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MankerBeer Meets: Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head

 Our first real meeting during our beery round trip in New York and Colorado was not in either of those two states.

Dogfish Head Brewpub in Reheboth

 Instead we had to pick up a car, set sail against the south and “take us all the way” down to Delaware to find our destination. Along the beautiful scenery it was still quite difficult to not be eager to finally arrive in Reheboth as soon as possible, drop off the car, leave our bags at the hotel room and make a quick stop over at Dogfish Head‘s brewpub. As you understand Dogfish Head is the brewery we were to visit and the meeting was with the well known and much sought after brew master Sam Calagione.

For those that does not know of Dogfish Head I recommend a quick glance on their Youtube channel or to buy the DVD Beer Wars where Sam has a “main role”, make sure to find and watch Discovery Channnel’s TV Show Brew Masters as well. We had scheduled an interview with Sam, a man which certainly has a lot on his plate as Dogfish Head (as always) are  releasing new beers (the Faithfull Ale (Pearl Jam), Bitches Brew (Miles Davies), URkontinent (Google), Tweason’Ale and a new somewhat secret brew) as well as trying to get the expansion of the brewery permitted by the state council and working on the bar/restaurant Eataly Birreria which he started with his Italian brewing friends Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra Del Borgo and Teo Musso from Baladin (Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River was originally on the project but left just before they opened). They opened in New York this Spring and are soon to open in Rome.

Dogfish Head's Steampunk Tree House

After staring at all the beers we so rarely have seen before at the brewpub kiosk we made some quick beer shopping before we entered the brewpub. The “common” DFH beers were all there as well as the special version of 75 Minute IPA on cask, so a very quick taster flight consisting of 120 and 75 minute IPA as well as the Faitfull Ale (I really love PJ) and Bitches Brew and the hopped up pilsner My Antonia. Not a too bad way to start a tuesday on your vacation.

Time was of the essence and we soon had to leave for the brewery in Milton, arriving just in time for the tour we were scheduled on and which we will give you in almost full length (some parts had to be left out due to dying batteries). After our tour was over Sam came down to meet us and we stepped into a comfortable meeting room (not the one to the left..). Sam is just as down to earth as most of the brewers we were to meet during the trip, but we were both surprised of the friendliness he showed us and the way he seemed to love to sit and chat about the beers and the brewery. Which is the perfect precondition for an interesting and relaxed interview.

This is the chat (rather than interview) that followed:

MankerBeer: When you worked with the Dogfish Head brewpub, you realized that at the time being they were actually illegal in the state of Delaware. However, you actually managed to, 4 days before opening the brewpub and at the age of only 24 years old, to change the law, meaning that you could open the place in time. How did you managed to do that?
Sam Calagione: Haha, so you heard that story? Well, I was determined to make this happen so I spend some time on writing down a firm proposal to the state council and set up a meeting with them, and they actually approved it just a few days before opening!

Sam had to drive around to meet people and draft the law himself, but he would never want to have done it anywhere else as he loves Delaware and wanted to start his brewpub right here.

Original artwork by Dave Plunkert

MankerBeer: So were would you think you and Dogfish Head had been without that change of a State law?
Sam Calagione: We would probably not even exist, so I’m happy we came through! And now we hear that the state of Delaware are very proud of having us here!

MankerBeer: You recently released a brew as a tribute to Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary of their album Ten (best album ever, Manker note) – how did that happen?
Sam Calagione: Pearl Jam contacted us and we thought it would be a fun thing to do, they wanted a beer that tasted like a blend between Mexican lager and a Pinot Noir red wine. And it turned out pretty good!

MankerBeer: Wow, thats an interesting description of a beer! I guess lots of homebrewers are getting quite weird flavors in their brews, what would your main tip be to all the homebrewers out there?
Sam calagione: You could either go academical and learn from a book or you could learn the practical stuff on an actual brewery. My tip would be to contact a smaller brewery and ask if you could do the dirty work for them that no one wants to do, like cleaning the mash tun or similar, then eventually you will gain practical experience of the whole process and how everything ties together – while you’re sweating and brewing!

Dogfish Head is probably one of the most interesting breweries when it comes to experimental brewing.  Brewing beers like Palo Santo Marron (with the rare Paraguayan Palo Santo wood, which was sent to Sam with a suggestion to try it out, which he did..) or cloudberry beer with help from fellow Swede Jörgen from Oliver Twist (Arctic Cloudberry) or traveling the world to find other interesting recipes which can be tried has now become equal with Dogfish Head. And as with URkontinent which he brews together with Google there does not seem to be an end to what we can expect from Dogfish Head.

MankerBeer: We ask this to everyone we meet as we are so much in love with the type of beer ourselves; What is your favorite IPA?
Sam Calagione: I really like the 75 Minute IPA on cask from us, and outside Dogfish Head I would probably say (Russian River, MankerBeer note) Pliny The Elder .

MankerBeer: While we’re on the subject of IPA, and that you are one of the pioneers of pairing beer and food; what on earth do you pair THE Imperial IPA, 120 Minute IPA, with in terms of food, you reckon?
Sam Calagione: (Laughing a bit) That’s a tricky question, but we actually had some cheese and beer pairing here on the brewery yesterday, and a strong blue cheese goes very well with that actually. Wait a minute! (Sam leaves the room for a minute and comes back with..a cheese platter!) Here you go, this one would do nicely with the 120 minute IPA.

The mystery machine to continouesly add hops for the 120 minute IPA

MankerBeer: Wow, thanks – looking forward to try it out (worked really well, “extreme” beers needs a characteristic cheese, MankerBeer note)! We have huge difficulties getting a hold of your beer in Sweden. You recently had to cut back the distribution in several states but are now looking to expand?
Sam Calagione: Yes, we bought and are currently trying to get the big lot behind us (A 40 acres big field behind the brewery, MankerBeer note) into what you call a commercial lot, meaning that you can expand your business. Right now it’s only for building houses on, but it looks like we’re going to get that permit shortly.

The hearing at the state council is due to take place next month and Sam believes that they have a strong case as the advantages of turning the land into commercial ground are several and that the alternative, to have to drive further away between the locations would be less environmentally friendly. Read more about the expansion here and here.

MankerBeer: Let’s hope that will give us a few more of your brews in Europe then!
Sam Calagione: Well maybe, but not likely right now – however we are expanding the Eataly concept (Google this awesome joint readers, we went there a few days before the interview, MankerBeer note)! from being only in New York to also Rome. As our US customers would rip us apart if we shipped beer out of the country, we will actually brew Dogfish head at the restaurant.

Sam continues to talk about the problem of shipping beer to Europe and that is not only because of the local demand but that he does not want his beers to have to travel as they does not travel well. Which is one of the reasons for why he and his co-founders of Eataly are trying to make collaborative brews which can be served at the restaurants and which they all would be involved in.

 MankerBeer: Finally, can you reveal something about your upcoming brews?
Sam Calagione: What we have boiling now is a brew that we call Noble Rot, which is a take on the Bot Radius infection (Quite

Enter the Dogfish Head Brewpub at own risk, you might never want to leave

common in the wine business, MankerBeer note) and we are currently fighting with the authorities as we cannot use the word “Infection” to describe it.

As the interview is about to end and before Sam rush of for another meeting we take some final photos together, gets “some stuff” signed, say our goodbyes and good lucks and as Sam heads off for a conference call we once again enter the brewery shop to try some beers and stock up on some DFH souvenirs.

We had a great time in Delaware, both at the brewery and later the same evening at the brewpub. Sam is really the great positive guy he seems to be in interviews and on the youtube channel, and as a beer geek rather than beer snob he is always open to learn and try new things. That is probably why beer fans over the world, like us, love what Dogfish Head brew, no matter if its part of their ancient ales series or their extreme 120 Minute IPA.

 

Lottery/competition time?
As we promised before the trip we will have a lottery (unfortunately for swedes only) with beery prizes collected from the breweries we have visited during the trip. We have bottle openers, Dogfish Head beer soap, coasters, stickers and some other goodies that we want to rid ourself of and let you have. We also have a very, very special treat – a signed Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA (you win the signed bottle, which is a souvenir, not a beer…) that will be the grand finale prize at the end of it all. What the competition will consist of will be announced on our facebook page – so look out there later today.

Magnus "Manker" Björnstjerna

Grundare och skribent på MankerBeer.com. Från ett fokus på allt vad USA har att erbjuda och med en kärlek till gedigen amerikansk mat, bra bourbon och framförallt all landets fantastiska öl har Manker nu börjat förstå storheten i belgisk öl.

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9 Responses to “MankerBeer Meets: Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head”

  1. Pulsatorius says:

    Nice article.
    Do you mean Botrytis infection instead of Bot radius infection?

  2. manker says:

    I have to check with M2 who wrote it down, but I most certainly believe so? :) thanks for pointing it out

  3. Very nice article, really enjoyed reading it. :)

  4. M2 says:

    Hmm, Pulsatorious might be right.. :)

    //M2

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