Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione

A Few Facts about Dogfish Head & the founder Sam Calagione that I learned while reading this great book:

  • The founder Sam designed the Dogfish Head logo
  • Sam’s wife Mariah runs the Social Networking side of the business
  • Sam designed (carved) the original fish-shaped tap pulls that you see replicas of at bars today
  • Dogfish Head made 30 different beers in their first year
  • When Sam decided to open he opened as a Brew Pub not a Brewery so they could fall back on the food sales if the beer wasn’t a hit … the beer was a hit by the way

I have a friend that is wanting to open a brew pub. The other day he was bemoaning the fact that all the equipment costs so much.  He is certainly correct that all the equipment is pretty expensive, but…  I thought it would be inspirational to post a picture (and quote from the founder) of the original equipment that Dogfish Head started with.  If you do the tour they will take you by to see it (note the “Sir Hops Alot” in the corner).

 “We started in 1995 right in this building where you are. The banks didn’t really feel like lending me money and I didn’t really have a track record for business. We opened with really the smallest commercial brewery in the country. We made our brewery out of three kegs. We cut the top off the kegs and put propane burners underneath and we could yield about 12 gallons every time we brewed.”

Dogfish Head Brewing Company Interview with Sam Calagione

By Pete Ricks.


Culture and beer are like the chicken and the egg debate. Does culture enable you to drink beer under the guise of being fancy, or do you drink first and then cling to culture as an afterthought to justify the stupor?

I don’t really care. I’m just glad that beer and culture cross paths as often as they do. 

I mentioned Bitches Brew, a stout by Dogfish Head, in my column last December, but here’s a quick refresher straight from Dogfish:

Sam [Calagione, founder of Dogfish] was drawn to the alchemical spirits in Bitches Brew right out of college, acquiring a copy of the album “within months of the first time I brewed a batch of homebrew in my apartment in New York City. I listened to it when I was writing my Dogfish business plan. I wanted Dogfish Head to be a maniacally inventive and creative brewery, analog beer for the digital age.”

Bitches Brew is an imperial stout brewed by Dogfish in honor of the album’s 40th anniversary that features “threads” of honey and gesho root. So this doesn’t devolve into some drawn-out beer review, I’ll just say it’s really good. It warms the soul and its rich subtlety makes it oh so drinkable.

Anyway, since I’m a huge fan of beer and theme parties, I had two of my favorite ladies – Valeria and Daina – over last night to drink Bitches Brew while listening to the iconic Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis

So meta, I know.

Given that the album itself is just over two hours, I was interested to see if we would make it through the whole thing. We actually almost listened to it twice without even realizing it. The beer and the story behind it launched us into conversations about everything under the sun. Ridiculous stories from when we first struck out on our own as “adults,” family, big life lessons we’ve learned, beer, our own passions and how Danny Castellano from The Mindy Project, though short, is hilariously dreamy

That’s right. In case you’ve forgotten, this is a beer blog written by a girl. A girl who watches The Mindy Project. And I’m secure about it.

I digress. 

Overall, it was kind of a perfect evening. The rhythm of our chatter was struck easily, there was so much good cheese and the music was on point. All thanks to that nice little intersection of delicious beer and culture.

Oh, also, Valeria brought her sweet, 14-month-old pitty named Buffy over for our girls night. She high-fives, you guys. She high-fives you on command. Like for real.

It was the greatest moment of my life

It finally happened. Last night, I met Sam Calagione!

Growing up in Delaware and attending many Dogfish Head events over the past few years, it’s pretty odd that I never met Sam until last night. I can say, however, that it was well worth the wait. While being charmed by Sam and trying not to faint, I got to try out L'Interimaire - a new collaboration between Dogfish Head and Bluejacket - DC’s newest  "boutique brewery". It’s an extremely drinkable Belgian Saison-style brew that I thought was just a tad sour in the best way, but then again, every beer is a 10/10 when you’re drinking it next to Sam Calagione.


Because beer, not lawyers.


Dogfish takes up a lot of real estate in our fridge. So it’s kind of pitiful that Patrick and I have tried to visit Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del., on three different occasions… and failed. Various reasons for our failure have included sickness, other more important events and an aggressive desire to sleep for a ridiculous number of hours.

This past Saturday, however, we decided not to be lazy a-holes, which was a small miracle unto itself because, before we left, we watched the season two premiere of House of Cards – and OMG, stuff happened. I could have easily sat there all day in pajamas – without showering or eating actual food – and watched the all thirteen episodes in one sitting.

(Full disclosure: I absolutely stayed up until a stupid hour later in the weekend watching the entire thing. Because I have zero self control.)

Instead, we got dressed and drove close to two hours in pretty heavy snowfall – including a brief Taco Bell stop – to Delaware.

When we arrived, we were taken aback by the sheer scale of the Dogfish facility which includes its own industrial tree house. We knew Dogfish was kind of a big deal, but it was the first time we had visited a brewery of that size.

Upon entering, a nice gal gave us tasting sheets, where visitors choose four beers to taste for free. (Woohoo!) I chose:

It took a bit of strategic wandering and a few laps, but we were able to stake out a couple of spots at the wraparound bar. And in spite of the crowds, we had a lot of fun swapping beers between each other and trying new stuff, along with some old favorites.

In The New Yorker’s 2008 profile of Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head itself, Garrett Oliver said: “Sam is a wonderful showman. He almost conceives the beer around the story. He’ll think: Wouldn’t it be cool if we carried the beer down the street and everyone put something new into it!“

You can see the showmanship Oliver mentioned in everything Dogfish produces – from their unique and eclectic label artwork to what’s inside the actual bottle. My inner marketer loves how Dogfish lives up to their "Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People,” mantra in such an authentic, earnest way. 

Granted there are a few of their brews that leave me saying, “Well, that was an… interesting beer science project.” But overall, their catalog is littered with amazing beers that I (and many others I know) seek out on a regular basis.

Actually, my love for the Palo Santo Marron and the Burton Baton goes beyond “seeking out on a regular basis.” I would club a flock of sandwiches for those two. Violently.

[Note: Patrick is now joining me in my downward spiral of IPA and Imperial IPA obsession. He loved the Burton Baton, too.]

Anyway, after our tasting, we went for some beer-infused food. I had the bratwurst – pork sausage made with soon-to-be-replaced Raison D'Etre – and we shared a side of their hop pickles. I also took the menu’s advice to pair my meal with the 90 Minute IPA on draft. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, because I don’t want you to feel bad about that Lean Cuisine you had for lunch today. But I will say the tastiness-level of everything was ridiculous.

Sadly, our afternoon dwindled away much too quickly, and soon it was time to go. But of course, we couldn’t leave without doing a bit of shopping – a hat for when I don’t feel like brushing my hair, some dog treats, new glassware, etc. When we were checking out, we initially congratulated ourselves for doing a such good job in keeping our tab down. (“Only $50?! Hooray!”) Then we realized she had forgotten to ring up our beer. (“Oh. Damn.”)

Overall, our field trip to Dogfish was awesome. We had a great time drinking amazing beer, shouting out the names of presidents, reuniting with Alise, eating good food, playing with puppies in the tasting room and uh, drinking more amazing beer.

Unfortunately we opted not to take the tour this time, so I guess that means we’ll have to go back and visit again.

How AWFUL for us, right?

Related: Which came first, beer or culture? (Dogfish’s Bitches Brew)

Related: Dogfish’s Olde School barleywine-style ale – a haiku

Beer To Drink Music To by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione has been very open about how much of a music geek he is alongside his beer geekitude. Beer To Drink Music To is actually the official beer of Record Store Day, a day of exclusive releases in celebration of vinyl and the stores that sell it that happens one day a year in April. I always participate at my local record store Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas. BTDMT is a Belgian-style tripel, which happens to be my favorite style of Belgian beer (followed closely by the saison). I’m not always impressed with American-made ones though. This beer is yeasty and citrusy like I would expect though there’s an odd mineraly aftertaste. There’s also pronounced spice with a hint of sweetness. I think this beer would be better with more body and less spice. A lot of American brewers think that all Belgian-style beer must have spices but most of the beer in Belgium actually doesn’t.    


Our friend and frequent visitor at Ace Hotel New York, Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales invited us down Delaware to hang out. He showed us around his brewery in Milton, and his pub in Rahoboth Beach. After schooling us on beer with multiple tastings of both fan-based homebrew and seasonal Dogfish Head beers, we continued to climb up the company’s tree house for a tasting of the new cedar spiked gin. We finished the evening with a meal at the Brewings & Eats Pub before laying out head in the Dogfish Head suite at the Inn at Canal Square.

Sam and his team share a passion for living life well, taking their craft seriously and with passion, and allowing for life’s other joys to fuel their craft: music, travel, art, food, family and friends. They like to keep things off-center, and practice Beer & Benevolence. We’re stoked to have Sam as a friend and look forward to exploring the world through his beer goggles.

If you haven’t seen his new show Brewmasters on The Discovery Channel, check it out tonight at 8pm EST.


If you didn’t know, this happened yesterday.

And with one somewhat-over-the-top comment from a very notable individual, an entire message board was whipped into calls for heightened morality, rallying the troops and reaffirming their commitment to the craft beer cause. Any twenty-something who was debating on what brewer to shove into the conversation was effectively silenced by a guy who is way more important than they are. You wouldn’t dare perpetuate the discourse after reading such a comment, at the fear of the Beeradvocate wolves tearing apart your every word, whereas moments before the comment, they were fueling the very fire they were now attempting to put out.

I don’t know what to make of all this.

Do I think the thread “most overrated brewer?” is kind of dumb? Well, I don’t think the idea of discussing an overrated brewer is dumb. But the way it was executed throughout this thread certainly was. Of course, such is the nature of the internet; a magnet for dissenting opinions. It’s very easy for Craft Drinker A to type “Founders Brewing Company,” hit the “enter” key and provide no supplementary comments. I don’t care if you think Founders, Dogfish Head or Avery are overrated; tell me why. And the reason has to be better than “I don’t like some of their beer.” Well yeah, I don’t like all of Dogfish Head’s beers, either. But that doesn’t make them overrated. All of these brewers make a lot of different beer; the idea being that we have more potential choices to make, and everyone will feel differently about each of them, so there’s something to please everyone. Some beers will hit, some will miss. That isn’t enough to make a brewery “overrated.” It’s overrated, though, if you’re paying a lot for a relatively average product. And in the craft world, that happens.

Then there’s Sam, who I do admire. He could easily be the president of the “60 Minute IPA Brewing Company” and he isn’t. He deserves credit there, and I admire his spirit in delivering such a thundering response to the Beeradvocate faithful. But it seems part of his argument (implied) was that it’s silly to discuss what brewer is overrated because most of these breweries are still too small to even be rated to begin with. To an extent that’s true, but that doesn’t mean that they’re beyond criticism. You and I are paying for their product. We’re what make them grow, and our discussing of them, positive or negative, is publicity for their name. And you could indeed argue we have a duty to declare what’s worth our dollar and what isn’t. Being a relatively small brewer does not mean you’re not subject to the same criticism that a big brewer is. And the “small brewer” bulletproof only holds so much water when you have the aspirations that a brewer such as Dogfish Head does.

Nobody was talking much about craft beer 15 years ago. Now, a lot of people are. The bad is inevitably going to come with the good, and these brewers are going to eventually have to learn to take the hits. Craft beer consumers will no doubt have respect for passionate, honest breweries, but that isn’t enough of a reason to support them. The product has to be good, and if you think a brewer’s beer (no matter how nice the brewers are) isn’t up to par, you’re allowed to tell them so. But we should be doing it better than this. Which of these two statements do you think is a better assessment?: “Dogfish Head is overrated because some of their beers aren’t good” or “Samuel Adams’ Utopias is not worth my $150.”

So craft beer consumers and craft beer businesses can all be doing a little better here. Then again, this is the internet we’re talking about. What 400 people on a Beeradvocate thread think is not necessarily a reflection of what people are thinking in the real world. Take it with a grain of salt.


It’s going to be a looooong week because at the end of it, some of the greatest ladies ever will venture down to the District for a girls’ beer weekend. On the list: Drinking Punkin Ale out of a pumpkin and attending Livingsocial’s BeerFest.

Considering how fun the last LivingSocial BeerFest was, it’s a real possibility that I’ll die of happiness on Saturday.

Edit: Joey is coming as well - since he must be included in all Girl’s Night/Weekend/___ things.