Delaware Today magazine 302 Reads: Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton and owner Sam Calagione develop an all-Delaware beer made from local peaches and pears
Peach Buzz: The first all-Delaware beer uses local peaches, pears and a secret ingredient. Like everything else Dogfish Head does, it’s more than just a beer.
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All of this collaboration, globe trotting and derring-do have made Dogfish Head the 11th largest craft brewery of the 1,500 breweries in the country today—up from the smallest brewery in 1995. It has won countless awards. It has been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Association for job creation, and it has become a poster child for economic development in Delaware. Levin has been known to try to seal a deal with Dogfish Head brews.
It may seem bizarre to talk about a corporate culture at Dogfish Head. Especially in Delaware, where the local economy had for decades been underpinned by places like Bank of America and DuPont, big employers that epitomize the meaning of “corporate” and the culture of conformity the word often implies. Small businesses like Dogfish Head represent a new opportunity for economic growth. Yet Dogfish Head is a corporation, 141 workers strong, and it has a palpable culture—one of non-conformity and fun. Requisite beer tasting for quality control explains part of the good vibe, though what matters most is that the culture shines through in the flavor.
Those flavors have made Dogfish Head so popular, it will reach sales of $56 million for the year. Even the 142,000 barrels of beer it will brew—4.4 million gallons—isn’t enough to meet the demand. Having gladly assumed the mantle of David in an industry of Goliaths, Dogfish has achieved the sort of success that drives many entrepreneurs to play it safe, lapse into formula, join an establishment that makes them feel safe and secure, to, in a word, sell their souls to protect profits.
Yet after a few years of 40 percent annual growth—during a recession, no less—Dogfish Head has won the luxury of opting to scale back. The goal is not to maintain revenue but to maintain quality, to serve its devotees well, to keep the creativity flowing and to remain an independent, family-owned business. This is a place where “employee buy-in” truly means something (especially since Sam, vehemently averse to top-down management, insists that members of the “super-talented” crew are not his employees but his co-workers) and where “stakeholders”—all those co-workers, dozens of collaborators and thousands of beer lovers—really do have a stake in something.
So in the great big world of beer, Delaware Native Ale might not seem like such a big deal. Except, to Dogfish Head, which is huge in the world of craft beer, it is a very big deal, indeed.
“This project reeks in every way of the terroir of the state,” Sam says.
It’s open season on Kloeckera apiculata. Any brewer here is free to use it. But beyond that, Sam wants to share his knowledge about yeast collection so that brewers across the country might harvest their own. That would make American craft brews as regionally diverse and interesting as wine or Scotch whiskey. And—who knows?—KA-1 may become as famous a brewing yeast as Ardennes and Nottingham.
But let’s not get ahead of things. All that really matters right here and now is that those Delawareans who love beer have their own, a beautiful brew the color of hay, with a subtle hops flavor balanced by hints of local peach and pear. It is the essence of the state. You’ll like it a lot.
And if you have a taste for doing things differently, you’ll love it.
you can. Pub offerings are posted daily at dogfish.com/restaurant/index.htm.