Behind the Scenes of a Small Brewery’s First Big Release
Beer release days can be exciting for fans, and sometimes chaotic for small brewers who plan the events. Dewey Beer Company, a two-year-old small and independent craft brewery in coastal Delaware, held its first beer release day in February. We were curious about the work that goes into a small brewery’s beer release day: how does a small business pull off a big day? We went to the seaside town of Dewey, Delaware, to find out.
Dewey Beer Company’s Philosophy
A small line of people had already started to form at Dewey Beer Company’s (DBC) side door as we arrived nearly two hours before opening. Even with a few craft beer lovers, the energy is as vibrant as the warm February breeze off the Atlantic Ocean just a block away. Chairs and coolers are scattered as eager beer lovers wait for the doors to open.
Brandon Smith, Dewey’s co-owner, greets us before filming a brief video for DBC’s Instagram feed. He invites us inside and tells us to make ourselves at home where we meet up with Mike Reilly, head brewer and co-owner, behind the taps. He pours some samples of the day’s release and begins to share their story.
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Natives to the D.C. and Virginia area, Mike Reilly, Scot Kaufman and Brandon Smith had the conversation we all hear so often — they were drinking beer together and decided to start a brewery.
With their only background in brewing being Reilly’s career in teaching high school physics, he was the one who decided to make a life change to become a brewer, while Smith and Kaufman focused on management. Reilly taught himself everything about the craft on his own, always focusing on the team’s philosophy of making beer that they wanted to drink. That’s still true several years later as Reilly shares, “Out of the last 12 beers we have brewed, eight were IPAs and four were sours. It’s what we like and what we know people like.”
By simply sticking to their own philosophy, DBC has been able to grow as a staple to the small beach town of Dewey, Delaware, and finally reach their first can release day in just under two years, but as the day approached, many challenges arose. The biggest being the “unknowns.”
When I ask what they expect to get out of their first can release, Smith says, “We have absolutely no idea. It’s such a great unknown, especially with doing our first in February. We can feel a certain buzz around us, but there are a lot of unknowns.”
One of the first decisions was figuring out which beer to release. The team settled on They Call Me Hey, a double dry hopped double IPA with Galaxy, Citra and Motueka hops (8% ABV), as well as Secret Machine, a sour Berliner Weisse with blackcurrant, blackberry and raspberry (6.3% ABV). After deciding on the beers, Reilly got to brewing and the whole team went to figuring out the next unknown: space.
“Where’s all the space, where is everything going to go?!” Smith says.
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Brew Space is Tight
DBC took over an old diner off Coastal Highway. It functions not only as a brewery but a restaurant as well, so space is limited. They recently acquired the lease on a connecting part of the building, cutting a doorway straight into the drywall and mending it with some duct tape.
“It’s under some work but it functions,” shares Reilly as he gives us a tour.
The brew space is tight, so another unknown was simply how to can the beer. They were out of room, so they initially thought adding a canning line would be impossible.
“Then Twin Monkeys came around with this engineering feat of a tabletop canner. Our world changed instantly,” Reilly tells us.
But with the aptly named Mighty Mouse canning machine arrived only two days before the big release day, the guys were under pressure to can, label and store 70 cases of beer quickly. At 16 cans per minute and 2 minutes to hand-label a case, they had to hustle.
“It was fun, stressful, and went late into Friday night, just hours away from the release,” Smith shares. “It reminded Mike and I of our first day brewing here. There was a lot of similarities, and a huge sense of comradery and accomplishment.”
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Beer Release Day Arrives
When the day finally arrives, anticipation is in the air. As the rest of DBC’s staff starts filtering in and one bartender joyfully shouts — “There’s people outside!” — it automatically pops the bubbles of all those unknowns and paves the way for a successful first can release day.
Smith and Reilly gather their staff for a pep talk. They make toasts and celebrate as the clock ticks closer to opening. After a quick photo shoot of the guys standing proudly by their lot, they open the doors and Smith and Reilly welcome the line of guests.
We watch beer lovers haul away cases as all of DBC’s hard work came to fruition. The smiles were inevitable as the atmosphere was electric; this small town brewery has done it. They have reached the must-needed step to not only max out their brewing capacity all year long, but also spread their craft across towns, cities and states.