Q&A with Sam Calagione

Posted by Paulon August 4, 2008 |
Q&A with Sam Calagione

1. Your motto is “off centered ales for off centered people” – what do you mean by that?

That’s what business-types would call our “purpose statement”. It’s our raison d’etre. It’s the short version of the Emerson quoe that hangs on our Milton brewery wall (shameless plug – come for to tour tues – sat to read it, sign up at dogfish.com!!!!). When we opened in 1995 our average beer was 9 % abv and made with 6 as opposed to the “normal” 4 ingredients. Back then there were a lot fewer off-centered beer enthusiasts so we were considered freaks. Today we are among the fastest-growing breweries in the country. I’m proud of that. But I’m more proud of the fact that we have been able to achieve this growth without wavering from our original mission. We make big, bold, friendly-friendly beers for a lot more off-centered people these days. But still the average beer coming off our packaging line is 9% abv and made with six ingredients. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

2. You have taken part in a number of videos that appear on your site, why use that medium?

We like finding non-traditional DIY methods of getting the word put about what we do at Dogfish Head. So we make our own films and music and beer soap and beer shampoo and soda and Rum, etc. We thrive on finding unique ways to approach all of our projects and the internet is a great leveler. We can get a video on youtube just as easily and inexpensively as Gatorade can. We are also just way into independent film. In fact we host The Off-centered Film Festival in Austin Texas every spring with our homey at The Alamo Drafthouse. The prizes have gotten pretty big. To be eligible short films can either feature/mention dogfish or just somehow relate to the vague theme of “Underdog” – something I’m sure almost everyone can relate to.

3. How would you describe the average craft beer drinker?


4. Just like Mac is taking a bite out of Microsoft, can the same be said for the brewers of American specialty craft beers and the “other” guys?

I think so. Small American Craft Breweries are growing significantly faster than the big industrial international brewing conglomerates. What is cool is that this growth is being fueled by the consumer – who is learning more and trading up and voting for the little/local guys with their communal wallet – not on the back of a half-billion dollar ad campaign.

5. I’ve heard that you tried to bring back the “high 5” is that true?

That and the mullet haircut and bocce and whiteguy rap – we are very serious historian-revivalists here at Dogfish Head.

6. What is your favorite beer?

I don’t have a single favorite and I doubt most hardcore beer folk do either. I have a bunch of favs. Some of my go-too beers from our own brewery are 60/90 Minute, Red & White, Palo Santo Marron, World Wide Stout, and Festina Peche. But the line-up could change a bit in a month or two.

7. What kind of “off centered” ingredients have you tried in the past that, lets face it, just didn’t work?

A wheat beer brewed with Lavender buds, peppercorns, and high-alpha hops back in 1996. We made five barrels of it. One for each person who liked it.

8. Where do you see the American specialty craft beer industry heading?

In 1400 directions at-once and that is a beautiful thing.

9. Do you watch much video on the web?

Some YouTube and stuff friends send me. Love the one where the monkey scratches his ass, smells it, and falls down.

10. Wine seems to get more attention then craft beer, why do you think that is?

I think beer is actually catching up here. The editor of Food & Wine is on the record calling beer the new wine. Beer can pair with food at least as well and in at least as many contexts as wine can and world class beer is a hell of a lot more affordable than world class wine. Marnie Old and I just wrote a book called “He said beer, She Said wine” that presents our case to the consumer on why we each feel our respective beverage of choice works best with a whole bunch of different foods.

11. Who would you say are the real pioneers in this business today?

I bet a new one enters the industry every few months but a few whom I admire are Ken Grossman, Jack McAuliffe (from New Albion – didn’t survive but inspired many who did), Kim Jordan, Fritz Maytag, Jim Koch, my list goes on and on….

12. What music are you listening to these days?

CD book is right here so…..The National, My Morning Jacket, Al Green, Dylan, The Books, Radiohead, The Clash, Replacements – I’m kind of an indie nerd mostly.

13. What books are you reading these days?

The Raymond Pettibon Reader, Frank O’Hara (he swears really well for a poet), some business books, a great book called Buying In by the fella who writes the “Consumed” column in the NYT magazine. Rolling Stone, WSJ, Interview, New Yorker, Us….can you believe A-Rod and Madonna!….Seriously, can you? Unless I am on the road I usually go to bed around 8.30 after we put the kids to sleep and read for a couple of hours while Mariah works on our website. Big dork. I know.

14. How much has your wife Mariah and your kids inspired you?

All the time – every day – I get to work with Mariah and she has business coursing through her veins. We try to teach our kids Sammy and Grier a lot about the company – not just beer but the good things we do through the company for the community.

15. I’ve known you for several years and visited your brewpub and brewery on numerous occasions, and as busy as you are, you’ve always made time for my requests and your staff has been equally receptive to me and the people who enjoy your beer – is there a philosophy you try to follow?

Showing support and respect for the people who support our company and the craft beer industry in general is a big priority for all of us. Trying (almost always successfully) to surround myself with people who are way better at doing their jobs than I could ever be.

16. You have this rapidly expanding brewery, you’re an author, and have your own rap group, you also have a family – so what inspires you and keeps you going?

Family, Beer, Coffee, ADD, bicycle-surfboard-rowboat.

17. What is your personal favorite Dogfish beer?

What day is it?

18. What is the most popular Dogfish Head beer?

Each of the 28 we package grow in volume every year so I am hopeful that every single one of them is the most popular one with some group of beer lovers out there.

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