Labor Day ushers in the best beach time of the year

Battling the end-of-summer blues? Here's my prescription: Head downy ocean, where Labor Day ushers in the best beach time of the year. Spend a September weekend (or three) enjoying the mellower crowds, the slanting sunlight, the summer-warmed surf, and the fattest crabs of the season.

Still not cured? Perhaps you're neglecting the three essential beverage groups: wine, beer, and spirits. Increasing numbers of wineries and microbreweries make their homes in the small towns of Delmarva, and craft distillers have established a modest presence. Sipping through the highlights would make for an afternoon well-spent.

Nine miles from downtown Ocean City, the Maryland Wine Bar (mdwinebar.com) opened last summer on Berlin's quiet, brick-lined Main Street. A wall-sized bottle rack sits across from an eight-stool bar laminated with labels from state wineries. By all accounts, this is the only bar anywhere serving exclusively Maryland wines. The inventory represents roughly half the state's 60-some wineries, with 20 or so offered by the glass on a rotating basis. With an all-Maryland cheese plate, I enjoyed a flight of Eastern Shore wines ($10 for three 2-ounce samples). My favorite, St. Michael's Winery's Island Belle Sangiovese 2010 ($20, 12.26 percent alcohol), shows dusky ruby, with a nose of spiced cherry and sweet tobacco. Darker cherry and leather flavors finish with notes of orange peel and turned earth.

Before leaving Berlin, hop by Burley Oak Brewing Company (burleyoak.com). The two-year-old microbrewery and alehouse exudes the happy-slacker vibe of serious beer lovers. Quaffs on tap typically include a cask ale, seasonal specialties, Belgian-style variants, and powerhouse IPAs, available in flights, pints, growlers, and occasional batches of hand-filled bottles. Pale Ryeder Double IPA, with its rye spice and triple-hop profile, is, for my money (the only kind I get to spend), Maryland's best beer. Burley Oak kegs reach some of Baltimore's hophead haunts, but production remains limited to about 1,700 barrels annually.

A comparative giant among craft brewers, Dogfish Head (dogfish.com) distills a lesser-known line of artisan spirits that deserve their own following. The brewing operation outgrew Dogfish's popular Rehoboth Beach brewpub and moved to Milton, Del., in 2002, replaced in part by a second-floor pot still Dogfish uses to make gin, vodka, and rum. I'm partial to the Brown Honey Rum (80 proof, $25-ish), which pours medium-dark amber. Oak-aged and flavored with wildflower honey, it packs a woodsy sweetness perfect for fireside sipping-because, alas, it won't stay summer forever.

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