A Conversation With Sam Calagione, Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

SamCalagione_sized.jpgSam Calagione is—yes, there's no avoiding the term—a rock star of the beer world. His brewery, Dogfish Head, has become famous for its "off-centered stuff for off-centered people," ranging from its basic 60-Minute India Pale Ale to Palo Santo Marron, a strong brown ale aged in rare Paraguayan Palo Santo wood, and Chateau Jiahu, inspired by the remains of a 9,000-year-old Chinese beverage of fermented rice, honey, and fruit.

As the famous beer writer Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson) once wrote, Calagione "fights his own battles, on behalf of people with individual tastes and against the tyranny of timidity, conformity, and the lowest common denominator"—and by doing so he has helped shape the American craft beer industry. Here, Calagione discusses the importance of good glassware, Louis Pasteur, and how music helps his yeast get in the mood.

What do you say when people ask, "What do you do?"

I'm very proud to say or write on any vocational inquiry document that I am a brewer. My title is "president and founder" but I am a brewer first and a businessman second, and I think Dogfish's commitment to making a wide array of quality off-centered ales brings me more pride then growing from the smallest brewery in the country to where we are today.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on how people think about beer?

It sounds strange but I would say the recession has been the biggest factor in bringing people around to high-quality craft beer. I guess we are an anomaly as an industry where the highest priced products represent the growth spot in a challenging economy. But craft beer is an affordable luxury. I think wine lovers and foodies are beginning to realize beer can be as diverse, complex, and food-friendly as world-class wine at a fraction of the price.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your job?

I'm not constantly drinking beer. But I am constantly thinking about beer. My wife reminds me to stop occasionally at the dinner table. But seven minutes later I have to remind her to stop posting on the Dogfish Facebook page at the dinner table.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the beer world?

Glassware and temperature. The majority of what we think we are tasting we are actually smelling, so a balloon-shaped glass, whether it's a sniffer or red wine glass, is best for almost all beers, as it captures more of the aromatics. With temperature, the perception as dictated by the largest breweries is that beer is best served ice-cold. But of course anything you drink ice-cold is going to numb and retard your taste buds and nothing is good about that if you care about enjoying what you are ingesting.

What's a beer trend that you wish would go away?

See ice-cold beer! Above. Also, that session beers and extreme beers cannot peacefully coexist on the same shelf or within a brewer's portfolio. Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. Our palates are all different and preferences are subjective.

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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