Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Finally, a Trip to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

This month I finally was able to visit the holy grail of east coast brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  In my opinion, this brewery isn't lionized because of its iconic brands such as the 90 Minute series but because co-founder Sam Calagione freed us from the Reinheitsgebot. Before Dogfish Head opened in 1995, almost all American beers adhered to the key features of this German law -- brewing with just malted barley, yeast, hops, and water. Calagione blew this stagnation out of the water by not only creating non-conformist beers but also becoming a mini-archeologist and brewing craft beverages enjoyed by ancient cultures. Think of excellent and provoking beers such as Midus Touch, Chateau Jiahu, or Theobroma. Then there is his innovation combining wine must and beer as with Noble Rot and Siracusa Nera. Or think of the special oak treatments such as the Palo Santo Marron. Thus, for those who love any of the funky, sour, or just crazy beers brewed by the thousands of craft breweries today, Dogfish Head was the pioneer.

The brewery is located in Milton Delaware, far from Sam's New England heritage and Dogfish Head, Maine in which the brewery is named. Instead, Delaware is the home state of co-founder and current VP Mariah Calagione -- Sam's wife. The brewery first opened in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware as a brewpub which is still operating today as Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. After those early days the brewery's growth mandated a relocation to a larger facility in Milton, which has continued to expand as demand dictates.

Visitors to Dogfish Head first notice how the facility is massive, with fermenting tanks erected through ceilings and the long, long warehouse. Most are probably unaware of the equally large packaging facility located a football field behind the brewery.  Dogfish Head is easily the largest brewery I've ever seen outside a stop in Golden, Colorado. In fact, their experimental R&D unit alone is larger than most craft breweries. According to the Brewers Association, in 2017 Dogfish Head produced 276,243 barrels of beer. In comparison neighboring Crooked Hammock Brewing released 1,300 barrels and Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin, Maryland 2,800 barrels.  Yet Dogfish Head is still only the 12th largest independent craft brewery as defined by the Brewers Association.

In contrast to the brewing size, the tasting room is rather small - more comparable to a routine craft brewery. Obviously then, off season is the most opportune time to visit as I heard horror stories of long summer queues.  And there is no shortage of beers available as they pour close to two dozen beers as samples, pints, crowlers, or growlers. Where else can you find the 120 Minute IPA, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Palo Santo Marron, Pennsylvania Tuxedo, Viniferous IPA, or Wood-Aged Bitches Brew all in one spot. They even pour beers that have graduated from their R&D system but are not intended for wider distribution.

The tasting room is also where visitors schedule tours - and Dogfish Head offers several varieties. The shortest is the Quick Sip a 25 minute free tour that includes four free samples of beer. The hour long Off-Centered tour is most recommended where for $10 participants receive four samples and stops at " our 200-barrel brewhouse, Off-Centered Center and even our new R&D system where you’ll have a chance to sample one of our experimental brews and we finish the tour out at our packaging facility where we show you have everything is kegged, canned and bottled".  Of notable interest is the original brewing equipment (a bucket and electronic football game) used by Calagione to develop the 90 Minutes series. And on our tour we sampled an excellent IPA that most likely won't even make it into the tasting room. And for visitors who really plan ahead look for the limited Grain To Glass, Randall Jr., and Distillery tours with access to normally off-limit parts of the brewery. And yes the distillery official relocated from the Rehoboth Beach brewpub to a larger pasture in Milton.

For those heading to the Maryland or Delaware beaches, visiting Dogfish Head takes just a slight adjustment from your route.  For those brewery tourists, visit nearby Lewes and Rehoboth Beach to broaden your craft beverage trip. And as always, theCompass Craft Beverage Finder will guide you there.

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