Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione
RateBeer talks to the head of Dogfish Head Brewery & Distillery
May 7, 2002
Written by joet
Sam Calagione has constructed his own rowboat, recites rock lyrics and poetry, was busted for playing hockey naked, and built the nation’s smallest micro brewery with a twelve gallon capacity. Dogfish Head now grows by more than 20% annually, has a 3000 gallon capacity, and is also a micro-distillery, not to mention one of the most creative and experimental brewers in the industry. Sam also manages the brewpub that has been recognized for its great food and the best live music in the area.
RateBeer: This sounds like a lot of hard work! How do you manage, both your personal output and the company’s growth?
Sam Calagione: There IS alot to manage at Dogish Head. And thankfully we have some amazing staff that help get the job done. There are five brewers, a distiller, a comptroller, a restaurant G.M., a head chef, and my lovely bride and co-owner Mariah. I have a lot more meetings each week than I thought I ever would. I went from personally brewing 7 or 8 times a week seven years ago to doing that many batches in the last couple years. I still do the recipe development for new products but technically, any one of our brewers could brew me under the table.
We also have a 25,000 square foot, 100 bbl. per day brewery under construction right now. I’m dealing with plumbers, drywallers, engineers, architects, et. al. New and exciting things are coming up daily to set us back on schedule and budget. I feel like that guy stuck on the boat in Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea: beating back sharks with an oar.
Rehoboth must offer a little comfort. I visited a few years ago; it’s a cute, small town beach with a boardwalk. How did you get there?
I ended up in Rehoboth because my wife is from southern Delaware. I grew up in western Mass and miss the mountains sometimes, but I do love living on the water. Rehoboth is really growing and we are conveniently located two hours from D.C., Baltimore, and Philly.
At first appearances, brewing seems like an art that requires more attention to technique and practice than it does creativity and invention but you seem to get a lot out of the creative aspects. Where do you apply yourself in the brewing process and why?
I do believe brewing is an artform and that a recipe can be as distinct and memorable as a painting or poem. I do not have a science background, but I read every book and article about brewing that I can get my hands on and try to learn technical skills from the brewers around me. As for the recipes, the inspiration comes from different places. The first goal is always to make something that tastes great and is of the highest quality.
The second goal is to make it unique. Our sweeping philosophy is that there’s no use in doing what’s already been done.
Tell us about Midas Touch Golden Elixir, which may have already been done but not in this millenium. Where did that recipe originate and how many attempts did it take to get the brew you wanted?
Midas Touch is a unique beer, even for us. First off, it is the only beer we produce where the recipe was not developed from our own inspiration. Archeologists discovered the residue on the crockery found in Midas’ tomb in ancient Turkey. All that their analysis told them was that the beverage consisted of honey, barley, and grapes. We had to decide on what ratios to use, what alcohol level to target, what spicing to use (hops were not yet a crop in Midas’ day). We got really lucky. The first batch I brewed on the six barrel system at our pub turned our great. It has a real unique taste, kind of like a fine white wine, mixed with mead, and a bit of gueuze.
You do brew unique beers besides this... you brew beers with organic juniper berry, maple syrup, green raisins and Delaware-roasted coffee. You also have beers that debut as a cross between styles, like your Indian Brown Ale that’s a cross between an IPA, an APA and Scotch Ale. Something tells me that style categories and the Reinheitsgebot don’t seem like lines you like to color inside of.
You’re right Joe, we’re not exactly smitten with the Reinheitsgebot. We’re very proud of our recipes and are awed by the opportunity to create new styles in an industry as ancient as brewing. I believe there are two distinct models for the succesful modern craft brewery.
The first is the brewery that blends the highest level of quality with tradition. The perfect hefe, the perfect pils, the perfect barley wine, etc. The second model is a blend of high quality and innovation. This is where we’re living. I’ve got favorite American breweries in both catagories as I’m sure most visitors to RateBeer do. Obviously both models share quality as a starting point.
Nothing put a fog on the craft brewing landscape more than the glut of low quality beers that were flung out of breweries in the ’96 to ’98 salad days of the industry. Personally, I’m a happily unmedicated ADD sufferer. Four ingredients seems a little unneccesarily constricting to me.
You’ve managed to do something very interesting with relatively normal ingredients -- World Wide Stout has been a favorite at RateBeer for some time and is the East Coast Best Stout, Best Beer Overall : East Coast, and awarded a perfect score of 100. Tell us about it.
We’re really proud of World Wide Stout and I’m happy that your readers love it too. We started with the premise of: "Let’s make the strongest beer in the world, but let’s make it taste like beer." I’ve enjoyed the strong beers of Sam Adams, but to me they taste more like booze than beer.
World Wide Stout improves dramatically with age, but even young it’s disproportionately smooth considering the 18% alcohol content. The level of appreciation we’ve seen for this beer on sites like RateBeer, magazines like Saveur, and emails from beer, wine, and whiskey lovers alike gives us hope that beer can obtain the same status of wine in terms of quality, appreciation and depth of character.
Also, it costs a shit load to make and we have to charge a good amount for it (USD $130 per case), but I beleve it’s still a good deal at that price.
[Folks at home: if you’re interested I suggest you contact Sam about this deal immediately. You definitely can’t get that deal by mail order but if you must have it, and you can’t get it otherwise, try <a href="http://www.vintagecellar.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?">Vintage Cellar or other mail order house.]
You caught the brew bug while working at a brewpub in New York City. Do you remember what beers excited you back then?
The first beers I fell in love with were Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Grant’s Porter, and Geary’s Hampshire Ale.
<!-- Garret Oliver has said, "Wine is wonderful, but when the grill is stoked, beer rules."
You pair your beers with wood-grilled food at your pub. Can you give us a short food-beer pairing for summer cookout?
Besides beer, you also do rum. Can you run us through the basics of making rum and tell us about the new challenges you’ve discovered along the way?
Rum making is easy to learn and hard to master. We keep getting better as we go.
We basically start with a wash of unsulfured molasses, water, and distiller’s yeast.
That ferments at 90°F for about a week.
Then we pump that up to our pot still and distill it through a few times. We then flavor and age our rums in converted Hoff-Stevens kegs.
Opening our distillery was a long and winding process (I wrote a story about it in the latest American Brewer Magazine). Our first two products are Brown Honey Rum aged on oak and wildflower honey and Wit Spiced Ruhm aged on orange peel and coriander.
The innovation continues with spirits.
Simple question: Why beer?
Why beer? I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.
So are you telling me you want the kind of thing, that money just can’t buy?
It’s true your brewin’ everything my friend, that makes us feel all right.
So what’s next for you?
We’ve got a few new things planned for later this year. We’re going to play with a whiskey-esque product that we’ll age in Cognac barrels and we’ve got a barley wine coming out on New Years that should be really interesting. We’ve got our ice cream machine going again so that means pints of Raison D’etre Ice Cream to stay or to go at our brewpub.
Our new brewery and new distillery will surely keep us busy in the months to come.
Sounds like you’ll be very busy! I’ll let you get back to it. Thanks very much for talking with us, Sam. We appreciate your time and thoughtful answers.
Joe, thank you for the opportunity. We’re proud of our beers high ranking on RateBeer.com and impressed with your regulars’ knowledge and passion for great beer.
President, Dogfish Head
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