JanuQuenchy, Garlic Beer & Preventing Scurvy with Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione
January 22nd 2019 | From Union Beer Distributors
We sat down with Sam Calagione, Founder of Dogfish Head Brewery and craft beer pioneer, during his most recent visit to NYC.
It’s midway through JanuQuenchy. How’s that going for you?
I think I’ve lost about 2 lbs. I was on a better trajectory, but then I went to Chicago and had a bunch of pizza. So JanuQuenchy is all about committing to start the year off thinking about your health. SeaQuench Ale is the best selling sour in America. Sour beer is the fastest growing beer style. We said, “let’s commit to only drinking SeaQuench Ale during the month of January, try to do something athletic every day, try to eat a little bit better.” There are tons of people across the country doing it alongside me.
What’s your favorite active thing to do?
I’d say paddleboard. So even from New York, Delaware is only 3 hours south of New York - come visit us! It’s easy on the Amtrak. The good news of being just that far south is that the harbors and bays don’t freeze in Delaware so I can paddleboard all year round. I have my bluetooth speaker on, taking notes on my phone - I’ve lost three phones on the harbor while paddleboarding. But that’s my favorite activity, for sure.
The Perfect Disguise is coming out. Tell us a bit about that.
Well, the concept is: Is it an IPA disguised as a Kolsch or is it a Kolsch disguised as an IPA? Try the beer and you decide. It’s a really soft clean crisp Kolsch with a really nice IPA, kind of blending the best of both worlds. Union will be getting that beer in the next few weeks.
What was the inspiration behind that?
SeaQuench Ale is a beer brewed with three base beers in sequence: a clean German Kolsch blended with a Berliner Weisse that has sea salts in it, and a Gose as well. We’ve done a lot of innovation with the Kolsch style for the SeaQuench and we thought, “man, we can make a pretty nice straight forward Kolsch. Hey! How about we blend that, instead of with a sour beer, with one of our IPAs? (since we’re also known for these big IPAs).” That’s kind of the best of both worlds with Perfect Disguise. It’s a Kolsch and IPA blend.
In your opinion, what is the craziest beer you ever brewed?
The craziest beer I ever brewed was with Eataly, here in New York City. They have a beautiful brewing system on the roof. A few years ago, we brewed a beer called “Garlic Breadth” because we used garlic throughout the breadth of brewing the beer, from the boil kettle to the mash tun to the fermenter. It was a big roasty Stout made with this black cracked fermented garlic. It tasted so much like garlic that your pores smelled like garlic for 2 days after. As an Italian descended guy, I loved the beer, but it didn't sell well.
What’s the craziest beer you thought of, but haven’t brewed (yet)?
There’s one that we tried to brew once. It turned out not so good, but I think we should try it again. Everyone knows about the sour beer style, Gose. We did a test batch of a beer with a couple of my co-workers. There are Oyster Stouts around the world brewed with crushed up oyster shells, but there’s another shelled animal, snails, that have never really been brewed with. We did a Gose where we used the meat and the shell of the snails and it was called “EscarGose.” Didn’t sell well.. Didn’t come out great, but I think we should brew it again and try to make it better. We’re not giving up on EscarGose!
You’re known for using music and literature to name your beers. If you could brew a beer for a specific character, who would it be and what would you brew?
I’d say the Old Man in the Sea from the Hemingway novela, for him and the young man who helped him too. I’d try to do a really thirst-quenching, scurvy-preventing, sea salt infused beer for the Old Man in the Sea.. SeaQuench Ale! We already did that!
For your Ancient Ales line, you use a lot of history as your inspiration. What advice would you give to drinkers who only chase the newest trends?
We have this Emerson quote which is our sort of rally cry: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore it if it be goodness,” which is just a long way of saying don’t follow the beaten path. Try and create your own path and if it’s a worthy, interesting path, people will find you on that path. For Dogfish, we’re really not interested. We did the first sort of coffee-infused Stout bottled in the country, first fruit-infused IPA, first fruit-infused Berliner Weisse with Festina Peche. What gets us up every morning is the opportunity to innovate and do creative things. That’s what’s important to us.
Have you ever felt the pressure to conform or cave into trends? What was your thought process behind that?
We’ve got great humility. We’re proud of the beers we make. There’s no such thing as a “best beer in the world” because everyone’s palate is different, but we do make world class, well-differentiated beer. I will say one of our mistakes we made is that we were late for a top 20 American craft brewery to introduce cans. I used to think, well, at Dogfish Head, we brew a lot of these beers with expensive culinary ingredients, so our beer has to cost more than most craft beer and if we put our beer into cans, cans are a cheaper package. Consumers won’t pay as much. But listening to our distributors, Sheehan & Union, listening to customers that come and stay at our hotel around the fireside, drinking beer they would say “No, Sam, we know your beer has to cost a little more. Get it in cans, we want to buy it in cans!” So two years ago, we bought a beautiful German world class Krones canning line and now our fastest growing package is our cans.
There’s a very big relationship between culinary arts and what you drink, be it wine or beer. Have you ever had a meal that has inspired you to brew a beer?
Yeah, we got a beer coming on tap right now. My family’s Italian and a family member made a beautiful polenta and I loved it. We’re coming out with a beer called “Polenta-da” which is a polenta based beer that will go on tap, just on our own properties. I don’t know if it will ever get nationally distributed, but that batch was brewed last week. So you gotta come to coastal Delaware and try it out of one of our R&D breweries. I think Polenta beers are going to be the new Hazy IPA in 2020. Quote me on that.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NYC?
I always do the exact same path in New York City. I come in from the train station, Penn Station. I immediately put on my headphones and listen to “New York Girls,” sung by a New York band called Interpol. That’s part of my ritual when I come off a train in New York and LCD Soundsystem becomes my soundtrack after that song. I walk from Penn Station, drop my bags at Ace Hotel around Broadway & 26th? I was born in Queens, so I know the neighborhoods pretty well. Then I walk to the Rizzoli Bookstore and grab a book and a magazine or maybe a record. Then I go to Eataly down in the Flatiron for beers and maybe talk about a program there and eat an awesome meal. That’s my ideal New York day.
It’s cool getting out here in Brooklyn. Last night, we were at The Gate, which was one of the first accounts in New York to support Dogfish 20 years ago. I know there are tons of things going on in the other boroughs. I gotta explore the other boroughs more.