Since he founded Delaware’s Dogfish Head as a tiny upstart brewpub in 1995, Sam Calagione has gone from young Turk to respected figurehead of the American craft beer movement.
Along the way, Calagione harnessed the gonzo energy of the Dogfish motto, “off-centered ales for off-centered people,” to build his passion for big, bold beers with exotic ingredients into the fastest-growing independent brewery in the U.S.
But if the past 15-plus years were a wild and dazzling ride to success, last year landed Calagione another step closer to beer superstardom.
Premiering in November, the Discovery Channel show “Brew Masters” featured his globe-trotting exploits. It’s produced by the creative team behind “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”
For much of the rest of the year, Calagione also was busy collaborating with restaurateurs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and Italian brewers Leonardo di Vincenzo and Teo Musso to create Birreria Brothers, a new brewpub set to open in April atop the Eataly Italian expo market in New York City.
Most of the Dogfish Head story can be found in the updated second edition of Calagione’s wise and spirited book, “Brewing Up a Business” (Wiley, $18.95), which was released this month. But when he called from the brewery recently, it seemed like it was time for a few new chapters.
Asked what he’d been up to lately, Calagione paused for a second to appreciate the joke, then laughed as he launched into an extended storytelling session.
“Once I thought I was at a disadvantage because I was an English major in college and I was trying to start a small business,” he said.
“But I learned that at the heart of any entrepreneurial endeavor is the element of storytelling. Let’s face it, there’s no greater example of a work of fiction than a business plan. Then you spend your time turning it into nonfiction and making it all come true.”
Here’s some more of what Calagione said.
On the “Brew Masters” series:
“The best thing I think the show does is demystify the craft brewing process and the craft brewing community. And maybe it gives people who aren’t beer geeks but just getting into better beer the confidence to go outside their comfort zone and explore. It was pretty neat because in this age of scanner data, you could see that when the show aired, the demand for craft beer went up.
“Some of it was a little weird because they do want some drama. But it wasn’t like ‘Jersey Shore.’ I’m not going to punch my wife in the mouth or start crying at work. If the stakes are that craft brewing is difficult sometimes, at least that’s positive. It shows us overcoming the challenges.”
On the Birreria Brothers brewpub:
“It’s great to see how excited Joe and Mario are getting about craft beer and its potential to pair with food. Dogfish Head, Birra del Borgo and Le Baladin are coming together with recipes that incorporate American and Italian craft brewing traditions. This is a project to bring craft beer into the highest echelon of the culinary and wine worlds.
“Everything we do will be casks, with three beer engines featuring two year-round beers and one rotating seasonal. We’ll have an English mild made with Italian chestnut powder and an American pale ale made with dried thyme from Italy. Plus there will be eight draft taps with beers from Italian and American craft breweries.”
On the future of craft beer:
“From a mass media perspective, craft beer has crossed a critical hurdle from being viewed as a cute little niche industry that was a passing fad. Now the whole world acknowledges that it’s not a fad, it’s a trend.”
Upcoming on TV
Look for a new episode of “Brew Masters” to air in March featuring Sam Calagione’s Eataly NYC collaboration with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich and travels to Italy to brew with Leonardo di Vincenzo and Teo Musso.
— by Bob Townsend, Drink blog
Bob Townsend is editor of Southern Brew News, a bimonthly beer publication distributed throughout the Southeast: brewingnews.com/southernbrew