.

Layering flavors is also one of the goals for David Banks, executive chef for Harry’s Hospitality Group and co-owner of Harry’s Seafood Grill and Harry’s Fish Market in Wilmington. The seasonal trend is to exotic spices and herbs—Mediterranean, Moroccan and Indian—that complement the season.

“As chefs,” says Banks, “we’re all looking for the new flavor profile. We go through our Italian stage, then we go through our Asian phase and then Latin phase, and now I’m on to the Indian phase—those chutneys and spices and aromatics that lend themselves not just to meat, but to vegetables. They’re just great flavors.”

Aber agrees, and that’s a reason her team has long been incorporating flavors of Africa, India and the Middle East.

“Mexican, Indian, whatever you can think of, it’s on our menu because it’s all made fresh and it fits together, so I think we’re unique in that aspect,” she says. “Because we’re smaller, we have that freedom. We run specials twice a week, but if something comes in, we can use it right away. We have a lot more freedom to experiment, and I think our customers expect that from us. They’re looking for something a little different and unique, and we deliver that to them.”

Comfort foods like cassoulets and chilis will appear more often on Banks’ cool-weather menus, as well as game dishes that will often incorporate duck, venison and lamb. But given the fact that seafood and fish are in both restaurants’ names, the fruits of the ocean get their due, as well.

Gourd Season

“For Harry’s Seafood Grill, I always look to October through March as Florida stone crab season,” says Banks. “That’s just a great product that’s literally in season only during that time—they’re not allowed to catch them at other times of the year.”

As far as vegetables go, everyone we spoke to is excited about the squashes, gourds and pumpkins of late fall. They also agreed that the long-percolating farm-to-table movement has expanded to the point where restaurateurs and growers have reached a happy equilibrium. Chefs now know their customers expect to find locally sourced produce on their menus. Meanwhile, the number of farmers of local and heirloom produceas well as sustainably farmed meats and artisan goods like cheeses and pickleshas increased dramatically.

The Hilton Christiana in Newark has reinvented its on-site Hunt Club restaurant into the Market Kitchen and Bar, and Robert Fratticcioli, executive chef, takes the farm-to-table philosophy seriously, looking to source everything he can—fruits and vegetables, meats, beer, and even ice cream—from local producers.

A portion of Christiana Hilton’s herb garden used in dishes for Market Kitchen and Bar. Photo Matt Urban

Those include beer from area brewers, ice cream from Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin, and beef for short ribs, flatiron steaks and burgers from Reid Angus in Frankford.

“We’re trying to stay true to our concept of using local, so we’re touring farms in the area looking at things they pickle and jar and trying to do that ourselves through the year using Delaware-grown products,” he says.

Additionally, Fratticcioli buys apples and cider from Milburne Orchards in Elkton, Md. “We’ll run off their calendar for next summer to incorporate their produce in specials from breakfast through dinner,” he says.

And as if farm-to-table wasn’t local enough, Fratticcioli has crossed over into patio-to-table, growing heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and a wide selection of herbs in the hotel’s own garden. During the winter months, you’re likely to see the examples of the hotel’s summer crop show up in the form of house-made pickles and other preserved delicacies, he says.

The Ugly Squash

To feed Home Grown Café’s focus on locally-grown, Aber says the restaurant lives up to its name by building its seasonal menu around what it gets from its membership in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that always has a diverse selection of heirloom varieties, including purple and yellow carrots and “ugly on the outside” squash.

“It seems like every fall and winter we do something with that and it’s always really good,” she says. “I just take the flavors as they come and understand that the variety might not be around, but that you use what’s there, because that’s when it’s fresh and delicious.”

With all the focus on using locally sourced ingredients and preserving the summer crop for use during the winter months, it might seem that the restaurant world is stepping back to where the subsistence farmer might have been at the end of the 19th century —using ingredients from root to leaf.

“We’re figuring out how to use things that we’d normally throw away to make something else,” says Cantwell’s Nichols. “In our business, you have to save every penny you can.”

The 26-year-old chef rediscovered the joys of using the entire food and paring down what gets thrown away when she encountered some cost issues after taking over the executive chef role at Cantwell’s. Suddenly, she was reminded that those parts of meats and vegetables typically seen as waste could instead help build the foundations of other dishes. Greens from carrots, for instance, can be incorporated into a vegetable stock. Vegetables cooked down in the stock can be pureed to create the base for a sauce.

Fratticcioli is doing much the same in his kitchen. “We’re using the whole vegetable,” he says, citing the restaurant’s use of the stems of roasted cauliflower to make cauliflower rice. “What you want to do is cut down on your waste by finding ways to use the whole product,” he says.

For her part, Aber stresses that Home Grown Café has been ahead of the root-to-tip curve for some time.

“We’ve been focusing on using all ingredients all along,” she says, noting that even corn cobs go into vegetable stock. “We’re not one of those restaurants getting in things pre-cut and pre-chopped. We get the whole ingredient in all the time and that helps us look at things differently.”

On a Lighter Note

A tilt toward lower ABV sessions leads craft beer trends in 2017

If you’re a craft beer drinker, you know the struggle.

You relish the slow-drinking delights of a hoppy India pale ale with a hearty meal or a few drinks with friends, then call it a night, relatively unfazed by the 6 percent (or higher) ABV.

Then comes the barbecue. Or the day at the beach. You’re in for the long haul, and an afternoon of those IPAs you normally savor is going to hit just a little too hard for you to head home under your own power. It’s one of those moments as a craft beer fan when you think to yourself, “It sure would be nice to have a crisp, refreshing pilsner that went down easy like the ones dad used to drink, but still had some craft beer personality.”

The good news is that craft brewers, who helped launch the IPA craze, feel the same way, says Mike Piorunsky, brewer for Evolution Craft Brewing Co. The Salisbury, Md., brewhouse has introduced Delmarva Pure Pils to its lineup to entice the more session-minded consumer looking for clean refreshment with the quality of a good craft brew.

“You definitely are looking for that drinkability factor,” says Piorunsky. “And with this beer, the intent was to make something that would have a lot of the traditional characteristics of the pilsner style.” While not as heavily hopped as many of the craft beers people are most familiar with, there’s still that touch—mostly aromatic—that says this was a purposefully crafted brew.

But it’s not just the drinker preferences that brewers are aiming to satisfy, says John Leyh, craft and specialty brand manager for NKS Distributors in Wilmington. It’s also about the bottom line.
“More people are drinking craft beer every day, but not as fast as there are new beers available to them,” he says. “These brewers have kind of gotten into a place where they’ll make a really good IPA, but [thanks to traditionally higher alcohol content] people can’t drink a lot of it.”

Those brewers are also looking at beer sales figures showing that nearly 80 percent of the beer sold in the United States still falls under the heading of German-style pilsners—the Budweisers and Michelobs that combine smooth drinking with a lower alcohol by volume. Not wanting to give up their growing market share to the big brewers of the world, craft brewers are getting the message and ramping up production of their own pilsners, blonde ales and golden lagers, Leyh says.

“It’s effectively the same style of beer as Budweiser, it just might have a little more of a hop character,” he says. “The brewers are offering what the consumer wants and hoping they’ll pay for something that’s a better beer. They like making really good beer, but they also like selling a lot of it.”

Selling more also means finding a niche that isn’t being filled by other brewers, Leyh says. Those pitching a new IPA to a bar that already has several on tap in that category won’t get a positive response, but offering something different like a flavorful golden ale or pilsner gives a brewer a better chance of getting that foot in the door. Often, the hope is that a good experience with a beer that has broad appeal might lead to a tavern owner trying another beer from that brewer.

“This is kind of a course correction because it allows the craft brewing community to service more customers,” says Leyh.

Evolution’s Piorunsky concurs.

“When we put this beer together, we did it with the thought that it’s going to be approachable to everyday beer drinkers in the market and flavorful enough to capture the palate of someone who would normally buy an IPA,” he says.

Golden Delicious

Here are a few of the latest crop of golden brews sure to make your summer sipping more refreshing:

Fordham Gypsy Lager – Particularly here in the Northeast, saying “lager” denotes a specific brand that often is not up to snuff for many craft beer drinkers. What Fordham has done is take the traditional Munich-style Helles lager, with its distinctive Munich and Vienna malts, and created a honey-tinged sweetness that contrasts the hoppy bitterness. Clean and crisp, this brew checks in with a 5 percent ABV that won’t overwhelm your afternoon by the pool.

Firestone Walker Pivo Pilsner – As with any good pilsner, Pivo starts with the classic styles of Europe – in this case the Czech Republic, Italy and Germany. But the folks at Firestone have put a decidedly American spin on the Old-World flavors by adding hops at the end of the brewing process, thus delivering the aromatic floral notes of the hops without the bitterness.

Kona Big Wave Golden Ale – Hawaii wouldn’t seem to be a hotbed of heavy IPA brews, but the folks at Kona do offer their own spin on the venerable ale. This golden ale pairs a light body with floral hoppiness for easy-drinking refreshment that complements seafood, pasta dishes and poultry.
Goose Island Four Star Pils – Another take on the traditional pilsner, this one emerged, according to Goose Island lore, from its employees’ interest in brewing a beer “they could enjoy at the end of their shift.” Brewed with a blend of American and German hops and with an easy-drinking 5.1 percent ABV, this is a flavorful pick for your enjoyment after work and over the weekend.

A pair of 'juicy" IPAs.
A pair of ‘juicy” IPAs.

Give It Some Juice

Not all refreshment this summer will be had at the hands of a pilsner or golden ale, however. The venerable IPA has gotten a boost of summertime sparkle from the increasingly popular addition of fruitier hops varieties, resulting in a flavor that’s come to be described as “juicy.”

While not involving actual juices, these (often double) IPAs possess a flavor and aroma that departs from the usual piney overtones of traditional hops and comes off as more fruity or citrusy. Think pineapple or passionfruit rather than the floral notes that often accompany a traditional IPA.

But even though these newer arrivals might make it seem like juice is the hot new thing, using actual juices and fruit sodas in beers has been around for a while. Shandies—essentially a lager spiked with lemon soda—have been slow to catch on with the craft beer crowd because they go against much of what they strive for in the way of complex flavors and high alcohol content. But as warm weather is upon us and every bit of refreshment is appreciated, it’s worth noting that summer brings more of these juice-infused delights than any other time of year, and that some craft brewers are warming up to the idea of cooling off with some juicy creations of their own.

The Crowler

One of the pervasive challenges of loving your local brewpub has been enjoying their beers at home. Not long ago, the only option a devoted fan had was to purchase a “growler”—essentially a jug—from said brewpub and pay to have it filled. But as handy as growlers are for beer you plan to drink quickly, they’re not great at keeping beer fresh for longer than a few days.

And those craft brewers that focus more on bottled beers than on-site brewpub consumption have their own portability problems. What to do if you’re inclined to carry your favorite craft brew to an event that limits or prohibits glass containers?

The solution: The “crowler,” essentially a canned, sealed version of the growler that saves brewpub proprietors the hassle of dealing with customers who return unwashed growlers and likewise sparing customers the aggravation of beer that skunks after a few days in the fridge.

Still more convenient: Regular old cans that you can grab at your favorite retailer. Downingtown, Pa.’s Victory Brewing is offering a limited edition seasonal 12-can variety pack through August that includes four summer seasonals: Summer Love, Vital IPA, Hop Devil IPA and Prima Pils. Meanwhile, local brewpub chain Iron Hill has begun offering canned versions of its most popular brews, including Vienna Red Lager; Mahalo, Apollo!, and Rising Sun IPA.

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

Eschewing cats and dogs for reptiles, birds, small mammals and spiders can be rewarding (your bearded dragon may wave at you), but it isn’t for everyone

A a lot of people want to be different. Maybe they have an unusual car, or perhaps their fashion sense makes them stand out in a crowd.

Or maybe they set themselves off by the type of pet they own.

Not content with the typical (and oh, so ordinary) choices of dogs or cats, some pet owners pursue the scaly, slithery, eight-legged or feathered. Still others stay with the warm-blooded, four-legged variety, but eschew canine and feline companions in favor of ferrets, rabbits or guinea pigs.

But what’s the attraction? Veterinarian Morgan Dawkins of Windcrest Animal Hospital in Wilmington says mammals like guinea pigs appeal to some people because they’re a small, domesticated mammal that is out of the ordinary. “Generally, across the species there’s just something that’s different” from cats and dogs, he says.

And then there are people who want to own a pet but are limited by the size of their home or apartment, or because larger pets aren’t permitted in those places. Others are making accommodations for allergies they or someone else in the household may have.

“When you talk birds and reptiles, for me personally, they’re cool species that not everyone has that are interesting in their husbandry and history,” Dawkins says. “That adds a level of interest that’s not the norm.”

Small mammals also attract people because they can be allowed to run loose for short periods of time and tend to be social with humans in ways similar to dogs and cats.

Even some reptile species can be friendly, according to Mike Howard, store manager at Pet Kare II in Newark. At the top of the list, he says, is the bearded dragon, an iguana species native to Australia but popular for its social—for a lizard—nature and its willingness to be handled.

The Social Bearded Dragon

“Bearded dragons actually have personalities and act like they want to hang out with you,” he says. “My bearded dragon used to wave at me every day when I got home. It would actually come up the tank and act like it wanted to come out. A lot of the other lizards and reptiles I couldn’t say that about.”

Birds, says Dawkins, can vary in their interactivity depending on the species. It’s best to do initial research on what species you feel would work best for you, then talk to your pet shop owner to assess what equipment and food will be required.

Tarantulas, meanwhile, aren’t so much about the interaction as about conquering fear, Howard says.
“People are scared of them, so they’re like, ‘I’m going to own them so I can get over my fear of spiders,’” he says.

Another upside to exotic pet ownership is cost. Even a shelter or rescue dog or cat—including adoption fees and initial setup with equipment and accessories—can cost as much as $500. And that’s not even considering food, annual vet check-ups, vaccinations and medications to fight things like fleas, ticks and heartworms—costs that continue as long as the pet is alive.

Still, Howard acknowledges that, for some people, the $200 or so set-up cost for a lizard, a 20-gallon reptile tank and the necessary lighting and bedding can seem steep.

“People ask, ‘It’s just a $10 lizard, why does it need a $200 habitat?’” he says. “But it’s an animal that you’re going to have for several years. [The cost] is not really out of whack, but a lot of people think it is.”



Crickets and Mealworms on the Menu

Feeding reptiles is relatively inexpensive, Howard says, with most eating either crickets, mealworms, mice or, in the case of bearded dragons, the ingredients from last night’s salad.

“Bearded dragons are omnivores and will eat lettuce and tomato,” he says. “For the insectivores, you do have to make the commitment to come into the store once a week to buy crickets.”

For small mammals like guinea pigs and rabbits, enclosures can start as low as $50, with the primary costs thereafter being feed and bedding, which needs to be changed regularly. Outdoor rabbit hutches start at a higher price point, usually around $150.

But when using the term “exotic pets,” it’s important to remember that what might be exotic to you isn’t necessarily so under the law. In Delaware, there are the casual designations of the term—referring to pets that are simply unusual but legally sold in pet shops—and the term as defined by the Delaware State Code.

Under state law “any live wild mammal or hybrid of a wild mammal or live reptile not native to or generally found in Delaware” is illegal to import, own or sell without a permit from the state Department of Agriculture. Those permits are only issued for zoos or traveling circuses. Meanwhile, non-native poisonous reptiles are entirely forbidden. In both cases, special permits will be issued for animal rescue organizations.

For some, the pursuit of truly exotic pets is taken to extreme —and illegal—lengths. Daniel Stonebreaker of 3 Palms Zoo & Education Center in Clayton has an idea of just how serious the problem is because he’s had to make room among his animals for those that were illegally acquired and became problems for their owners.

Tick Tock the Alligator

The center cares for and exhibits a wide variety of rescued animals, including alpacas, raccoons and pot-bellied pigs. In most circumstances, the owner’s situation has changed, preventing the continued care of the animal. Some were abandoned, while others are injured wild animals that have been rehabilitated but can’t return to the wild.

Perhaps his most famous adoptee is Tick Tock the American alligator. Tick Tock was kept illegally and housed improperly for three years, when she was brought to 3 Palms by a Delaware state licensed animal rehabilitator.

“We do not endorse the ownership of any—in the legal sense—exotic animals,” Stonebreaker says. “That’s a lot of the headache I deal with here.”

Headaches not just for him, but for local and state officials as well. In March 2012, an alligator was spotted in a retention pond near a Dover Wawa. Delaware Fish and Wildlife officials responded, placing the three-and-a-half-foot reptile with a wildlife rescue agency.

“Retention ponds are, lots of times, nothing more than a catchall for unwanted reptiles,” says Hilary Taylor, a member of the Delaware Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and the person responsible for responding to many cases of exotic pet discovery and abandonment north of the C&D Canal.

Between the black market and exotic pet dealers on the Internet, it’s extremely easy for Delawareans to acquire illegal animals. Others are less subtle.

“I’ll get calls from people who want a cougar, and that’s just ridiculous,” she says. “You’d be surprised what people get. I never know from day to day what kind of thing is going to be here.”

Less threatening to a person’s safety but highly damaging to the environment are the seemingly benign pets that are released, she says. While many die immediately in the foreign surroundings, others survive to breed with indigenous species. The red-eared slider, a popular box turtle that’s native to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, can breed with local turtles and spread a variety of diseases.

Surprisingly, Newark Animal Control is a frequent source of animal rescue calls when the spring semester at the University of Delaware ends. “You’d be surprised what they find—iguanas and turtles that students have just left behind,” she says. “But you can’t just take them and release them.”

Pucker Up

Sour beers are a growing presence on the brewing landscape

Lore has it that thousands of years ago, when humans first discovered that hops, grain and water combined to create beer, all the resulting beverages featured a taste profile that we would describe as sour.

Blame the microorganisms that linger around us—then and now. Bacteria and naturally occurring yeasts were in the air, water and dust, and especially in the open vessels often used to craft the early brews. They settled freely in the wort (the grain and water mixture that forms the beginnings of beer) and thrived.

Once Louis Pasteur demonstrated how to rid food and prep equipment of unwanted microorganisms using his namesake process and simple sterilization, brewers learned the importance of making sure the final product was free of unwanted microbial visitors. Open wooden vessels gave way to closed, easily cleaned copper kettles and eventually, stainless steel vats. Paired with high-temperature cleaning, the simple changes all but eliminated the potential of unwanted critters infesting a batch of beer.

The disappearance of sour beers from the American landscape also had a good bit to do with changes in approaches to food storage, as well as a healthy dose of big-business marketing, says Craig Wensell, CEO and co-owner of Bellefonte Brewing Co. in Wilmington.

“Brewing in America has been in an awakening almost since Prohibition. Everything changed after that period of self-isolation. Sour beers almost immediately made a comeback right after that,” he says. “But along with the whole concept of canned foods and long-term shelf-stable products, there was an attempt to run the old-style beers off. Either that or they just faded away.”

Bellefonte Brewing Co.'s sour Belgian quadruple, Sour Claymonster, fermenting. It’s available at the brewery this month. Photo Anthony Santoro
Bellefonte Brewing Co.’s sour Belgian quadruple, Sour Claymonster, fermenting. It’s available at the brewery this month. Photo Anthony Santoro

Because nothing is as alluring as the forbidden or unattainable, modern brewers began to plumb history for those funky flavors lost through modern cleanliness. However skeevy it might sound, in pursuit of this primordial flavor born from higher acidity, modern beer makers began intentionally infecting their brews with several types of bacteria and wild yeasts, all designed to add a little something to bring about that new/old sour flavor only the wonkiest beer enthusiasts and culinary anthropologist even knew we were missing.

The master brewers of Belgium were the first in recent history to bring these flavors back to commercially produced brews, going back to the old open koelschip—the Germanic name for what Americans refer to as the coolship, or an open vessel used to cool wort. This allowed “wild” yeasts and bacteria to settle into the mix before it moved to the brewing process.

They began offering up their intentionally inoculated and fermented sour ales known as lambics, as well as lambic blends (known as gueuzes) and Flanders ales. Others not of Belgian provenance included Berliner weisse and gose, both from Germany. Goosed with naturally occurring flora in the wort stage, the finished brews were often aged in used wine barrels, where other lingering bacteria and the remnants of each vintage would boost the flavor profile further.

Properly prepared, these beers can range from light and fruity to verging on the complexity of a fine, dry red wine and lend themselves to a variety of food pairings. In fact, Wensell says that among traditional craft brew drinkers who lean toward a hoppy flavor, sours can often fall flat. But with wine drinkers who often claim to not like beer, sours are frequently a hit.

“The mouth feel of the product is going to be the same as wine, so I use that as my reference point for people who say, “I don’t really like beer,’” he says. “Ten to 15 times over the course of every weekend we see the beer person turn up their nose and someone who doesn’t like beer will go to the sours. It can really take people 180 degrees out of where they thought they were.”

Bellefonte Brewing Co.'s Funk n' Pineapple. Photo Anthony Santoro
Bellefonte Brewing Co.’s Funk n’ Pineapple. Photo Anthony Santoro

Done wrong, the taste of a sour beer can skew toward the unpleasantly earthy or even, um … poopy. Because of their brewing process, even when done well, consistency isn’t the hallmark of sour beers. If you find a brand you like and stick with it, you can still expect flavor variations from batch to batch, Wensell says.

“Sours are kind of hit and miss, but they’re becoming more ‘hit.’ In my drinking experience, I’ve been punished by a number of sours,” he notes. “It’s been kind of an adventure in discovery. It doesn’t always go your way, but it’s always entertaining.”

Sours available at Bellefonte this month will be the Sour Claymonster, a sour Belgian quadruple (or “quad” – essentially an extra-strong Trappist-style ale) with flavors of tart cherry and caramel; a mixed fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis (“Brett brux”) and Saccharomyces Trois (“Sacc. Trois”) yeasts that Wensell describes as “a big, bright. pineapple bomb”; Bellefonte’s second batch of Solera #1, a complex sour with a wine-like flavor that, with carbonation, comes off like a prosecco; and a bright and complex full Brett fermentation that features strong flavors of sour peach and mango. Wensell says he also likes to keep at least two sours on tap throughout the year, usually a blueberry and raspberry.

Searching your favorite beer shop for something to take home? Here are a few top-rated bottles to try:

Dogfish Head's SeaQuench Ale. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery
Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench Ale. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale – The only blend on the list happens to also be one from the locals at Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach. This session hazy golden sour combines three separate brews—a traditional German-style Kolsch wheat beer; a gose with hints of sea salt, coriander and black lime; and a Berliner weisse flavored with lime and lime peel. All three are aged together to produce a thirst-quenching drink that’s tart and citrusy up front with a hint of salt and a malty sweet finish. It pairs well with steamed mussels, grilled chicken and raw oysters for the main dish, or a bit of chevre during your cheese course. As a seasonal release, SeaQuench won’t be back around until the summer.

otravez-bottle-pint2016Sierra Nevada Otra Vez Gose-Style Ale – Flavored with prickly pear cactus fruit, coriander and grapefruit, this brew from the Chico, Calif.-based brewery offers a tangy bitterness reminiscent of watermelon that goes well with spicy main dishes, goat cheeses and citrusy desserts. Its 4.5 percent ABV makes it a refreshing, smooth-drinking selection.

Russian River Consecration – A dark reddish-brown brew, Consecration gets much of its color from being aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels acquired from wineries local to the Santa Rosa, Calif., brewery, and from being spiked with black currant prior to the four- to eight-month aging process. What emerges is ale with a sour punch. Undertones of the wine remain, complementing top notes of currant, chocolate truffle, tobacco and spice. Its 10 percent ABV is as foreboding as its dark color, so take your time enjoying this one.

Weyerbacher Brewing Tarte Nouveau Session Sour – This light, refreshing and mildly sour offering originally began as an experiment by the Easton, Pa., brewery to see if it was possible to create a sour beer that wouldn’t contaminate the rest of its drafting and packing equipment. What first emerged as their limited-edition Zulu label has now morphed into this tart, pale-yellow ale that offers an easily drinkable 3.9 percent ABV and a dry, smooth finish. The subtle presence of cherries helps this beer pair well with light seafood dishes like ceviche and the earthier tastes of a beet and goat cheese salad. Be patient, though. This sought-after seasonal won’t be back again until spring.

Beyond Pumpkin

Options abound for those looking to spice up autumn

It might seem like only yesterday that beer drinkers were basking in the sunshine, toes in the sand, enjoying a fruity hefeweizen or grapefruit-laced pale ale.

But as sure as the discount store shelves gave us Halloween items the moment the calendar turned to September, so the pumpkin-themed eats and drinks made their perennial appearances, too. For some, the arrival of pumpkin menu items like café lattes and ice cream is a happy time. For others, not so much.

We’re hearing more and more about pumpkin fatigue building in the beer world. This decade has seen an explosion of seasonal pumpkin brews, but it might be that craft brewers are pushing this thing a little too hard.

Consider that in August, the beer magazine Draft declared that some brewers in pursuit of pumpkin as an ingredient in their autumn and winter seasonals actually encountered a serious gourd shortage. So maybe it’s time to back off a bit.

If you’re looking for an autumnal alternative to this ubiquitous flavor, you’re in luck. While the number of pumpkin-based beers hasn’t abated, there are plenty of places you can turn to avoid the gourd this fall. Ingredients like apples and wet hops (more on that later)—plus a warming boost in alcohol by volume (ABV)—make the perfect pint to complement a crisp fall afternoon after the leaves are raked. Here are seven regional picks to help you get your (pumpkin-free) autumn on.


fall-on-me-1Dogfish Head Fall On Me—How do you make a great fall seasonal that doesn’t jump on the jack-o’-lantern-themed hay wagon? Dogfish Head turned to autumn’s other popular seasonal produce—apples —to create this Belgian-style draft-only offering. Golden in color and boasting an easy-drinking 6.9 ABV, this brew combines locally grown Red Delicious apples from Camden-Wyoming’s Fifer Orchards with mulling spices like clove, orange peel, star anise and cinnamon to create a flavor redolent of cider with a dry, tart finish. Packed with such a potpourri of flavor from the Dogfish Head spice cabinet, it’s about as close as you’ll get on this list to its pumpkin-spiced beer list brethren.

Iron Hill Oktoberfest—Five centuries ago, Bavarian Purity Requirements were established, dictating that beers brewed in the region should be made up only of barley, hops and water. As a result, brews celebrating Germany’s annual beer bacchanalia, which has been held in Munich since 1833, hew to a simple recipe. Iron Hill’s draft-only take on the traditional festival beer results in a clean, medium-bodied lager that balances notes of malt with a dry finish and a lighter but still substantial 5.8 ABV.

Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co. Candi Belgian Tripel—It’s possible that you recognize Dover brewer Fordham & Dominion as much for their racy vintage pin-up labels as for their tasty craft brews. But they’re all so much more than just a pretty face. With their Belgian Tripel, available on draft and in bottles, they offer a substantial 8.5 ABV brew that offers up bright sweetness with hints of pear and apricot. It’s light on the hoppy bitterness and finishes with a crisp dryness.


Black Twig Hard Apple Cider—What do you do when you’re a local orchard known for your excellent apples and soft cider, but your relentless customers keep asking when you’ll be offering a hard version? If you’re T.S. Smith & Sons Orchards in Branchville, you find someone who can do the job for you. Enter Great Shoals Winery in Silver Spring, Md., which turned to the orchard’s heirloom Black Twig apples for its celebrated Black Twig Hard Cider. The dark red, tart apples produce a dry, sparkling cider that’s become a hit in liquor stores and restaurants downstate and at the beaches.


hop-knifeTröegs Hop Knife Harvest Ale—While it’s typically Oktoberfest beers that get all the press this time of year, fall also brings with it the lesser known “wet hopped,” or harvest ales. Fall is hops harvest season, and before the majority of the crop is stashed away to dry to be used in more traditional hopping processes, some of it is picked and shipped directly to brewers for wet hopping—essentially taking the fresh hops directly from the field and adding it to boiled malt and water (known as wort) much the same as they would with dried hops. What results is a hop flavor profile that’s significantly different from traditionally hopped beers and also a much shorter shelf life. The version of this time-honored seasonal brought to us by Tröegs, based in Hershey, Pa., and on tap only through the end of October, results in a golden amber brew, a softer and fresher accent on the hops and a respectable 6.2 ABV.

Victory Brewing Co. Moon Glow Weisenbock—Reminding us that wheat beers aren’t just for the summer months, this seasonal offering from Downingtown, Pa.-based Victory sports a more substantial presence than those orange-garnished hefeweizens you were downing on your summer vacation. This amber-hued brew, available on draft and in bottles, presents notes of clove and banana and backs it up with a sneaky 8.7 ABV that may indeed add a satisfied glow to your autumn cookout, bonfire or camping trip.

Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout—Something about the cooler months calls for a rich, coffee-colored pint of stout. Weyerbacher, located in Easton, Pa., takes the traditional American Imperial stout a step further, adding layers of complexity by aging this brew in bourbon barrels. The resulting flavor combines chocolate, vanilla and malt with a coffee and bourbon nose that pairs well with foods as diverse as rich pot roast, chocolate desserts and your favorite breakfast meats and pastries. But take note—at 11.3 ABV, this “breakfast” beer might keep you in that mellow, Sunday-morning mood all day long.

‘Our Local Gangster’ Headed to the Big Screen

De Niro, Scorsese will produce film based on true-crime bestseller about mob figure Frank Sheeran

Delaware Valley Teamsters Union bigwig and admitted mob associate Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran might seem like an odd subject for a Martin Scorsese-helmed crime movie.

Sheeran, who died in 2003, is a bit different from the protagonists of Scorsese mob movies like Goodfellas and Casino. The hulking World War II vet, at 6’4” and with nary a drop of Italian blood, goes against much of the general public’s conventional knowledge about organized crime figures.

But his life, as told in author Charles Brandt’s true-crime thriller I Heard You Paint Houses, is anything but conventional. In the book, Sheeran claims to have been either at the fringes or the center of some of the biggest stories of the 20th century, including the disappearance of International Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa.

Brandt’s book will form the basis of the forthcoming Scorsese-directed feature film The Irishman, produced by Robert De Niro’s TriBeCa Productions and starring De Niro as Sheeran. Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are also reportedly attached to the project, slated to shoot in 2017, with distribution through Paramount Pictures.

The movie will be of particular interest to Delawareans thanks to Sheeran’s longtime status as “our local gangster,” says Brandt.

Sheeran was president of Wilmington Teamsters Local 326 starting in 1966 when it was split off from its Philadelphia parent. He surrendered the post in 1976 after he was sentenced to 18 years in prison on federal racketeering charges.

Plenty of Wilmington References

“The newspaper reporters of the day would invariably find good copy when they wrote about Frank,” Brandt says. “He was very colorful.”

In addition to Local 326, then headquartered on Front Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), the book name-checks a number of Wilmington locations, suggesting the potential for some local shout-outs in the movie.

Brandt, who maintains a Delaware home in Lewes and a second one in Idaho, says the pending film version of his book couldn’t be in better hands.

“It’s unimaginable. If you sat down and wrote a book about the Hoffa disappearance and you had a magic wand, your first choice would be for Scorsese to direct it and your second choice would be for De Niro to be in it,” he says. “It’s at the highest level you can imagine for a book about the Mafia, to have landed on board with those guys. I can die now. It’s a dream come true.”

In the book, Brandt, a New York native and University of Delaware graduate who in the early 1970s became the First State’s chief deputy attorney general, combines Sheeran’s direct testimony and his own legal and journalistic legwork to create not just a vivid picture of a mob loyalist and prolific assassin, but a man tormented by a cruel childhood, the scars of war and remorse for betraying those closest to him.

The title of the book comes from the first words Sheeran says Hoffa ever spoke to him during a phone call arranged by mob boss Russell Bufalino. “Painting a house” was vivid mob slang for a killing, alluding to the blood spatter that remained on the walls after a hit.

Interviews with Sheeran

In his personal testimony, recorded by Brandt in one-on-one interviews over the course of five years, Sheeran offers direct insight to his experience growing up on the fringes of pre-war Philadelphia, the horrors of his 411 days in combat during World War II, and the political machinations of the various crime families operating in the United States after the war ended.

The ailing and remorseful Sheeran says he was the sole killer in the 1972 hit on New York mobster “Crazy” Joey Gallo —a killing long thought to be perpetrated by several gunmen. And almost like a mobbed-up Forrest Gump, he also admits to having a hand in critical moments of American history, including the CIA’s invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But the most definitive account focuses on the disappearance of Hoffa, who vanished without a trace on July 30, 1975. In the book, Sheeran admits to knowing exactly what happened to Hoffa that day because he was the one who pulled the trigger.

Born in Darby, Pa., Sheeran parlayed his work as a truck driver and small-time hustler into friendships with some of the most powerful underworld figures in Philadelphia. He thrived in a world dominated by Italians—the shamrock in the red sauce, as it were—and rose to a level of respect among American organized crime usually reached only by “made” men, the mob elite who by definition had to be of Italian heritage.

Philly mobsters—particularly his main benefactor, Bufalino—were charmed by his command of Italian, which he picked up during the war, as well as his loyalty, trustworthiness and brutal efficiency. At the same time as he took care of assassinations for the mob, he maintained a “straight” job, climbing the ladder of the Philadelphia Teamsters organization to eventually run the Wilmington local. Along the way, he fostered a close friendship with Hoffa, who ran the International Teamsters with not just an iron fist, but also with the willingness to lend money from the union’s retirement fund to his organized crime associates.

Hoffa’s fate has been an enduring mystery for more than 40 years, with local, state and federal law enforcement, filmmakers and amateur investigators all insisting they’ve determined what happened to him after he went missing from his Michigan cabin. Books, magazine articles and the Jack Nicholson film Hoffa have suggested a variety of fates, but Sheeran’s account stands out by offering a first-person description of the killing itself.

The Irishman on the Big Screen

Tribeca originally contacted Brandt regarding the availability of film rights for I Heard You Paint Houses in 2007, then began working with screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Schindler’s List.

“De Niro and Zaillian gave the book to Martin Scorsese,” Brandt says. “He read it and loved it, so a package was put together with Paramount Pictures, with Scorsese and De Niro producing it, De Niro starring in it and Zaillian screenwriting it.”

By August of 2009 the screenplay was complete. But De Niro and Zaillian weren’t finished just yet. De Niro invited Brandt to come to New York and share any additional information with Scorsese and Zaillian that hadn’t been included in the 2004 and 2005 printings of I Heard You Paint Houses.

“That material I’d kept out of the book because it involved Mafia figures who were still alive and flourishing,” Brandt says. “But by 2009, the principal among them, Russell Bufalino, had died, and Billy D’Elia became the new boss. And Billy didn’t like me, so I didn’t mention anything about Billy in the book.”

By 2009, D’Elia had been arrested and turned state’s evidence in cooperation with the FBI.
“When [the FBI] went to him, the first question they asked him was, ‘What happened to Hoffa,’ and he told them to read my book,” he says.

That conversation with the filmmakers also resulted in 57 pages of testimony from Sheeran and independent corroboration of Sheeran’s claims being added to the 2016 edition of I Heard You Paint Houses.

“This has the material I gave them and then it has a ton of corroboration about not just Hoffa and Crazy Joey Gallo, but corroborates the Mafia’s role in the assassination of JFK,” he says. “Sheeran had made these confessions to me, and now they’re totally corroborated.”

The Hijinks of Getting Hitched

Big or small, weddings can be full of surprises

Every couple wants to create a joyful wedding day that also adds a special spin that says, “Here’s who we are. Let’s celebrate it!”

But when it’s time to plan the wedding, there are those couples content to tread the well-worn path formed either by family tradition or wedding traditions fed to us through pop and consumer culture. Those are the weddings that, in the minds of guests, tend to run together over the years.

But weddings are, by their nature, meant to be memorable. Sometimes those memories result from careful planning and flawless execution. Other times, thanks to nature, lousy luck, the random inebriated guest or the curmudgeonly father of the bride/groom, the day is unforgettable for entirely unexpected reasons.

And those who eschew the traditional church wedding and reception hall party can find themselves faced with challenges.

Take, for instance, Kerry Kristine McElrone. In planning her wedding to well-known Wilmington musician Joe Trainor last September, she knew she wanted to get married someplace different. What she found, however, was that all the “different” places had realized their appeal as marriage locations and created pricey wedding and reception packages to take advantage of that appeal.

The couple lived on Kirk Avenue in Wilmington, and the one-block street between North Jackson Street and North Van Buren Street is known for its annual block parties. So, early on in the planning, the joking suggestion was that Kerry and Joe should get married right there.

“We probably should have just stuck with that idea from the get-go, because that’s exactly what we did,” she says.

With the help of friends and neighbors along the close-knit block, the pair put together what was to be an event that was low on formality but high on fun. Streets were swept, front porches were spruced up and the weather leading up to the happy day was gorgeous.

“Our biggest fear wasn’t just rain, but sideways rain,” says Kerry.

Unfortunately, sideways rain is exactly what they got.

Just in time for the couple to return from a photo session on the Riverfront, the skies opened, and 150 well-turned-out guests got soaked.

But aside from the inconvenience, there was charm in the moment, Trainor says.

“It was just a sea of umbrellas on Kirk. We had strung lights over the trees, and it was really just beautiful. Then it rained harder and harder during the ceremony. The more we got married, the more it rained.”

And then, when the ceremony ended, so did the rain. The DJ began the music, the sky cleared and the celebration commenced.

“I have never been to a wedding as cool as this,” Trainor says. “It was outside and beautiful and everyone knew everyone else. It wasn’t stuffy. It was probably the most ‘us’ I could have imagined.”

Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker got married in Arden, in the back yard of the groom's mother.
Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker got married in Arden, in the back yard of the groom’s mother.

Bringing It Home

There are some who gauge the success of their wedding by the number of attendants, the grandiosity of the cocktail reception and the money spent on the dance band.

Others, like Jeremy and Dawn Sheiker of North Wilmington, use different criteria, such as whether the bride and groom are to be found at 5 o’clock the morning after the nuptials, glowing and sleepless, eating breakfast at the Marsh Road Diner.

They were with six other intrepid souls, she in her wedding dress (only $300—the one that made her mother weep for joy, and in which she’d earlier performed cartwheels), her new husband dressed down to his faux tuxedo t-shirt, chowing down on diner grub after their small ceremony in the Arden back yard of the groom’s mother.

“The madness was that if you’re having a party in your mother-in-law’s back yard, there’s no end time,” says Dawn.

Jeremy’s childhood home in Arden sits adjacent to the village’s Sherwood Forest, which is among northern Delaware’s most pristine and well-preserved woodlands.

“It’s a really special place,” Dawn says. “[It’s] the last house and you’re in the woods. Before he was even thinking about being a husband his plan was to get married there.”

Dawn, meanwhile, admits she isn’t the type of person who normally wants to keep special occasions small. But when it came to her wedding, she had a very specific number in mind: 60 people.

“I’m a very grandiose person and I do everything big, but taking our vows was really important to me and I wanted to make it very intimate,” she says. “It was important being able to celebrate with our friends, who are our family to us.”

They also insisted on seating all the guests together for dinner —served from a food truck driven onto the property—to further emphasize that intimacy.

“I had a big thing where I didn’t want to have individual tables,” Dawn says. “It was really important to me that we all sat together as a family. We basically sat in a big square as opposed to little pods.”

A Wedding Among the Redwoods

Former Delawareans Brian and Kori Truono, who now live in Cincinnati, took their small, set-in-the-woods wedding a step further. With his family in Delaware and hers in Kansas, the prospect of trying to bring both sides together in a single location wasn’t practical. So, they didn’t invite anyone.

They were married in the Prairie Creek Redwoods near Eureka in northern California, with only them, an officiant and two photographers.

“We sort of eloped, in a sense,” Brian says. “The price of everything had just skyrocketed, and we had other things we wanted to do besides spend $50,000 on a wedding.”

One of those things was travel, which the couple can do thanks to his job as a freelance photographer and web designer and hers as a pediatric oncology pharmacist.

U.S. national parks are a favorite destination. So, on a trip to see the redwoods, Kori researched and found a local officiant, who performed their ceremony in a towering, cathedral-like space among the trees. Kori rode to the spot in the officiant’s truck—“It probably smelled a little bit like pot,” Brian says.

After vows were exchanged, the officiant presented the couple with a redwood sapling and a spade engraved with their names and the wedding date inscribed on the blade.

“We planted it there in the woods, which was probably highly illegal,” Brian says. “Maybe when we go back we’ll check the spot to see if it’s growing.”

Memorable Mishaps

In spite of all the planning, there’s always the uncontrollable variable of human behavior. No one—planner, couple, guest or vendor—can tell what’s going to happen when family and friends gather with all their emotional baggage, personality quirks and human foibles.

Jim Coarse of Wilmington-based Moonloop Photography can attest to that. As someone paid to observe and capture special moments, he’s seen plenty that ended up not being so special.

Coarse recalls one wedding in which the order of toasts got mixed up and seemed to throw the DJ into a surlier mood each time he was called to correct himself and let wedding party members speak.

The crowning catastrophe came when, just as the reception dancing began, the DJ’s Windows 8 laptop suddenly began its mandatory update.

“In the middle of the dancing the music was just…gone,” Coarse says. “Everything just stopped. They had to wait for the whole computer to restart. It was definitely awkward.”

Coarse says fathers of the bride can be particularly difficult, occasionally living up to the comic potential alluded to in the movies of the same name. Sometimes the divorced father of the bride refuses to participate in a photo with his daughter and his ex-wife; or butlered hors d’oeuvres may lure him away, Homer Simpson-like, from a family shot.

“It’s a frequent occurrence at weddings where the ceremony and reception are in the same place,” Coarse says. “The father of the bride will just walk out of the frame to follow someone with a tray. Then I’ll send someone to get him and he won’t come back either.”

But as wedding party members go, some might be surprised that the groomsmen are rarely the ones who misbehave on the day of the wedding. Coarse says it’s the bridal party that’s often the source of inappropriately early inebriation.

“The groomsmen will sometimes pull out a beer early on, but that’s about it,” he says. “The girls are all about the mimosas the day of the wedding. It’s always the girls with the mimosas and the champagne.”

A Blending of Cultures

With large, formal weddings, a wedding planner is charged with taking elements from the lives of the couple and bringing those out in the celebration.

Consider the wedding of Stephania and Henry Costa, a Wilmington couple with family traditions that stretched from the United States to Italy to the African nation of Liberia. Planned by Christina Maddox of Wilmington’s Heaven Sent Wedding Consultants, their nuptials at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia included all the trimmings.

One key to planning a successful ceremony, says Maddox, is to ask a lot of questions.

“My initial consultations are very detailed,” she says. “I probably ask about 100 questions. For me, with 15 years doing this, when I walk away from a consultation the wedding is planned, and now it’s just time for me to execute it.”

One of those questions is how the couple met. Knowing that helps Maddox add extra touches throughout the wedding day, such as a cake that might reflect the moment that first brought the couple together.

“It’s those little things that I can incorporate into their day and personalize it for them,” Maddox says. “And any good wedding planner would be able to do that.”

With the Costa wedding, one of the ways she ensured the couple were reflected and celebrated was with food.

“Dinner was five courses, very extravagant and very detailed, and that’s how they wanted to show their Italian and Liberian cultures,” she says. “The Four Seasons had a special chef come in and do a tasting for us. And that chef, he got it. He tweaked it for exactly what they were expecting. Everybody was talking about the food.”

The Spirit of the Ceremony

Another important consideration is the officiant, Maddox says. Couples who have a more active and formal faith will require one type, while those who aren’t religious or might be coming into the marriage from diverse religious backgrounds would require quite another.

For some, like the Sheikers, the officiant might be a member of the family, or perhaps part of a house of worship they already attend.

Others, like the Truonos, will hire an outside officiant who will help them make the type of service they envision a reality. Neither of the Truonos were particularly religious, “and the vows were representative of that,” Brian says. “We mixed cultures and incorporated different things into the ceremony. And in that sense it was fun and meaningful.”

Newark’s Lynda Daring, an ordained non-denominational minister in the Universal Life Church, has administered many vows over the years.

“There’s a big culture shift right now,” she says. “I wouldn’t be in business if everyone was getting married in churches. I approach things passionately and way outside the box to help [a couple] focus on that bottom line” that they’re committing to a lifetime together.

One of her first questions to couples is what their beliefs about marriage are. Are they more religious or secular, and what elements of religion might they want kept in or left out?

“I tell them it’s OK if you don’t go to church. I’m just a person who loves bringing people together,” says Daring.

In the end, regardless of unique venues, unexpected mishaps, the whims of weather or combining cultures, bringing people together is what weddings are all about. And it’s in that spirit that love—the true purpose of the day—wins above all.

Tips on Creating a Special Wedding

• Sit down with your future spouse and figure out what’s most important for the wedding. “Once you’re on the same page for marriage, that will help you navigate the challenges of family, finances and staying true to your goal and your dream wedding,” says bride Dawn Sheiker.

• Have a wedding date in mind and know your budget going in. “Budget is crucial. It’s everything,” says Christina Maddox of Heaven Sent Wedding Consultants. “It helps me narrow down venues and vendors. It is the beginning of your wedding and your reception.”

• Know your beliefs and the tone you want the ceremony to set. That informs what kind of service you want, says wedding officiant Lynda Daring. “I want to find out what this is going to be about, because a couple is usually so wrapped up in plans about the tuxes and the dress.”

• Even if you go totally non-traditional, know the traditions you want to acknowledge in the ceremony. “It’s a fine line when you go off the beaten track between keeping the sanctity of the ceremony without going too far into ‘we’re just having a big party,’” Sheiker says. “You have to balance that and really think.”

Bookstores Leverage the Power of Local

Competing with big retailers requires creativity, keeping things personal, and developing alliances

What does it take to be successful as an independent bookseller in the second decade of the 21st century?

According to Rebecca Dowling, owner of Hockessin Book Shelf, it takes persistence, creativity—including alliances with local businesses—and loyalty to a devoted customer base. And an auto parts store next door doesn’t hurt.

She shares this piece of information while noting that her store has no coffee shop, which many shoppers have come to expect from big-box book retailers (or at least those that are left—more on that later).

“I’d rather be next to a food service than have the headache of having one in the store,” she says. “I think the draw is the books.”

While she doesn’t have any food service stores in the strip mall where her store is located, she does have the Hockessin NAPA auto parts shop. Though it doesn’t offer fancy Italian coffees, it has its benefits.

“We have lots of male suspense and adventure fiction customers, who I’m sure walk into our front door when they mean to walk into NAPA,” she says.

Rebecca Dowling opened Hockessin Book Shelf 15 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Hockessin Bookshelf.)
Rebecca Dowling opened Hockessin
Book Shelf 15 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Hockessin Bookshelf.)

And walk in they do. In its 15 years of existence, the tiny shop on Route 41 has become a center for new and used books in the Hockessin area, as well as the launching point for local authors, both those published traditionally and independently.

And to the surprise of nearly everyone—not least of all the book store owners themselves—independent bookstores like Hockessin Book Shelf are surviving in a world where many believed they would die a quick death from being undercut on price, shown up by fancy in-store cafes and rendered obsolete by technology.

Instead, indie bookstore owners around Delaware saw the big bookstore business contract and one of their main competitors disappear entirely, leaving room for them to ply their trade with the skills that none of the big boys seem able to match.

Kindle (nearly) killed indie bookstores

Not long ago, one sure way to get a derisive laugh from people at a cocktail party would have been to say, “Hey, wouldn’t this be a great time to go into the bookstore business?”

That’s because those people, presumably having a moderate grasp of A) modern economics, B) online ordering, and C) how the Kindle and its e-reader brethren were going to kill the printed page, would have assumed you were an idiot.

The high-water mark for Kindle seems to have been 2011. That Christmas, it was as if Santa Claus carpet-bombed North America with rectangular e-readers, prompting an explosion in the market for all manner of electronic literary content.

The Kindle had been out since 2007, but the incarnations of the device that debuted in time for Christmas of 2010 were a step above their clunky and inelegant predecessors.

Bigger screens, better resolution and more intuitive navigation made them the gift of the season. EBook sales skyrocketed, and traditional booksellers felt the impact.

Barnes & Noble, with its own version—the Nook—was in the fray, too. But as a big brick-and-mortar business that depended mostly on sales of hard-copy books, it too felt the contraction in the traditional book market.

Meanwhile, the market’s other major retailer, Borders, simply gave up. Unable to compete with Amazon on price and being squeezed between the online retailer and Barnes & Noble, the company chose to close its stores.

So imagine a classroom representation of the dinosaurs’ extinction. The scrappy little indie bookstores would be the tiny, warm-blooded mammals, hunkered down in their burrows and maintaining their habitats while the lumbering giant lizards fought and died around them. Naturally, some of the tiny competitors were lost in the melee, but among those who survived, many have become stronger than ever.

Key to the evolution was the independent bookstores coming to understand what they were not—mainly Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Gemma and Jack Buckley emphasize "handselling" at Ninth Street Books.
Gemma and Jack Buckley emphasize “handselling” at
Ninth Street Books.

A person, not an algorithm

Recent sales statistics show that not only have eBook sales declined, but sales of hard copies have ticked upward. That’s good news for those still in the business of selling books—particularly books that readers can actually touch.

“We choose not to compete” with Amazon, says Jack Buckley of Ninth Street Books, which has been in downtown Wilmington since 1977. “We do our thing the way we do it. If you compete with Amazon, you basically compete on price. But if we compete on price, we lose. There’s no way we can stay open and do that.”

While Ninth Street maintains a website through the American Booksellers Association’s IndieBound program, Buckley knows that his store’s primary customer is someone who visits the store in person rather than ordering online. His customer, he says, is someone interested in receiving recommendations and wisdom from an actual human being—not an automated computer algorithm.

Buckley calls it “handselling”—booksellers making recommendations to customers based on their own preferences and knowledge of customer buying patterns.

“It’s the key to our success,” he says. “We have a staff of three, and there are areas that each of us will take as expertise based on our likes and dislikes. Our average time in bookselling is 35 years, so we’ve been around for a long time.”

On its website, Ninth Street also appeals to the bottom line economics of shopping locally: “More of the money you spend here stays here. For every $100 that you spend in our store, $68 goes back into the local economy, as opposed to only $43 from national chains.”

Unlike Ninth Street, Thomas Macaluso of Thomas Macaluso Used and Rare Books in Kennett Square, Pa., considers himself in direct competition with Amazon, dealing with far-flung online customers through

“In addition to books, we sell antique maps,” he says. “When we started selling online I went out and bought a new map of the world and put it on the wall of the store. I’d put a red pin in for every country and state to which we’d send a book. And we’re talking thousands of books over the years.”

To help battle competition from Amazon, he goes as far as to suggest his customers avoid the online retailer altogether.

“I try to discourage them in the interest of the public and the retail booksellers,” he says. “I remind them that they have forced some authors’ royalties down and they have forced publishers to reduce their prices for Amazon, which otherwise threatens to not carry their book. It’s changed the industry.”

Those changes, he said, don’t bode well.

“The purchaser might be content to save a couple of dollars, but I don’t think it’s good for the country and its culture.”

Newark’s Rainbow Records, located on Main Street, also keeps its customers in mind when stocking an inventory of primarily used books.

Miranda Brewer, owner of Newark’s Rainbow Records, must cater to tastes of college students.

“It’s a college town, so you already have seeking minds and people who want to learn,” says owner Miranda Brewer. As a result, works by cultural icons like Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski remain consistently popular. “Literally, I’ll put it on the shelf and within the hour it’s gone.”

Brewer also takes into account the economic constraints her customers face. “Being located where we are, we mostly get college students who want books but are on a budget, and our prices reflect what the students want to spend.”

Like Ninth Street and Hockessin Book Shelf, she is at something of a disadvantage because of the buying power and organizational infrastructure of Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“With the big box retailers, their cost is way lower because their volume is much higher, so I really have to watch every penny,” she says. “I’m just one person overseeing everything, where they have one person overseeing every micro element of their business.”

Keeping things creative

Hockessin Book Shelf’s Dowling says providing a high level of service to her loyal customers includes reaching them by partnering with other local businesses to offer a wider range of reader experiences.

“We live and die by our customer base. We’re really ground zero for the local economy,” she says.

In the store, she hosts author events and book launches for locally based and national authors. She welcomed 110 people for the recent launch of local author Sharon Roat’s novel, Between the Notes. In addition, she hosts a contemporary fiction book group, whose meetings are held in the store, complete with a meal catered to reflect the theme of that meeting’s book. Then there is a mystery readers group that meets at Hockessin’s Drip Café.

During the summer, Hockessin Book Shelf features children’s story times at Woodside Farm Creamery and a cookbook club that meets at Coverdale Farms. “That’s really fabulous because they just have this bucolic setting, a restaurant-grade kitchen and all the food comes straight off the farm,” says Dowling.

It’s this ability to form business alliances, make nimble decisions and meet customers where they live that really sets the independent bookstores apart from their larger competitors, Dowling says.

“If we want to create something or try something as a store or a community, we just do. We don’t have to apply to anyone for approval,” she says. “People like to come in and chat and we’re on a first-name basis with a ton of our customers. And I think that’s something you can’t do at a certain size store that you can do at a very local and small size store. No algorithm can do it.”