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SHATTERING THE MOLD OF AN INDUSTRY How Dogfish Head Brewery Went From a Basement in Delaware to Your Fridge

If you request a Midas Touch at a bar, you’re not ordering a specialty drink or the kind of beverage you’d have on a girls’ night out. No, this beer is based on a recipe found in a 2,700-year-old drinking vessel from the tomb of King Midas. This is one of the many unique award-winning beers Dogfish Head Brewery distributes every year. “A liquid time capsule” is how CEO Sam Calagione describes his company’s most awarded beer. It’s an insight to some of the key tenets that make his business an industry leader. Values like creativity and staying true to yourself make Dogfish Head Brewery one of the top 15 producers in the craft beer industry and widely regarded as the most creative brewery on the planet. But this wasn’t always the case. Breaking the Law Once an aspiring writer in Columbia’s master’s program, Calagione decided to take his creative sensibilities and leverage them toward another passion. After dropping out of Columbia, Calagione borrowed $110,000 from family, packed up with his girlfriend at the time, and moved to Delaware with the intention of starting a brewpub. When he got a matching bank loan, Calagione was ready to make his vision a reality, with the exception of one obstacle: What he wanted to do was illegal. It wasn’t that Calagione was doing something morally wrong, but prohibition laws prevented breweries in the state of Delaware. So, Calagione took his case to the state senate, and after realizing the lunacy of never adapting the law, Delaware quickly ratified, and Dogfish Head Brewery was born. Calagione came right out of the gates pushing common conceptions of beer. He began brewing with ingredients no one knew you could use. From raisins to spices never heard of in the beer world, Calagione built a brand based on creativity. But he didn’t anticipate that, by brewing these never-before-seen beers, he was also creating a movement. Developing Acumen Calagione brewed his beers using a homemade system built from scrappy old kegs. It was unique, exciting, and horribly inefficient. Calagione spent most nights sleeping on a mattress in the basement of the brewpub while making 10-gallon batches just to keep up with

the demand he had created. He quickly realized that his business was unable to scale and grow with the limitations of his original business plan, so he was forced to make adjustments fast. He tapped into investment funds for a bottling system and employees. A sales staff was hired to take Dogfish Head Brewery beyond the borders of Delaware and into local regions. Late at night, Calagione would obsess over the fine print in contracts and figure out how better deals could be made. He began his path from passionate brewer to astute businessman. Relentless Pursuit of Creativity Once Dogfish Head began to reach homeostasis, Calagione went back to breaking through the brick walls of mediocrity. In many cases, when breweries expand, they keep the most creative options at their home base and take fewer chances at satellite locations, using the beers they believe will hit the biggest demographics. Calagione blew both these ideas out of the water and began pushing with ferocity to free the creative spirit of his company. Calagione gathered inspiration from any source possible — the most influential of which was history. The creation of the Ancient Ales series began, where beers like Midas Touch were born. Chateau Jiahu uses a Chinese recipe from the oldest fermented beverage ever found. Pangaea is brewed using ingredients from each continent on earth. Some beers are even aged in ancient Paraguayan wood. With these innovative recipes and

Brewery doesn’t shop around for the flashiest ad agency to market their beer. They empower their customers to do the marketing for them. It all starts at the roots for Calagione. When he goes to dinner with his family, they go to a restaurant that has Dogfish Head Brewery beers on tap. He makes sure the restaurant is taken care of with all their needs, and if you’re a customer with one of his brews in hand, he’s likely to ask for your feedback or buy you another. Authenticity is vital to the development of Dogfish’s brand, because it matters to consumers in today’s microbrew-crazed marketplace. So, while Budweiser or Coors might rely on ultra-slick ads, Calagione is at a pub having a conversation about hops. Why? Because that’s what having a beer is all about — creating a meaningful connection. Stay True to Yourself The true success of Dogfish Head Brewery doesn’t reside in its massive production scale or the unwavering respect it holds in the brewing community. It comes from never changing the ideals that made it initially resonate with people. Even when Dogfish Head Brewery went through struggles early in its scaling efforts and tough financial times in the late ‘90s, the company never stopped making beers that challenged the status quo. No other brewery has demonstrated this relentless pursuit of creativity balanced with growth. When Dogfish grew, they never outgrew their ability to relate with their audience. They are a top producer with the heart of a mom and pop store. They recognize the value of each individual patron. Calagione himself still brews the pilot batches when testing a new beer, and the panel of judges for these new ales aren’t renowned taste testers or palate gurus.

many more, Calagione defied norms. Creating Beer Evangelists

The term “beer evangelism” was coined by Calagione to describe his marketing approach. Dogfish Head

Tasting is open to anyone who goes to the original taproom. If you visit the brewery today, you’ll find the very same 10-gallon system that started it all. And despite being one of the most successful CEOs in the industry, when Calagione travels, you’ll find one modest word written on his passport under occupation: brewer.




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