I have a shameful confession to make: I’m a Maryland native that hadn’t eaten hardshell crabs until I was 30. I’d had crabcakes from Crisfields and Cameron’s Seafood, but hadn’t felt the sheer, animalistic satisfaction of taking mallet to a crab shell until adulthood. While many DMV residents grew up with the summer tradition of getting their hands filthy with Old Bay and crab innards, I like to believe I appreciate the communal eating of crabs in a special way as an adult because it takes a certain skill and patience most children (and many adults don’t possess). I grew up eating lobsters every summer in Maine (am I starting to sound like a bougie Kennedy cousin yet?) so I had the instincts to suck the meat out of the legs and no fear of getting messy. The real difference between eating harsher lobsters and crabs in that lobster gives more immediate satisfaction–the huge, easily won meat from the tail and claws– crab eating is a more time consuming endeavor with the tiny bits of meat a harder won battle. This summer, after I’d swiftly demolished a 1 1/4 lb. lobster, my family and I speculated on how many lobsters I could eat in one sitting (in a speed eating setting) without ruining the enjoyment of the food. I settled on a modest 10 lobsters. Just the idea made my father feel physically ill. Crabs may be smaller but they take more effort so perhaps I could eat a similar amount of crabs in one sitting. With any eating challenge, I was desperate to test my theory. Luckily, the fates and the Chesapeake Beer and Crab festival provided.
Once I sat down to enjoy my crabs, a man across from me announced proudly that he intended to keep eating crabs non-stop until the festival closed at 9 p.m. (it was 5:30 p.m.). His girlfriend sighed in resigned affirmation of his crab-eating abilities. I knew straight off I was going to be bested by this guy. He was cracking crabs with one hand while showing a teenage boy next to him how to get the most crab meat. I had no time to be intimidated by Professor Crab–it was chow time. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been to consume mass quantities of crab: I already had a pint of Alltech’s delicious Kentucky Vanilla Cream beer in my belly and I’d eaten a healthy lunch a few hours before. It was amateur hour; I wore an off-white shirt that got quickly stained with Old Bay. I polished off the six crabs and got slightly slowed down by my corn on the cob (I can’t resist, it’s my summer favorite). I thought I was tapped out, at least eating wise, but I was wrong.
Besides the crab-palooza, the beer offerings were very good at the start. By about 2 hours into the night portion of the festival, many of the high quality beers had gone dry and been replaced by Bud Light taps. Fruity sours seemed to dominate the beer offerings, which is perfect for summer and crabs and me. I also fully enjoyed multiple pours of the Babe rosé and the Dogfish Head Dragon beer. The big winner of the festival in terms of booze was Sugarlands Distilling Co. various flavored moonshines. The line was always long and they smartly never ran dry. Seek out their butterscotch flavor, it’s like a boozy Werther’s.
Despite my mediocre showing at crab eating, this festival was an unexpected blast. The food and booze were great, folks were super friendly, I got a bunch of free dog treats for my puppy, a stuffed greyhound for my kiddo (thanks Greyhound!), and a bib that said “Let’s get cracking’!” which helped hide my thoroughly stained shirt.