This is part two of our two part interview with Sam Calagione, founder and President of Dogfish Head Brewing in Milton, Delaware. Sam gives us a brief look behind the curtain of what makes Sam, Sam. His daily routine, what he is passionate about, how much he drinks, and a new beer that will be hitting store shelves in early December. If you missed part one, you can find it here. Enjoy!
What do you think you would be doing with yourself if you never started brewing beer?
I’d say if I had limitless talent I’d be writing. If my writing wasn’t good enough I’d probably be an evangelist for great writing through teaching writing skills to others. But every other skill I’ve ever had has pretty much atrophied at this point because it has been 17 years since I was 25, and all I’ve ever done before that was like build stone walls and waited tables, so I’ve never actually had another real job besides this one.
How much beer do you drink?
Oh, yeah my Doctor asked me that recently. His eyebrows raised at my answer because he didn’t know what I did for a living. I would say honestly maybe 10 or 12 pints a week. So it’s not horrific, but more than average.
I was thinking you were gonna say 10 or 12 pints a day?…
Haha No, usually what it is, is 2 or 3 days of 2 or 3 pints and then one night of more than that.
I try to balance that out with between 40 minutes to an hour of Bike riding, rowing, or doing yoga per day. Yoga is really convenient, because I travel so much, I can just bring my roll on the plane. And I also like to ski with my family when we get the chance, and Dogfish Head sponsors an adult hockey team that I like to play on every now and again.
Yesterday we just did our largest annual fund raiser where we sponsored a 5K race for the Nature Conservancy where we raised $33,000, and it hurt because I really don’t use running muscles too often. I pretty much have my routine of a few sports and I stick to it.
So as things have progressed in the world of craft beer, regular people have turned you into sort of an icon in the industry. You’re manly, folksy, and drive an old red pickup truck every day. Do you feel like that is an image that you have to live up to?
I’m pretty comfortable ignoring that. If I had to give any thought to what people actually think of me, I wouldn’t be me for long.
I know when I stand behind my booth at an event and people come up and high five me, and say “hey I really love your work” I know I’m really saying thank you on behalf of over 200 people back here in Delaware. I’m really thankful that I have my wife working next to me in the next cubicle that keeps me grounded and humble. More than that I know if it was just me running this company, it would still be a tiny little company. I have amazingly talented people that have joined me for this trip we are on at Dogfish, so I never let those compliments go to my head.
This is from one of our readers Alex, who says his fiancee finds you extremely charming and handsome. Could you please reveal a hidden deformity or personality defect that would make her think less of you?
Even though I seem really easy going, I’m a militant schedule keeper and that annoys people. I’m like okay from 2:15 to 2:24 we are doing this, then from 2:25 to 2:35 we are doing this, so I’m an extremely anal scheduler to the point that I annoy the other people around me.
What is the hardest part of the job for you?
Hardest part of the job is the e-mail. Connie who runs my world over here laughs..What do we have in the inbox right now? I have 45,144 items in my inbox right now. That is the worst thing, and we wake up in the middle of the night and think…Oh my God, I remember that guy from that brewery in Kansas City e-mailed me three weeks ago to ask advice on a fermentor, so my whole day is spent with these epiphanies of frustration that we remember that we forgot to get back to someone. That is definitely the hardest part of our job.
Do you read anything on the internet? Do you follow any blogs?
Occasionally, I try to always make time for the folks that have devoted part of their lives to the work of spreading love of good beer. I frankly, try to not read any publications other than to say, well it’s awesome that another friend of mine’s brewery is doing that thing. I try not to read anything through the filter of “would that be something interesting for Dogfish.” I don’t really read the beer publications with an eye towards what is happening in trends within the industry. I don’t want to taint our own direction we are going on. I actually read a lot more in the worlds of art, food, and music than I do in the world of beer.
So do you read any beer blogs?
Well I don’t want to name any ones in particular of the 10 or 12 I follow regularly because I have a lot of friends that are bloggers and I wouldn’t want to bum any of them out.
That’s ok, I’ll just write that you follow Beer and Whiskey Brothers exclusively…
Haha (**Editors Note: yeah…he doesn’t follow us)
Last time we talked in Eataly you had a bit of industry news for us, and that was a pretty good day for us.
Oh, you got a bit of traffic, did you??
Yeah, a lil’ bit, lil’ bit. Do you have any tidbit of industry news for us that you can share right now?
Well we are learning about the challenges of bringing a gluten free beer to market. The two biggest requests we get is for more spirits, and when are you going to do a gluten free beer? We will be releasing a gluten free beer called Tweason’Ale in December of this year. It is made with a lot of strawberries and buckwheat honey which is a dark malty honey, and sorgum. That will be the first 4 pack 12 oz bottle beer we have released since Palo Santo which was released like 4 or 5 years ago. So we are pretty excited about that and we are learning about all the challenges of bringing it to market, like the TTB no longer acknowledges something without Barley as a beer. So if they aren’t going to aknowledge it how do we bring it to market? So we are learning about working with other agencies and putting nutrition labels on the beer, so it has taken more time than we anticipated.
So when you made that beer Sam, what was the criterion you had for getting the recipe right? Was it this has to taste like really good beer like any other Dogfish product, or was there a settling process where the decision was made that this is as good as gluten free beer can be?
That second filter you mentioned is what we were fearing, but the more we played around with all these different honeys, we found Buckwheat honey that has a very malty character and provides a nice malty backbone to our beer. That malty character is what we thought was missing from many or all of the gluten free beers that are out there today. It’s not going to taste exactly like your every day pilsner or lager beer, but then again hardly anything in our portfolio does. I think our Dogfish supporters are going to give us a lot of leeway from working outside the style parameters so this beer doesn’t even reference any sort of style parameters. It’s a gluten free THING! We’re really proud of the way it tastes and the reviews its been getting on test batches in our pub are all pretty great, so we decided to bring it to market.
Any TV stuff plans moving forward? We get questions about it all the time on our site. Do you see anything for yourself moving forward at this point?
I heard a rumor that maybe Travel Chanel is looking at it. They still never aired the 6th episode of Brew Masters. It never really got cancelled, that was a misconception out there it was always supposed to be six episodes but the 6th episode never ran. I’ve heard they plan to run the series again. Frankly, we were very proud of how the series was shot and how it represented our company. But we weren’t happy with some of the pressures that got placed on the show and how that came about to be covered on-line.
We are still working with ZPZ (Zero Point Zero) but on a different platform where we can do our content on line and not be subject to choices that are beyond our control.
Can you tell us a little about that? Because we haven’t heard anything about an online show.
Its too early for me to comment on anything other than to say we are looking for content on line. Kind of what they did with David Chang and the Lucky Peach app magazine and story. That shows the kind of work they do on line. We get e-mails every day from people who loved the show and would love to see more episodes.
So that sounds great. I love David Chang, and I wasn’t aware of the Lucky Peach App so I’ll check it out.
Yeah, check that out, I think the magazine is out, it is published by McSweenys and the app is within a month or so of coming out.
Gents I gotta Jump, they are waiting for me at this other meeting I have, but it was great chatting with you, and thank you guys for everything you do in the name of good beer!
Thank you so much Sam!