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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That writer’s favorable article led to more attention from the beer press, which led to coverage in major papers and consumer magazines, especially business titles. Mags like Esquire and Men’s Journal quickly became big boosters of Dogfish Head brews in annual best-beers-in-America type surveys. Even wine magazines—wine magazines!—have shown a peculiar fascination with Dogfish Head beers because of their novelty and complexity.
Sam himself has written three books about brew and business, which further raised Dogfish Head’s profile and led to Sam making quite a few appearances on popular TV programs like “The Today Show.”
When Discovery saw Dogfish Head’s own house-made videos on youtube.com, it found a new show.
So there are Sam and Floris on “Brew Masters,” researching ingredients to re-create a beer from the oldest known depiction of brewing in the world, carved as hieroglyphs on the wall of a king’s 4,000-year-old tomb. The research means finding a yeast like one the ancients would have used. So Sam and Floris trap fruit flies in petri dishes in a grove of date palms, send the hitch-hiking yeasts to a lab in Belgium to be identified, then culture the best in the yeast management lab at their brewery in Milton.
As Sam and Floris browse spice markets in Egypt, the crew at the brewery struggles to save a batch of Chateau Jiahu. Chateau Jiahu is based on the oldest of known recipes for a fermented beverage, one believed to go back 9,000 years. Dogfish produces a limited quantity once a year, so anticipation of its release is high among fans. Yet the yeast is “stuck”—fermentation has stopped—and the most heroic of efforts fail to save it. A crestfallen crew sends what would be $50,000 to $70,000 in sold product down the drain.
A short time later, Sam and Floris, home from their travels, are in the small test brewery at the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth, where they, with brewmaster Bryan Selders and head brewer Jesse Prall, start experimenting with ingredients from Egypt: a grain known as emmer wheat, a palm fruit called dom, chamomile, other spices and loaves of bread that Prall baked in an outdoor oven, just like the ancients would have done.
There is no small amount of pressure to get things right. The crew is scheduled to unveil the result in three weeks during a big event in New York City, where Dogfish had recently partnered with celebrity chef Mario Batali in the then-soon-to-open rooftop brewpub, Birreria, at Batali’s famed Eataly restaurant. It takes eight days to propagate enough yeast, which means the brewers really have less than two weeks to resurrect a mummy beer.
So when they arrive in New York at the appointed hour, no one—no one—has tasted the result. Before an eager audience of beer lovers and archaeology buffs, the Dogfish Head crew is outwardly merry, inwardly tentative. “If we screw this up,” Sam says in an aside, “it will be all over the papers tomorrow.”
But they don’t screw it up. In fact, the crowd is delighted, pronouncing the brew “delicious,” “super hearty” and “smooth.” One taster even noted of the yeast, “I could smell it.”
If you’ve sensed by now that Dogfish Head does things differently, that it makes anything but your basic industrial light lager, you are correct, but there’s more to it than that. Dogfish does things no other commercial brewery does, period. It created “continuous hopping” while the grains boil to strengthen the hops flavor. It uses two to four times more grain in brewing, which results in Dogfish Head making more beers over 10 percent alcohol by volume than any brewer in the world. (That’s damned strong beer.) And it makes beers that start with a story.
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