Book Review – Delaware Beer by Tony Russo

DelawareBeerAs a point of disclosure I’m obligated to inform you that there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy this book.

Oh sure, I was going on a little faith as I knew absolutely nothing about Tony Russo before I caught wind of his new book Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State. A brief stroll through the interwebs informed me that indeed this was not Mr. Russo’s first foray into the area of local craft beer.

Tony Russo, as well as being a part of the site is the author of the book Eastern Shore Beer:: The Heady History of Chesapeake Brewing as well as previously writing and editing for the Metropolitan Magazine, Star Democrat, Bayside Gazette and Laurel Star.

So it seemed on a glance that Mr. Russo would be a capable writer with the necessary level of knowledge of the subject to answer the question that his latest book’s title seems to beg.

What is Delaware beer?

One gets the feeling that in order to answer that question Tony Russo took a cue from Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson. While standing on top of a hill with a clear view of everything that is currently happening “beerwise” in the state of Delaware; Russo seems to have asked the same question Mr. Tyson often asked viewers – How did we get here?

And – much like the show Cosmos – Mr. Russo is going to have to take us on a trek back in time to begin to answer that question.

Mr. Russo starts off in the early days of Delaware. Much to his credit, the author doesn’t proceed into a long rehashing of this time period, simply pointing to John Medkeff Jr’s recently published Brewing in Delaware for a more in depth study.

However, he does use this opportunity to set up future chapters by explaining such things as the influence of German immigrants that drove lager to prominence in the marketplace in Delaware and indeed the US, the impacts of Prohibition on the brewers that called Delaware their home, and also the strong sense of culture – the “tavern” community – that arose around the simple pleasures of family and good beer among these same German immigrants (remember that last one; it’s important).

Once the groundwork is laid we’re brought forward in time for a look at three men Delaware beer enthusiasts should easily recognize: Sam Calagione, Al Stewart and Jim Lutz (who provides the forward for the book).

The author lays out enough history to be informative but not boring while explaining the framework of state regulations, still prevalent prohibition mindsets, and early equipment frustrations that Sam and Al had to wade through to get their respective brewpubs off the ground. And by dialing in other breweries such as Iron Hill, adds a discussion on how each company took a different approach in the attempt to establish themselves in a market place that was (and maybe to a point still is) trying to figure itself out.

At the heart of Delaware Beer are the multitude of stories that are woven within the framework of this history concerning the people behind these breweries and consequently the breweries that would begin to open over the coming decades including 3rd Wave, FoDo, Mispillion, Twin Lakes and most recently, Blue Earl Brewing. Stories which help flesh out the narrative and make the book more than just a dry history text.

Mr. Russo uses these stories to highlight the fact that although each brewery worked independently to find their own identity within their surrounding community (remember that from above?) the overall result was a commonality that solidly defines what he believes Delaware beer is.  How? Well you’re going to have to read the book to find that out for yourselves, but trust me, in my opinion Mr. Russo has more than risen to the task.

At 106 pages, Delaware Beer isn’t a daunting read. The narrative of the book flows effortlessly and it reads quite well. It also contains a good number of black and white pictures throughout (along with a 16 page color photo insert) of places and faces that people familiar with the Delaware beer scene should easily recognize.

As stated above there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy this book, and I’m glad to say that I was right – mostly because I had the pleasure or experiencing this beer Renaissance for myself. Tony Russo has written a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the journey beer brewers took in the state of Delaware to get the beer scene where it currently resides today. I’d consider it an excellent follow up read (if not a totally unintentional companion) to John Medkeff’s book mentioned above.

How did we get here? I think Mr. Russo did a fine job explaining our journey. But unlike Cosmos, not only didn’t we have to leave our galaxy to find the answers – we barely had to leave our state.


Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing/The History Press (American Palate Series). Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press at or (888) 313-2665, starting May 9th, 2016.

Tony Russo (ShoreCraftBeer)
Kelly Russo – photos except where indicated (KellyRussoPhotography)


Blue Earl Brewery – May 12th
Dewey Beer Company – May 15th
Seaford Library – May 30th
Fordham and Dominion Brewing – June 3rd
Salisbury Shore Craft Beer Fest – June 18th
Bethany Beach Books – June 19th

[Disclosure: I’d like to thank Emily Hommel and Katie Parry of Arcadia Publishing/History Press for sending me an advanced copy of Delaware Beer.  Receiving this book free as a reviewer’s copy in no way influence my opinion of this book or its review.]

THE FINAL SIP: “Being child friendly has been an important aspect of running these modern-day beer gardens, but being dog friendly has been critical. People like bringing their dogs to the brewery, especially in places without a restaurant, dogs are very welcome. In preparation for publishing this book, we traveled to all the breweries and saw dogs at nearly every one.” – Tony Russo, Delaware Beer. (PHOTO CREDIT: Mispillion River Brewing Facebook page)


Book Release – Delaware Beer by Tony Russo

Below is information from the press release on Tony Russo’s ( up coming book entitled “Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State” which is set to go on sale May 9th. Links for pre-orders can be found at the bottom of this post.

***** Press Release*****

About the book: Boasting a brewing history older than the United States, Delaware packs an outsized punch in the craft beer scene with its landmark breweries and bold flavors. In 1873, the German lagers of Wilmington’s Diamond State brewing rose to dominance. After Prohibition and the bust of the first craft beer bubble, entrepreneurial homebrewers resurrected the industry. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head led the charge by rewriting the state’s beer legislation, and the field opened to other brewpubs like Stewart’s and Iron Hill to pair savory bites with their brews. By 2009, production breweries like 16 Mile and Fordham & Dominion were on the rise, changing the arc of Delaware beer. Beer writer Tony Russo tells a story of big risks and innovative brewers and proves that there has never been a better time to drink local.

(Click on release to enlarge to full screen)

Delaware Beer

You can pre-order “Delaware Beer” from the following locations:

Arcadia Publishing

Book Review – Brewing in Delaware by John Medkeff Jr

BiD CoverIf you’re looking for a college dissertation-like accounting of the brewing history in the state of Delaware, then Brewing in Delaware the recent addition to Arcadia Publishing’s Images in America series written by Delaware beer historian John Medkeff Jr is not for you.

Think of the book less like a stuffy history lesson and more like a visual museum exhibit as you stroll past pages and pages of photographs collected from numerous historical sources and the author’s own private collection (many of which have never been published before) that are designed to take you through (what I’m sure will be surprising to some) Delaware’s rich history in commercial brewing starting from the state’s first colonies up to the present day.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty here for the history buffs as each photo comes with a very detailed caption that not only describes the subject of the photo, but explains how that subject fits into the overall narrative not only in the past, but sometimes in the present.

While the author covers many of the smaller establishments that operated during this time, the bulk of the book focuses on the histories of three of Delaware’s largest brewing concerns – Hartmann & Fehrenbach, Bavarian Brewery and Joseph Stoeckle Brewing Company from their rise to commercial success on the efforts of mostly German immigrants, to their fall at the hands of prohibition and national brand intrusion.

But while the book does contain a large number of photos covering the growth of these breweries as they moved from location to location, the author also does a very good job at revealing the faces behind these businesses, many of whom brought their love for beer from Europe and/or their experience in the beer industry from other cities in the US.

And of course, the book (sadly) finishes these stories with the all too familiar tale of breweries that struggled in the face of the 18th Amendment only to find more hurtles once it was repealed.

The timing for this book couldn’t be any better as Delaware has been enjoying a rebirth of commercial brewing over the past 20 years. In 2014 the Brewer’s Association ranked Delaware 19th on the list of states by breweries per capita with 11 – four more than it had in 2011. Add to that, breweries like Crooked Hammock, Midnight Oil, and Bellefonte Brewing which are waiting in the wings and it seems only fitting that the fourth and final section of the book takes a look at not only the early pioneers of modern day Delaware beer, but those who seem firmly positioned to guide it into the future.

Mr Medkeff avoids the obvious path by not spending too many pages on industry giant Dogfish Head, whose story has already be told in a thousand other places, but instead after a respectful few pages goes on to talk about others that were instrumental in reviving the craft of brewing in the state of Delaware and indeed it is great to see people like Jeff Johnson (Blue Hen Beer), Al Stewart (Stewart’s Brewing), Marty Haugh (Rockford Brewing), and David Dietz (Brandywine Brewing) get the acknowledgement that they so rightfully deserve.

Local readers will also enjoy revisiting old haunts such as The John Harvard location, Downtown Brewing and Rockford Brewing; as well new additions Mispillion River Brewing and Blue Earl Brewing, plus others.

But what if you’re not into all this…brewing? No problem. The book touches enough on topics like the original settlers and prohibition (a section that I found quite interesting) to satisfy those interested in general Delaware history as well as simply affording the reader a glimpse into Wilmington’s past.

Longtime residents will surely recognize some of the structures and cross streets mentioned, even though they’ve taken on a much different appearance today, as well as recognize names plucked directly from the history of Delaware. And indeed that’s part of the appeal of this book, the fact that even though it mostly centers on an industry that flourished over a hundred years ago, the people and places are still very much woven into the fabric of the surrounding area.

Think you’ve never eaten lunch or enjoyed happy hour in a building that once housed the hotel and saloon owned by one of the men behind the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewery? Check out pages 25 and 77. Have you walked through the gardens established by a man who lead The National Association Against Prohibition? Read page 79. Think you’ve never driven your car over the very lot that was once home to Diamond State Brewery? Page 99 may surprise you.

Brewing in Delaware is an amazing collection of photos and documents showing the historical linage of brewing in the State of Delaware, and Mr Medkeff has done an admiral job adding context and substance to those photos. Its visual format and easy reading (It’s about a three/four beer book) makes it approachable for anyone who wants to know more about the breweries and brewers of the nation’s First State, whether you’re familiar with Delaware or you’re not.

SUGGESTED READING: Anyone who is interested in the history of brewing in the pre-prohibition era.

MUST READ: Anyone interested in the history of Delaware and/or the history of brewing within the state of Delaware.

SUGGESTIONS: A great gift or stocking stuffer for that beer lover in your life. Or just buy it for yourself.


Brewing in Delaware, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press at or (888) 313-2665, starting August 10th, 2015.

All proceeds from the book are being donated to the Delaware Historical Society and Friends of Historic Riverview Cemetery.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of brewing in Delaware you can follow John’s Facebook page Delaware Beer History, his website, or attend his up coming lecture at the Blue Ball Barn at Alapocas Run State Park on September 5th, 2015 (Tickets Required).

I’d like to thank Emily Hommel and Katie Parry of Arcadia Publishing for sending me an advanced copy of Brewing in Delaware.

THE FINAL SIP: John Medkeff Jr (R), along with Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione pose with the head of the 11-foot Gambrinus statue that for years adorned what would later become The Diamond State Brewery. The statue was inadvertently broken while in storage in 1978 and currently resides in possession of Mr Medkeff who hopes to restore it. (PHOTO CREDIT: Delaware Beer History Facebook page)


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