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Breweries, wineries and distilleries are booming in Delaware, as artisans seek to capitalize on the widespread popularity of craft booze.
Those adult-beverage makers also are spurring what officials say is the fastest growing segment of visitors to the First State: alcohol tourists.
A new business in Kent County is now seeking to tap into that market by making their visits a whole lot safer.
Launched this summer, the Delaware Brew Bus may be the first transportation company that caters exclusively to fans of beer, wine and spirits made in Delaware.
“People love touring these places, tasting all the great drinks and seeing how it all gets made,” Brew Bus founder Ryan Graham said.
“The only problem is the driving,” he said. “After you go to one or two, it gets a little unsafe and no one likes a DUI, especially the breweries, wineries and distilleries.”
A fully licensed and insured limousine service, Delaware Brew Bus is essentially a designated driver for hire, but with added benefits.
Starting at $55 per seat, the bus’s boarding fee includes tours and multiple tastings at each stop, water and pretzel necklaces on the bus, souvenirs, games, trivia with prizes and a lesson in Delaware beer history.
In June, the Brew Bus’s 29-year-old driver and tour guide began providing private party tours on his 14-seat Ford E-350 Champion bus.
But starting Sept. 19, the Delaware Brew Bus will begin offering Saturday tours to the general public – with a new look funded through a successful $4,000 Kickstarter campaign.
The Craft Beer Lovers Tour on the first and third Saturdays of the month will visit Blue Earl Brewing Co. in Smyrna, Fordham and Dominion Brewing Co. in Dover and Mispillion River Brewing in Milford. The Taste of Delaware Tour on the second and fourth Saturdays will visit Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna, one of the Kent County breweries and Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel.
Graham said he hopes to eventually expand the Brew Bus’s public tours throughout the state.
“The private tours go wherever and however long the parties want,” he said. “But for the public tours, I’m starting off small and, hopefully, I’ll be able to add more buses and drivers from there.”
Ron Price, who opened Blue Earl Brewing in May, called Delaware Brew Bus a potential game changer.
“It’s a great vehicle – no pun intended – for increasing the visibility of our operation and making these kinds of tours more safe and enticing to our customers,” he said.
While Delaware Brew Bus may be the first company to focus entirely on alcohol tourism, other businesses and organizations are already targeting fans of the industry.
For example, Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House at Dover Downs provides transportation to stops on Kent County Tourism’s Good Libations Tour.
Meanwhile, the year-old CBreeze Shuttle & Limo Service in Fenwick Island partners with Sussex County hotels to provide weekly tours of breweries, wineries and distilleries in Southern Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, along with a menu of more traditional transportation services.
“I guess Delaware Brew Bus is technically competition, but I couldn’t be happier for Ryan,” CBreeze owner Jerry Connolly said. “I think having him aboard will only help raise the visibility of what we’re both trying to do.”
State tourism director Linda Parkowski said demand for targeted transportation services is a testament to the success of the state’s alcohol industry.
Since Sam Calagione founded Dogfish Head in 1995, at least six other breweries, four wineries, two distilleries and numerous brewpubs have followed – with more on the way.
While no studies have been conducted to gauge the economic impact of the state’s alcohol industry, Parkowski and tourism officials in Kent and Sussex counties say the establishments are attracting thousands of visitors each year specifically for tastings and tours.
“Personally, I’ve never seen a boom like this before and it’s growing ever year,” Parkowski said. “I think what companies like Delaware Brew Bus and CBreeze are showing us is that it’s now strong enough that people are able to develop viable businesses around the industry.”
While some have questioned whether the national craft alcohol boom will eventually be followed by a bust, Graham is convinced the industry is here to stay.
“People aren’t going to wake up one day and say, ‘I don’t like craft beer anymore,'” he said. “If anything, they’re going to wake up and want to take a tour of their favorite craft brewery. And we’re going to be here to give them a ride.”