Beer, community and the future of Dogfish Head

Calagione: Building tourism, buying local help build brand
Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione speaks at Southern Delaware Tourism's Dec. 11 awards luncheon about the company's efforts to promote tourism and a sense of community as the company grows. BY RYAN MAVITY
December 23, 2013

What came first, beer or bread?

Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione isn’t sure, but one thing he does know is that grains, used to make both beer and bread, sparked mankind's shift from hunter-gatherers to communities.

“Beer could be responsible for civilization as we know it,” he joked.

For Calagione, community-building is just one of the businesses Dogfish Head is in. At Southern Delaware Tourism’s annual awards luncheon Dec. 11, Calagione talked about his company’s support of the community, from buying ingredients from local farmers to founding a local bed and breakfast.

“That’s really our journey as a company, was looking at our community to say, ‘Who can we work with in our community to also approach this in a sense of collaboration instead of competition,’” he said.

That sense of community extends not only locally, but also to a community of brewers. Calagione said small brewers including Dogfish own less than 1 percent of the domestic beer market; 80 percent of the domestic market comes from multinational corporations such as Anheuser-Busch InBev.

“We recognized that we had a lot more to gain by watching each other’s back,” he said.  “We believe a rising tide floats all ships.”

Still, Calagione said, his biggest challenge is making Dogfish stand out from other beers on the shelf, a philosophy that also extends to Southern Delaware.

“I really look at our responsibility as promoting this area as much as we promote Dogfish,” he said.

Calagione said the physical beauty and the beaches of Southern Delaware offer a hook to help draw people in and show them all the other great things the area has to offer. A second challenge, he said, is keeping people coming back through the shoulder seasons. Calagione said Dogfish tries to do this through initiatives such as the Dogfish Dash 5K and 10K in late September, the Analog-A-Go-Go cask beer and vinyl fest in early summer and the Weekend of Compelling Ales and Whatnot in March. Through donations, Dogfish also promotes water transportation along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

Calagione said another mission of Dogfish Head is to brew beers using ingredients from Delaware farms.

“We’re buying honey from an upstate beekeeper in Wilmington; we’re buying our fruits from Smith Orchards and Fifer Orchards," he said, as well as keeping agriculture and preserving open space for Delaware.

As for the future of Dogfish Head, Calagione said he is immersed in a number of projects, including expanding distilling operations and a clothing line and creating beer-centric foods such as beer-infused bratwurst sold in Whole Foods.

Another major project is the Dogfish Inn in Lewes. Dogfish has acquired the Vesuvio Motel and is converting it into a 16-room, Dogfish-themed inn. Calagione said the project was a way to accommodate some of the 3,000 people that annually visit Dogfish’s Milton brewery.

“Our intention with that motel is that in the summer months, accommodate some of the beer geeks and beer enthusiasts that want to see Dogfish, and in the shoulder season use it to accommodate media, and we’ll use it in the spring and fall for our distributers and retailers,” he said.

Calagione said the Rehoboth Beach brewpub, where Dogfish got its start, is the heart of the company, and the Milton brewery is the soul. These other projects, he said, are appendages that complement the brand and bring more attention to the company.

While the new projects take lots of attention, Calagione said he still gets excited at brewing new beers at the Rehoboth brewpub, such as the company’s newest brew, Piercing Pils.

“That’s my favorite day to work is going to Rehoboth to brew something new,” Calagione said.


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