I’d be hard-pressed to pick out your average brewer in a lineup, even as someone who covers the industry professionally. Sam Calagione, however, is not your average brewer. Outside of Samuel Adams’ founder, Jim Koch, whose face is in just about every Boston Brewery commercial, Calagione might be the most recognizable face in the craft beer world. Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales out of Milton, Delaware and you have no doubt seen his dogfish-shaped tap handles in countless bars and restaurants. Outside of his distinctive and award winning beers that have elevated him to rock star status in our weird microcosm of beer geekiness, his views on the industry and outspoken nature have been what has propelled him into the continuing dialogue over craft beer.

There is always a buzz within the industry that leads up to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), but for those who have been around as long as Calagione, who is celebrating Dogfish Head’s 20th anniversary this year, it can become old hat. You will recognize many of the new breweries by the excited faces of the booth workers, who oftentimes, are the brewers and brewery employers themselves. You will also recognize some of the more established breweries by the dull, unconcerned faces of volunteers who are dying to finish their shift and enjoy the festival for themselves. Not only will Calagione be in attendance at the Dogfish Head booth this year, he’ll be helping out at the Thursday and Friday evening sessions, and the Saturday afternoon session. I had the opportunity to talk with Calagione as he gears up for another GABF, and he explained why he not only comes back year-after-year, but does so with gusto:

On Why he Loves GABF…

“[Any story] that sound inappropriate in a bad way are basically Adam Avery [founder of Avery Brewing in Boulder] stories that were accidentally attributed to me” — Sam Calagione.

GABF, Sam Calagione, DogFish head, Sam Calagione interview, Sam Calagione Adam Avery

Sam Calagione at Great American Beer Festival. Photo courtesy of PorchDrinking.com, image by Will Dozier.

“For me, it’s the granddaddy of all beer festivals and it was really pivotal for Dogfish Head when we opened in 1995 as the smallest commercial brewery in the country to come to GABF. It was a place where we really got validated by beer luminaries like, Charlie Papazian [founder of the Association of Brewers and GABF] and beer writer, Michael Jackson [the former preeminent beer journalist and author in the world before his death in 2007],” said Calagione.

This recognition by well-respected authorities provided the platform to launch Dogfish Head’s “off-centered ales” motto. “They were the first to say this stuff that Dogfish Head is doing isn’t that crazy, it actually tastes great, is interesting and unique, and is paying homage to ancient beers,” explained Calagione, referencing Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series that produces beers based on recipes from centuries past.

On What He’s Pouring this Year at GABF…

“We intentionally never bring our best sellers”

Label for Pennsylvania Tuxedo. Image courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Label for Pennsylvania Tuxedo. Image courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Keeping with the off-centered motto, none of the year-round beers will be available on-tap at GABF. “We intentionally never bring our best sellers, because they can be found through our national distribution,” explained Calagione.

Beers that will be available this year include Higher Math, “which clocks in at over 18-percent ABV and is a birthday cake to ourselves for our 20th anniversary, which has tons of pureed cherries and cocoa nibs,” said Calagione.

Dogfish Head has been teaming up with Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania since 1999 to create historical beers… [Including one] designed following an analysis of chemical remains found in a 2,700 Turkish drinking vessel at the tomb of King Midas.

“We’re also serving a collaboration with Woolrich [a family-owned company and outdoor clothing provider to flannel-lovers since 1830]. That beer is called Pennsylvania Tuxedo and is an imperial IPA, where we went into the forests of Pennsylvania to harvest fresh spruce tips. West Coast breweries can do a fresh, wet hop beer, but we don’t have a ton of wet hops on the East Coast so we’re doing basically a wet spruce beer,” he explained.

Dogfish Head's Midas Touch, an ale based on a 2,700 year old recipe found in the tomb of King Midas. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch. Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

Woolrich is just one of a slew of non-traditional collaborations Dogfish Head has had over the years. For their Ancient Ales series, referenced earlier, Dogfish Head has been teaming up with Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania since 1999 to create historical beers. One of those beers, Midas Touch, has become part of Dogfish Head’s year-round lineup and was designed following an analysis of chemical remains found in a 2,700 Turkish drinking vessel at the tomb of King Midas.

It is probably safe to say Dogfish Head will be serving the first brewery and scrapple collaboration in history, Beer For Breakfast. For those unaware of what scrapple contains, it’s essentially a mish-mash of leftover pork scraps that’s added to cornmeal and spices to create a loaf of mush that is then fried. Beer for Breakfast incorporates this chimera of food leftovers from Rapa Scrapple of Delaware, and is “a breakfast stout made with chicory coffee, maple syrup from my family’s farm, milk sugar, applewood-smoked barley and scrapple,” explained Calagione.

Silver medal winner at last year’s GABF in the Indigenous/Regional Beer category, Choc Lobster, will also be available. Choc Lobster uses a robust porter beer style as the base, with live lobsters added to the boil, with additions of cocoa powder and basil tea. Lobsters as an ingredient may not seem like a stretch considering the rash of oyster (and our own rocky mountain version here in Colorado) stouts in recent years. The addition of these crustaceans can add a mineral quality not available from other sources, as well as the perception of added body from the salinity.

On What to Expect …

When asked how a festival that releases tens of thousands of inebriated adults into the city still maintains a congenial atmosphere among both participants and patrons, he credits the event as being “altruistic, and the craft beer community being 99 percent asshole free,” he said, using one of his famous phrases. Don’t be surprised to see Calagione at other events surrounding the festival, as he is known to mix it up with noted revelry among festival-goers. He did preface though, any rumors “that sound inappropriate in a bad way are basically Adam Avery [founder of Avery Brewing in Boulder] stories that were accidentally attributed to me,” said Calagione.

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