The Dogfish Head Book
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
26 Years of Off-Centered Adventures!
Reviewed by Tony Forder
You can cross off the holiday gift for the Dogfish Head lover in your circle. The Dogfish Head Book, documenting 26 Years of Off-Centered Adventures is a no-brainer for the DFH faithful – 360 plus pages of narrative, reminisces, profiles and pics, pic, pics.
The author of three previous books, DFH Founder Sam Calagione had help with this tome – his co-writers are his wife, Mariah Calagione and Andrew C. Greeley, Innkeeper at the Dogfish Head Inn in Lewes, DE.
As Mariah explains, "Whether it's telling you about how we came up with the idea for a new beer, a new brewing process invention, or the most recent piece of art created for our hospitality properties, you can bet we have a backstory...That's what this is: a collection of stories, snippets, photos, thoughts, and other off-centered goodness that fits on a page." Sam describes himself as Dogfish Head's analog storyteller and Mariah as their digital storyteller.
Sam leads most of the narrative. Readers of his first book will remember his high school shenanigans, his first (cherry) homebrew in New York and the formative years of Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
Andrew Greeley's contribution I'm guessing is the profiles of various Dogfish Head co-workers and their stories. Running through everything, in addition to the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes which adorn the walls of DFH locations, is the passion of the employees, excuse me, I mean coworkers.
Greely describes it thusly, "For us it is the people. Plain and simple. The people who show up to work and populate Dogfish Head spaces create, cultivate and feed that elusive feeling that keeps us all coming back for more...It is a spirit of fellowship, family, competition, laughter, lifelong learning, inclusivity, relationships, community and a relentless pursuit of creation and evolution."
We get to hear Andrew's story – how he was hired to be the Innkeeper with no experience - in his own words. A native of Colorado, it took him a few tries to get his foot in the door at Dogfish Head, but once in he knew he was there to stay. He began as a part-time tour guide but soon rose to tour supervisor/manager. When it came to opening the Dogfish Head Inn in 2014, Sam and Mariah interviewed many qualified candidates but none had that spark they were looking for so, as they often did, they turned within.
The reason that the 25 years of Dogfish Head is crossed out and replaced by 26 is that it took a year to put this book together – which makes me feel OK to take a month or so to review it. I could have written a review after my first perusal of a few hours, but I'm glad I didn't.
This is a book you keep coming back to. There is a lot here – way more than I thought at first. Every time I've picked it up I've bounced from page to page. There's a lot I didn't know about DFH, even though with Ale Street News I grew up with them, or maybe I just needed reminding.
I had forgotten for example that 90-Minute IPA preceded 60-Minute. (Time Out, full disclosure. I was searching the DFH website for some info on the Ancient Ales Series and discovered that a new version of World Wide Stout had been released – aged in Sam Adams Utopias barrels. On their Beerfinder I discovered that a nearby liquor store had it in stock and I was out the door. At the store I also picked up a 19.5 oz can of 90 Minute to help put me in the Dogfish zone – it was good to get re-acquainted. And the World Wide Stout, well if anyone is still trying to figure out the Dogfish-Sam Adams merger, for me this beer is reason enough!!)
What really comes across though, as well as the passion it takes to be a DFH coworker, is the role that cuisine has always played in DFH's beer – from the very beginning. I was familiar with Sam's use of exotic ingredients, but kinda thought they were just tweaks to a particular style of beer. Often though, it seems, it is the ingredients that begat the beer.
Raison D'Etre for example. First brewed in 1998 (8% with dark grains, Belgian beet sugar, raisins and Belgian yeast) to be the perfect complement to a steak, Sam describes it as a reverse-engineered beer: "I'd never heard of someone saying 'I'm going to start with a culinary dish, and build a beer recipe around that culinary dish."
"From the beginning, I knew I wanted to experiment," Sam said. I mean who else would brew a beer with 25 pounds of Scrapple?
As well as the evolution of the brewery which is described in somewhat linear fashion, there is the evolution of the beers, with a description and backstory to each – more than 50 different labels. It's a history of groundbreaking beers like one of my favorites, Immort Ale released in 1997 and Midas Touch a couple of years later. Wow, was it really more than 20 years ago that Sam embarked on that journey with molecular biologist Dr. Pat McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania that brought us the Ancient Ales series with such beers as Chateau Jiahu, Theobrama and Kvasir?
Sam doesn't go into much detail about the 2019 merger with Sam Adams, although he does point to the collaboration beer, Flowers, brewed in 2011 for the SAVOR tasting event that he brewed with Boston Beer chief Jim Koch as a seed planted.
Then there's the music series, Julianna Barwick (Rosabi), Miles Davis (Bitches Brew), the Grateful Dead (American Beauty), Guided by Voices (Beer Thousand), the Firefly Festival (Firefly Ale). (Let's not forget about Sam's own rap foray into recording with co-brewer Bryan Selders, The Pain Relievaz).
There have been plenty of other collaborations with all sorts of companies – Grain Surfboards (Grain to Glass with cedar chips), Woolrich Clothing (Pennsylvania Tuxedo with spruce tips).
Crazy inventions? You got it – Sir Hops a Lot, the method of continual hopping which began with a vibrating tabletop football game and Randall the Enamel Animal, the ingenious adaption of a water filter to add more hop flavor to the finished beer.
I saved the best for last: The personal stories of a diverse collection of coworkers who landed at Dogfish Head from all walks of life give an inside view of brewery that looks as crazy from the inside as it does from the outside, maybe r!
For non-Dogfish Head fans the fandom of DFH may seem a bit cult like, and some fans may indeed have drifted off after the merger. Sam acknowledges "Of course we do still – to some limited degree – face a perception issue, where maybe for those at the epicenter of the beer community – the super-hard-core, dyed-in-the wool beer geeks, as we call ourselves – Dogfish itself as a brewery is not a new thing. There are always new, exciting little breweries, and everyone always wants to talk about what's new."
On the other hand, with what we've been through with a global pandemic, many of us have drifted off from many things in the recent surreality. And that's why this book is so welcome – at least for me it brought back a sense of community, the community of craft beer, and the unique brand of Dogfish Head that reflects the little bit of off-centeredness that is in each of us.
The DFH journey continues – 300 coworkers, multiple locations, including a newly-opened Wynwood, Miami brewery, and ever evolving beers. To quote again from the book's intro, "Together we are all a thriving tribe of disruptors, misfit and romantics. Together we are HEAVY."
The Dogfish Head Book
John Wiley & Sons