High school reunions take a look back at the past–by making new memories with those who knew you “when.” My recent high school reunion in Maryland included a few extra days of sun and fun with my teenhood girlfriends at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. And what good craft beer lover would visit the Eastern Shore and not pay a visit to Dogfish Head Brewpub and Brewery? Not this one. Thanks to Dogfish’s Vice President and social media queen, Mariah Calagione, it was arranged that Regional Sales Manager Mike Contreras would show me, my husband Paul and long-time friend Shelley around the brewery out in Milton. Visiting the birthplace of off-centered ales for off-centered people, we felt right at home. What a great way to spend an afternoon!
First on our tour was a look at Dogfish founder Sam Calagione’s original brewing system–when he opened the state’s first brewpub in 1995, they were brewing 12-gallon batches three times a day, five days a week with this contraption. This system just couldn’t keep up with demand and they built their own brewery on premises–eventually outgrowing that setup too! In 2002, they moved the entire production facility to the 100,000 square foot former cannery in Milton where they are now in the midst of yet another expansion project. It’s impressive. (They still brew some especially funky stuff in the brewpub brewery.)
As we walked through the facility, Mike’s commentary pointed out all the mechanics of the brewing system as any good tour leader would do, as well as those special touches that are truly Sam–but what really struck me and my fellow tourists was the spirit of invention and fun that was absolutely par for this course. From the patented hopping system that makes Dogfish’s 60-90-and 120 Minute IPAs so special, to the R&D and quality control department, to Sam’s special stash of warehoused beers and the attitudes of everyone we met along the way–everything in the place showed a reverance for innovating good brew and having a good time.
We ended up in the tasting room, certainly the best place to judge the outcome of the process and all the bells and whistles we had just observed. From my first taste of the 120 (not allowed by law in Ohio where I live!) to the delicious Urkontinent that had just been served at a festival on premises for the weekend, to the cider-like Positive Contact–it was all positive. Paul, Shelley and I headed right from there to the brewpub in Rehoboth for some hearty crab cakes and another round (or two) that included a couple of brewpub exclusives. We just didn’t want the experience to end!
During our tour, Mike pointed out that Sam had studied the brewing models of craft beer pioneers like Jack, and the Dogfish original system certainly made me think of Jack’s hand-crafted copper kettle that now resides at Mendocino Brewing Company. It was such a great moment back in 2011 at the Craft Brewers Conference when Sam shook Jack’s hand–watching the brewing past and present come together in the spirit of good beer! Visiting Dogfish certainly made me feel especially proud of what Jack had started on the West coast those 30+ years ago. It’s clear that Sam reveres craft beer’s past as he brings it to hand-crafted beer lovers now and into the future–in fact, he included a shout out to New Albion in one of his rap videos and he mentions Jack often in his interviews.
When you visit Dogfish, look for Jack’s signed photo in the brewpub–it’s going up very soon! For a few more photos, check out my Facebook page, facebook.com/BrewersDaughter. Cheers!