Compelling Weekend at Dogfish Head
By Tony Forder
A most compelling weekend was had at the Dogfish Head megaplex in Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Milton, DE. Although I have known Founder Sam Calagione since covering the early days of DFH with my brewspaper Ale Street News, I only learned about the Weekend of Compelling Ales & Whatnot in reading the Dogfish Head Book published in 2021. I threw it on the bucket list right away.
This year the name was adjusted to Weekend of Compelling Ales and Spirits – probably for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Sam's "cousins" were in town. Phil and Nick Mastroianni of Fabrizia Spirits collaborated on Summer's Cauldron, a gin mixed with their authentic Italian Limoncello and their cousin, the vivacious mixologist Mia Mastroianni who created a cocktail with Lemon/Pink Peppercorn Cordial, Fresh Grapefruit Juice and Basil Foam. Secondly Sam told us at the Fireside Kick-Off that while craft beer is down nationally 6%, their canned cocktails are up 100%. Sam introduced myself and Compelling partner Jeannine Marois, of Mondial de la biere as OGs of the beer world.
Friday night featured an evening full of off-centered eats, spirits, ales and live music across both DFH's Rehoboth locations. Delights such as fresh seafood, oysters, crabcakes, tacos, assorted pizzas, pasta, chicken and waffles and more throughout both Dogfish Brewings & Eats and Chesapeake & Maine locations.
While stomachs still seemed full Saturday morning, the main event at the Milton brewery awaited. A self-guided walking tour featuring all parts of the huge Willy Wonka-style brewing campus – from the packaging facility, through the brewing area to the bar/restaurant and shop with tasting stations along the way.
Here are the pairings with my own DFH parallels and reminiscences added:
1. A Most Curious Arrangement Of Stars – 5.1%
Mexican-style Lager brewed with heirloom-variety corn malt, mango, and lime. Pairing: Mango & Black Bean Salsa, Corn Tortilla
The Emerson quote: I too am a devotee of Ralph Waldo and used a quote from him to launch a column I wrote for a local newspaper when I lived in California. The column was called Jest Kruisin and my logo was a pair of rollerskates. "We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them…" 2. Citrus Squall – 8%
Double golden ale brewed with blue agave, red grapefruit juice, lime peel and sea salt. Pairing: Shrimp Ceviche, Cilantro vinaigrette, Toasted Crostini
The Dogfish Inn where we stayed in Lewes was named Vesuvio in its former incarnation. Sam connected the name with Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach San Francisco, of Jack Kerouac and Beat Generation fame and across the street from City Lights Bookstore. Dogfish Inn has a library curated by City Lights. I met my wife at Vesuvio Cafe in 1979 and lived in North Beach for a few months. 3. CocoAmburana – 10.6% Stout aged in bourbon barrels with Amburana wood that imparts notes of baking spices & gingerbread. Heaps of cocoa nibs & Madagascar vanilla beans were added after a year in the barrels, taking the decadence from 10 to 11 Pairing: Maple Vanilla Bacon Jam and Goat Cheese tart- garnished with Chive
I'm not exactly sure when I first met Sam – most likely at a beer fest, but there were some foreshadowings. Prior to setting up his brewery Sam waited tables at a joint called Nacho Mama's in Manhattan. My partner Jack Babin worked for a company named Micros which sold restaurant POS (Point of Sale) systems. Nacho Mama's was a client of his – it is likely that he and Sam were in the same building on more than one occasion.
Author and tasting partner Jeannine Marois; beer and bite; DFH faithful fans from Pittsburgh. 4. Essence of Kire – 5.3% Japanese-style rice lager brewed with Jasmine Rice, Wildflower Honey and Lemongrass. Pairing: Arrowhead Oyster Company, Seasonal garnishes
Prior to the Dogfish Inn, DFH maintained the Dogfish Head Suite at The Inn at Canal Street, Lewes. Visitors were invited to partake in the 360 degree DFH experience which included dinner at the brewpub, a tour of the, then new, Milton brewery and various outdoor activities. Sam invited me and my family – wife and pre-teen daughters – one weekend around about the millennium. The highlights were Sam piloting us in his inflatable dinghy through the coastal marshes back from the brewpub to the hotel. That and ocean kayaking with dolphins near Cape Henlopen. 5. Langosta Chocolatada 5.6% A festive reimagining of the cult classic Chocolate Lobster. Pairing: Lobster & Mushroom Crostini with Ricotta
Sam was a staple at the Great American Beer Festival, Denver enthusiastically pouring his beers for never-ending lines of fans at DFH end booth. He usually lost his voice by the third day. I remember Chocolate Lobster making its debut there. I had a beer hat adorned with beer pins – tweed, an heirloom from my father. I lost touch with it at one of Tom Peters' (Monks Cafe) famous after parties. Next day at the GABF, Sam returned it to me; I was thankful for the act of kindness. 6. Licor de Malta – 7% Chelada-style malt liquor brewed with red, white and green heirloom corn, Mexican lime and Tajin. Pairing: Curried Cashews
One of the more Off-Centered events I attended at DFH was the Inter-Galactic Bocce Ball tournament. Teams of 4 were lodged at the motel next to DFH brewpub in Rehoboth and bussed out Milton to compete in the 2-day tournament, libations and pizza included. Teams were required to compete in costume. I was on Sam's team and our costumes were mullet wigs. Sadly the bocce ball court is now a patio with tables and chairs. 7. SunQuench – 5% ABV Tropical session sour brewed with passionfruit, Cara Cara orange, pink guava and Hawaiian sea salt. Pairing: Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pastries
Sometime in the early aughts, we met up with Sam on one of our Belgian tours. He was there promoting US beers with members of what became known as the Brett pack – Sam, Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Vinnie Culurzo of Russian River, Rob Todd of Allagash and Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port and Lost Abbey. We offered to give them a ride on our bus from Brussels to the Zythos Festival, then in St. Niklaas. They were late for departure, arriving out of breath, and showing serious signs of wear and tear from whatever activities had befallen them the previous night. Only Sam was game enough to take the bus mic. I was proud to have these budding brewery stars on our bus.
8. Utopias Barrel Aged 120 Minute IPA – 17% ABV Our classic continually-hopped triple IPA aged for one year in freshly-emptied Utopias barrels. Pairing: Maple Mom Mom’s Chocolate Cheesecake, Maple Pretzel Crust, Cherry, Chocolate Whipped Cream
Some of the Brett Pack decided to do an off-centered reenactment of the Boston Tea Party when the Craft Brewers Conference was in Boston. They chartered a party boat, invited media and conferencees, but instead of dumping tea into the harbor, they shotgunned mainstream beer and threw the cans overboard. Someone gave them some sage advice that their shenanigans might offend distributors who carried their beer along with major brands, so they obscured the names of their canned prey with duct tape.
Sam with the marvelous Mastroiannis; fabulous Fabrizia Limoncello with real Sicilian lemons.
9. Limoncello Gin collaboration with Fabrizia Spirits straight Pairing: Granola bar- peanut butter, honey, fruits, nuts, and dark chocolate Limoncello Cocktail feat. collaboration with Fabrizia Spirits Pairing: Seared Tuna belly, Lemon Basil Caper Relish
Ale Street News had established a series of beer dinners at one of the Waldorf Astoria's restaurants – Oscars – and Sam and DFH was a guest at one of them. It didn't take long for Sam to establish his own dinner there. Of course Jack and I were invited and the featured beer was the debut of Palo Santo Marron – cask conditioned – the 11% beer of exotic Paraguayan wood. The beer became a cult favorite although they had to back off the wood conditioning from that first version that you could practically chew. 10. Roasted Pad Tai Cocktail feat. DFH Roasted Peanut Vodka Pairing: Glass noodle summer roll- Carrots, Cucumber, Shrimp, Cilantro, basil, Peanuts Dipping Sauce
Summer’s Cauldron Limoncello Gin collaboration with Fabrizia Spirits straight Pairing: Granola bar- peanut butter, honey, fruits, nuts, and dark chocolate
DFH and Boston Beer had something of a pissing match to brew the strongest beer in the world. Sam Adams had launched Triple Bock in the mid-90s, to which DFH replied with the 18% Worldwide Stout. Then Sam Adams broke out the 20% Millennium. We brought these beers together, along with several other of the world's strongest, at a millennium tasting in Philadelphia. Interesting that DFH and Boston Beer would team up years later. Summer’s Cauldron Limoncello Cocktail feat. collaboration with Fabrizia Spirits Pairing: Seared Tuna belly, Lemon Basil Caper Relish
I ran into Sam at the Salon de Gusto Slow Food event in Torino, Italy. I was there on a research trip with the team from Montreal's Mondial de la biere festival. Sam was there with Dr. Patrick McGovern promoting a new Ancient Ale – Birra Etrusca Bronze – he had collaborated with Italian brewers Teo Musso of Baladin and of Leo DeVencenzo of Birra del Borgo.
Sam told me that he and his wife Mariah were leaving early because Hurricane Sandy was aimed at their home in Rehoboth Beach. Well, landfall ended up closer to my home in New Jersey, but I had left it to late change flights. I couldn't even get through to the airline for two days.
13. Bonus tasting - Scratch canned cocktails
There were more meetings along the way, and here's to many more down the road. Dogfish Head has become hulk size, but the off-centered spirit of Sam Calagione, embodied by his co-workers and fan faithful, still shines through.
What else? Oh yeah, I grew up 7 miles from Lewes, Sussex, England. Harvey's of Lewes was my go-to beer before I moved to America, and still is when I go back.