Blue Earl brews up four years in Smyrna

Blue Earl Brewing Company owner Ron Price started his business four years ago with five employees, some part-time, and now has a staff of 24 at his Artisan Drive location in Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

SMYRNA — With four years behind them, Blue Earl Brewing Company owner Ron Price says they’ve tripled their output and more than quadrupled their staff since opening their off-the-beaten path location on 210 Artisan Drive in Smyrna.

Opening their doors in May of 2015 with just five employees (some part-time), they now have a staff of 24 — and they’re looking to hire even more in the coming weeks.

“Now we have four year-round brands available in retail stores throughout Delaware and Maryland,” said Mr. Price. “We also have a couple dozen more brands on draft throughout the year — a lot of them seasonal. We have six distributors and we have plans to start pushing up into Pennsylvania in the coming years as well. We’ll need to expand the brewery and get more tanks for that as well.”

Given the explosion in popularity of micro and craft breweries around the country, the margins are slim and the competition is fierce, he explains. He’s found that the biggest potential for growth is increasing the offerings and catering to customers local to the brewery. To this end, the brewery — which used to occasionally host food trucks on their grounds — officially became an eatery as well in mid-March.

“I wanted to open a full-blown kitchen, but the costs for that are really high so we actually purchased a food cart and we have it set up inside the brewery,” said Mr. Price.

“We’ve got a panini press, convection oven and a smoker outside, so we’re able to do pretty much everything we wanted to within reason. Our mobile license allows us to sell food, but it’s kind of a morph between a restaurant and food cart — it’s a really unique setup.”

Dubbed Blue Earl Brewing’s Juke Box, the food service arm of the business was destined to open from the beginning because of his personal passion for food, says Mr. Price.

“It all started for me back when I was 12 years old watching Julia Child and ‘Yan Can Cook’,” he added. “I’ve been planting my own garden continuously for the last 30 years and experimenting with barbecuing, pickling and canning for quite awhile. So, this was a natural step for me.”

The obsession has spurred Mr. Price to design the menu with a tight focus on locally sourced ingredients and talent.

Mr. Price tends to a brisket in back of his brewery. Called Blue Earl’s Juke Box, the business added a menu of food items in mid-March. Though the brewery is open every day of the week, currently it’s only offering food Thursday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

“We have great Blue Earl bread made for us by La Baguette Bakery in Dover by Chef Ludovic (Bezy) that’s made from the grains from our beer,” he said. “We have paninis, cheese steaks, Bavarian pretzels with Blue Earl beer cheese and mustard and slow smoked brisket, pork and chicken served with our Blue Earl barbecue sauce — which is made from Painted Stave’s (a Smyrna distillery) bourbon and local honey from Bee Natural in Leipsic. We also have a really cool dish we call Blue Earl’s bratwurst and kraut — the brat itself is made exclusively for us by the great butcher Larry Mola who owns Camden Wyoming Market.”

The menu includes a full array of other appetizers, finger foods, sandwiches and entrées, but Mr. Price said one item in specific has been particularly popular since the introduction of the menu.

“Earl’s Street Taters have been selling like crazy. People love them,” he said. “They’re crispy tater tots with cheese that come in three versions: Buffalo chicken, smoked BBQ or bacon cheddar ranch.”

Though the brewery is open every day of the week, currently it’s only offering food Thursday through Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Mr. Price says they hope to expand that to include Wednesdays in the coming weeks as they reintroduce “Jam at the Juke” — an open mic night.

Blue Earl Brewing Company owner Ron Price serves up a beer last week. Blue Earl has four year-round beer brands available in retail stores throughout Delaware and Maryland.

Already receiving positive feedback from his customers, Mr. Price says he suspects that one day in the future the eatery will develop into a full-service kitchen like he’d originally envisioned. For now though, he’s going to focus on perfecting his menu and service to local customers.

To mark their fourth year in business, the brewery is holding an anniversary party on May 11 from noon to 11 p.m. The event will feature live music by Sam Smick and lower case blues, notes Mr. Price.

“We’re celebrating the great time we’ve had being a part of the community — it’s been four years of beer, friends and shenanigans,” he said. “We’ll be serving food, having some beer tents set up outside and some yard games like horseshoes and cornhole. It’s going to be a fun day.”

For more information, call (302) 653-2337 or visit blueearlbrewing.com.

Mr. Price shows off a freshly cooked brisket sandwich now available at Blue Earl.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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