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Monday, January 5, 2009

Interview with Sam Calagione

Way back in May I wrote about the Dogfish Head dinner that I attended at beerbistro, which featured a 9 course meal with 10 Dogfish Head beers. Sam Calagione was in attendance and I had the opportunity to interview him for the Summer issue of TAPS: Canada's Beer Magazine. For those of you that didn't have the opportunity to purchase a copy, here is the interview in its entirety. Enjoy.

When the Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware opened for business back in 1995, they were known as the smallest operating brewery in the United States of America. Today they are one of the fastest growing craft breweries and they’ve done so on the back of extreme beers like Worldwide Stout, 90 min IPA, Raison D’Etre and more, which all feature high alcohol content and bold flavours.

Sam Calagione, the charismatic owner, brewer and marketer of Dogfish Head (DFH), recently made his way to Toronto to take part in a nine course DFH beer and food pairing at Beerbistro, and to also celebrate DFH’s 60 min India Pale Ale’s addition to the LCBO’s general listing. Calagione’s passion for craft brewing is un-paralleled and he is often referred to as a brewing rock star and an inspiration to others. He is also the author of three beer books and is quite the entrepreneur outside the beer industry. Luckily for TAPS he graciously took time to answer some rapid-fire questions about his brewery, his beer and the man himself.

How did you get into brewing?
While working in a Mexican restaurant in New York during my college days, I became interested in all the styles of beer available and I took pride in recommending some to customers. Pretty soon I started home-brewing and experimenting with recipes and got hooked.

When did the light bulb go off for you – when did you know you wanted to be a brewer?
In the living room of my apartment after friends tried my first batch of cherry flavoured beer. They liked it, I was proud of it, and right then and there I knew I was gonna be a brewer.

What is the best part of owning/operating a craft brewery?
Experimentation. Experimentation my man. I love going into the kitchen and grabbing different ingredients to mix into a brew or heading to a library to look up old beer recipes and then trying to re-create their magic. I love wearing all hats, doing all the different jobs that go with running a craft brewery and the people are great in the industry. I have a ton of fun everyday, it beats looking at a computer all day.

Your marketing is very unique. Why don’t others emulate?
I love our marketing and I understand it is unique. I think others need to create their own niche and finding what it is, is very exciting. I wanted to create a logo and a brand that gets recognized everywhere and I think were getting there.

Why did you call your business Dogfish Head?
The name Dogfish Head comes from a small peninsula off Southport Island, Maine where my parents have a summer cabin that I spent many rambunctious childhood years. Also, I thought it was a great, unique, rustic name that people would remember and it would speak to our hard work in starting up a craft brewery.

When you’re away from the brewery, what do you do to decompress?
I love to row. I actually built my own row boat, so I love getting out on the water. I also love biking too. But spending time with my family is my ultimate method of relaxation.

How has the book tour gone? (Author of newly released “He Said Beer, She Said Wine”)
Very, very well. Better than expected. Sales have been great and it is getting a lot of great reviews from both wine people and beer people. It’s fun going into different cities to sign books and hear the positive remarks.

Why extreme beers?
I believed in brewing quality beers with quality ingredients when I first started out. Still do. I didn’t want to brew a flagship lager when I could brew a nicely balanced hopped beer for off-centred people. It put DFH on the map and opened up many doors for us. It gets people discussing our products, which leads to sampling, and that’s where brewing quality beers wins people over.

Are you a fan of Canadian craft breweries?
Yes I am. There are some terrific craft breweries in Canada. Unibroue is one of my absolute favourites. They do some cool s**t. I really enjoy Propeller’s English style beers from the East Coast. Tonight I enjoyed a Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale from the boys at Great Lakes (Toronto) and it was great. I like the beer from Cameron’s Brewing Co. (Oakville) too, especially the cream ale, very sessionable. And the guys there are great too. Fun times.

Goal for the Ontario market?
Push DFH 60min like crazy and get sales up. Then we’ll discuss options for bringing in more of our products. I like the idea of our Worldwide Stout as a vintage product in your liquor stores.

What was the dinner like?
One of the best DFH beer dinners I have EVER attended. Top three for sure. I have been to thousands since starting the brewery and this one blew me away.

Will you be back?
You betcha. I told Brian (Chef Brian Morin, owner of Beerbistro) that it would be cool to do one big dinner a year using different DFH beers.

*Photo - Sam on left, beerbistro owner/chef Brian Morin)


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