Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years or stumbled across our website accidentally on your way to the new Bud Light Lime site, you’ve probably heard about Dogfish Head. They’ve been taking the craft beer world by storm with their innovative, “off-centered” ales. Their flagship, the 60 Minute IPA, is a continuously hopped work of art, in our opinion.
Which is why we jumped at the opportunity to interview their founder and President, Sam Calagione. Dogfish Head is somewhat of an anomaly. They brew nontraditional beers (such as attempting to recreate a 9,000 year-old recipe), but have gained fairly widespread acceptance among beer circles. Apparently you don’t have to brew a boring pale ale to have success in craft beer. An encouraging tidbit.
As aspiring professional brewers, Dogfish Head makes for a great case study. To read more of our enlightening interviews with professional brewers, visit the archives. Thanks to Sam and Mariah at Dogfish Head for their time, and enjoy!
1) Many of your beers defy traditional beer style categorization. Do you believe you?re on the front-end of a sea change in the way the broader American public thinks about beer, or pushing the outer limits for avid beer drinkers?
We are proud to be be part of the surging craft beer renaissance that embraces a broader definition of traditional than the reinheitsgebot. Long before brewers were making beers with only water, yeast, hops, and barley they were brewing with exotic indigenous ingredients like honey, grapes, sake yeast, saffron and juniper. This is the ancient creative brewing tradition that Dogfish embraces.
2) When Dogfish Head started, was it your goal to be a national niche brand (now distributing in CA), or did you aim more at being a really good local/regional brand?
We always hoped to sell our beers national but we didn?t think we would ever sell as much beer as we are currently selling around the country. When we opened in 95 we were the smallest brewery in the county and our average beer was 9% abv and brewed with 6 as opposed the the ?traditional? 4 ingredients. We are now the biggest craft brewery in the Mid-Atlantic and will make about 100,000 barrels this year. Yet our average beer is still 9% abv and brewed with 6 ingredients. So we haven?t had to change what we do in order to grow ? that shows how experimental the beer enthusiast network has become.
3) What does the process of developing a new recipe typically look like? How many iterations does it usually take?
Usually at least two ? a test batch on our 5 barrel system at our pub, then, if we like it, we extrapolate that recipe up to our 100 bbl production brewhouse and send it out into distribution.
4) The craft beer market and culture has changed a lot from when you started. If you were starting again from scratch today, what challenges and opportunities would be different from when you began?
More competition from great breweries that now focus more or bigger and bolder beers but also more acceptance of these kinds of beer from a broader spectrum of beer buyers.
5) What’s your favorite thing about what you guys do?
As we get bigger we actual take more risks and are more obsessed with quality and consistency as we grow. We brewed a Pale India Ale at our brewpub yesterday with Indian spices and a saison yeast.
6) Does the increase in national distribution of craft beer brands limit the viability of smaller, local/regional brands, or will there always be a place for a local beer culture?
I don?t think so ? hopefully there will always be strong local, regional, and national craft brands in every market.