Bar at BreweryI guess you could call me a beer geek. It seems that I have always loved the taste of beer – even as a child I would relish a sip of my dad’s beer. Once in college my fondness of beer would only get greater.

My taste for beer really took a turn towards a deeper appreciation of craft beer when my older brother started a micro-brewing company in Massachusetts called Ipswich Ale. From then on I was enthralled with the growth of the craft beer industry and the multitude of beers and ales that flooded the market. As my wife Stephanie and I travel the U.S., I fervently seek out local beers and brew pubs excited by the prospect of discovering a new hop-loaded IPA or roasty stout. Recent travels to California and Oregon were especially fruitful, as both of these states boast hundreds of craft breweries.

A recent trip to Southern Delaware gave us an opportunity to fully experience the impact that one of micro-brewing’s early pioneers has had on the art of brewing and the local community as well. It is nothing short of amazing what Sam and Mariah Calagione, and the rest of their crew at Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, have accomplished in 20 years.Sam C.

Celebrating the brewery’s 20th anniversary this year, the people at Dogfish Head, and the company’s numerous, often unusual, styles of beer, aptly reflect the company’s motto – “off-centered ales for off-centered people.” This quirkiness is evident whether you are visiting the impressive brewery in Milton for a factory tour followed by some tastings of their off-centered ales; enjoying a great meal from the wood-burning grill or some of Dogfish’s beer-centric food at the Rehoboth Beach Brewpub; or enjoying a few cold ones on the patio around the Cowboy Cauldron while playing a game of ladder-ball with some of the other guests at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes.

It is this commitment to non-conformity (you will notice this principle echoed in the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes adorning the walls at the brewpub and the brewery – i.e., “Who so would be a man, must be a non-conformist”) that has been the key to Dogfish Head’s success. I asked Sam what he thought was the reason that his micro-brew operation has experienced such great success. He said, “We have never been afraid to experiment with our beers – to try something different.”

The story of Dogfish Head (the name comes from a small island off the coast of Maine where Sam vacationed with his family when growing up) begins in the early 1990’s, when Sam, working at a bar in NYC that featured microbrewed beer, got the brewing bug. After a number of homebrewed batches, Sam was ready to bring his brew to the people. In June of 1995 Dogfish Kettle at breweryHead Brewings & Eats, the first state’s first brewpub, opened in Rehoboth Beach. Their plan was “to bring original beer, original food, and original music to the area.”

So, the smallest commercial brewery in America began brewing 12-gallon batches of beer to serve the whole restaurant. This kept them quite busy trying to brew enough; but it also was beneficial to brew such small batches – trying different recipes was easy!

Quickly outgrowing the 12-gallon brewery, Dogfish Head expanded its brewhouse, began bottling its Shelter Pale Ale in 1996, and had five year-round bottled brands by 1999. In the summer of 2002 the entire production brewery moved to Milton into a 100,000-square-foot converted cannery, and today a $52 million expansion of the brewery is nearing completion.

Dogfish Head’s list of craft brewed ales, available in more than 30 states, is up to nearly 20 styles, and 6 kinds of hand-crafted spirits are distilled on the second floor of the brewpub. Regular brewery tours and tastings are offered year-round, and Bunyan’s Lunchbox offers beer-centric foods like Dogfish’s beer-infused brats. The Dogfish Brew Pub in Rehoboth Beach offers a wide variety of the “off-centered” ales, including some of the brew pub’s experimental ales, specialty pizzas, fresh seafood and Bar patrons at brewerysandwiches.

So, what are some of these inventive beers that are Dogfish’s secret for success? Well, they keep the hop-heads (people who like beer with a lot of hops) happy by producing a variety of IPA’s (India Pale Ales). Some of Dogfish Head’s more offbeat ales include Namaste (brewed with dried organic orange slices, fresh cut lemongrass, and coriander); Raison D’Etre (a Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed with beet sugar, raisins and Belgian-style yeast); and American Beauty (an Imperial Pale Ale created as a tribute to The Grateful Dead and brewed with organic granola, the top suggested ingredient by fans of the band). American Beauty’s incarnation is proof of one of the brewery’s mottos (they really have quite a few) – “Every Beer Has a Story.”

When we visited the Brew Pub, I tried the malty brown ale, Palo Santo Maron, which has an ABV of 12% – strong, but very tasty. Check out the Dogfish Head website, and you will find a mind-boggling list of their “off-centered ales” (they love using this phrase).
A visit to the Dogfish website will also reveal the multitude of non-profit collaborations and philanthropic endeavors that has made Dogfish Head an integral part of the Southern Delaware community.

DSCN2733Visitors to the area looking to immerse themselves in “all things Dogfish,” can stay at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes. The Inn is a classic motor inn motel that has been renovated into a modern, boutique-styled inn with 16 rooms filled with beer-centric amenities. Each room includes a wool Dogfish blanket (great for those cooler evenings by the Cowboy Cauldron) and Dogfish’s own beach chairs and tote bags ready for trips to the beach. These amenities and more are complimentary for use while staying at the Inn, or may be purchased from the cottage’s (the reception/lounge building) display.

The cottage also features a library compiled by the renowned City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. You can borrow or buy a book from the collection. Enjoy complimentary Dogfish Chicory Coffee every morning in the cottage while you peruse the book collection. Dog owners will love the fact that Dogfish Inn is “cool with dogs, as long as you’re cool with your dogs.” Just call in advance to book one of the inn’s seven dog-friendly rooms.

Photos by Stephanie Sylva

If You Go:

www.dogfish.com