How Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione Influenced Four of Our Favorite Brewers
After 7 years as a nominee, Dogfish Head's puppet-master is finally a James Beard Award winner.
Written by Alex Weaver
It’s hard to overstate the influence Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione has had on the craft beer and restaurant industries since founding his original Rehoboth Beach brewpub, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, in 1995.
At the time, the outfit was both Delaware’s first brewpub and the smallest commercial brewery in America. As the story goes, the team was brewing three times every day on a tiny three-burner setup just to keep up with demand. Since then, Dogfish Head has expanded exponentially: there’s a larger brewery down the road in Milton; a distillery making vodka, rum, and gin perched atop the original pub; and a new seafood restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine, which opened in March 2016 in Rehoboth Beach and will soon be tethered to a brand new, $4 million brewpub.
“Who thinks it’s a good idea to chew some corn, spit it into the mash, and keg it for everyone to enjoy? Sam does.”
Accolades for the beer have poured in since day one, due in no small part to Calagione’s fearlessness to try new ingredients, styles, and brewing processes. (In 2015, he brewed the hoppiest beer ever made at a staggering 658 IBUs.)
But one achievement that’s eluded Calagione is the prestigious James Beard Award for the Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional, an honor for which he’s been nominated the past seven years.
That is, until now. Calagione has finally taken home the award. In a statement released after the event, he said, “It’s a tremendous honor to receive this nod from our peers as we celebrate our 22nd year in business at Dogfish Head. I celebrate this award with my wife and business partner, Mariah, and our 200-plus co-workers who work hard to make our off-centered brewery tick.”
Calagione is a guy who’s touched the lives of seemingly every brewer in the business today. I chatted with a few to get some thoughts on his enduring influence within the industry.
Here are a few of their anecdotes:
“No one personifies the artistic nature of brewing quite like Sam. Not one to shy away from pushing boundaries and questioning norms, Sam has showed myself, and countless others, the possibilities of what beer can be. Not to mention, he is truly one of the nicest and most generous individuals you will meet in our industry. I consider him an inspiration and am stoked he won this award.” — Daniel Kleban, co-founder and brewer, Maine Beer Company
“Sam and I have been friends and drinking buddies for a long time and his off-centered creativity and passion for brewing great beers is unparalleled. Who thinks of working with a molecular archaeologist to re-create an ancient Chinese brew? Sam does. Who thinks it’s a good idea to chew some corn, spit it into the mash, and keg it for everyone to enjoy? Sam does. He was the first American brewer that I brewed a collaboration beer with (called Savor Flowers) that was released for SAVOR in DC. We brainstormed this beer together by chatting about brewing, life, ingredients, and some big ideas we had for craft beer. I raise my pint to Sam for being recognized by James Beard as an outstanding brewer.” — Jim Koch, founder, Boston Beer Company
“Sam and Dogfish Head have always inspired me and were one of the first craft beers that opened up my mind to the possibilities. I also read Sam’s book, “Brewing up a Business,” while still in college and that lead me to start homebrewing. So yeah, Sam has played a big impact in my beer journey.” Rob Burns, co-founder, Night Shift Brewing
“When I was really far into my pregnancy, I waddled up to Sam at a beer festival that we were both working at. Star-struck, I nervously asked him for the secret to balancing family and a craft brewery. If you’ve every had the pleasure of hearing a Sam Calagione belly laugh, it’s a gem on the earth. He laughed, but then warmly and thoughtfully said, “It’s all [my wife] Miranda. She does it all. She’s our glue and … why I can love all this.” — Caitlin Jewell, founder, Somerville Brewing Company