Dogfish Head Brewery has a reputation that precedes itself and is best known for their creativity and innovation within the the craft beer industry. They are proud to say that they are independently owned and the founder, Sam Calagione, has made it his mission to get the entire world to drink “good beer” (a noble goal). Sam also appears to be more concerned with developing and releasing quality beer than he is about profits or elevating his own self-worth (which is quite high in craft beer circles). Dogfish Head is constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries of beer and Michael Jackson, a well respected beer journalist, stated that Dogfish Head is “America’s most interesting and adventurous small brewery.” Dogfish Head was at the top of my must-visit list.
My dad and I started the four and a half hour journey to Milton, Delaware (Dogfish Head’s home) at around 8am. After getting to Milton around noon, we grabbed some lunch and headed over to the brewery for a 2pm tour.
After parking we walked past the famous tree house (purchased for $1 on ebay) and some outside fermentation tanks. The brewery is a modern-looking wood and stone building. We went into the visitors entrance and into the gift shop/tasting room and found it a bit uninviting. Fluorescent lights lined the ceilings, a small wooden bar sat directly in the middle of the room with a couple of small stand alone tables on the left and to the right some merchandise including Festina Peche lip balm, 90 Minute IPA soap, Shelter Pale Ale shampoo and other interesting trinkets (I got a “Fort” coaster and a bottle opener). The employees were all knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.
We were approached by one of the employees who ran the tours and since we were early he gave us each four drink tokens. Today was IPA Day (unfortunately not my favorite style) so 60 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, Burton Baton and 120 Minute IPA were the tastings offered and I enjoyed Burton Baton the most.
The tour got started a little after 2pm and we first walked into the brewing room to see the brew kettles, mashing and lauter tuns. The tour guide, a large man with a handle bar mustache, gave us a brief history lesson on Dogfish Head and founder Sam Calagione. The most exciting thing to see was the original 12 gallon beer system that was used in the first brewpub (the average homebrewer uses a 5 gallon system). This system allowed Sam to be more creative because if he created a terrible beer he only had to get dump out 12 gallons (even though we were told Sam and his friends just drank the bad beer). We were also told that Dogfish Head is the only brewery that continuously hops their beer, meaning that they keep adding hops throughout the boiling process.
After the brew house we went into the fermentation room with stainless steel pipes lining the walls and large fermentation vessels. The tour guide explained that Dogfish doesn’t force carbonate most of their beers but rather adds priming malts to their bottles in order to create carbonation. We also learned that Dogfish had their very own “yeast expert” and laboratory to study the entire fermentation procedure and make sure it’s working to full capacity.
The last stop was the “high alcohol room”. There were three stainless steel tanks and three wooden ones. Dogfish has the largest wooden tanks of any brewery since prohibition. The first two were oak and the third was Palo Santo, a wood native to Paraguay used primarily for wine-making. The oak tanks cost $60,000 which may seem like a fair amount until compared to the $140,000 paid for the Palo Santo, which apparently went through 17 diamond tipped saw blades to create it.
After the tour we headed for the brewpub, about 30 minutes away in Rehoboth Beach that they use for R & D for their new experimental beers. When we got there around 3:30 the restaurant was already pretty busy. We were lucky enough to get a booth and ordered wings with apple cider hot sauce (very good) and rosemary fries (mediocre). When the waitress returned with the food we ordered a sample flight of Chicory Stout, Shelter Pale Ale, Palo Santo Marron, Raison D’Etre and Black & Red (a new dry minted beer with raspberry notes). We were also informed that the new Starwberry Season Gluten-Free beer wasn’t available which I was disappointed in. Apparently they were perfecting the recipe because the last batch they made was “too strong”.
The new beer the brewpub was offering, Black & Red, was a pitch black color and had a nice, brown lingering head. It had a chocolate mint aroma, almost like a fresh york peppermint patty (really great) and a nice cooling mint taste with hints of molasses. There wasn’t a strong raspberry taste but it was very smooth and refreshing for such a dark beer. The alcohol (10.5% ABV) was almost undetectable. A great beer that I can’t wait to buy at the supermarket.
Overall, an amazing trip to a great brewery. With 16 years under their belt, Dogfish Head has a rich history and continues to grow and share their passion for great beer. This is definitely a tour all beer lovers should take.