By Sam Calagione, Founder
Dogfish Head opened as the smallest commercial brewery in America in 1995, brewing in ten-gallon batches on a glorified-modified homebrew system. Even then, our mission was to bring off-centered ales to off-centered people. The only problem was, in that era, we couldn’t find a lot of off-centered beer enthusiasts in our corner of the world. From the day we opened, the average beer we brewed was 9% alcohol by volume (ABV) and made with six, as opposed to the normal 4, ingredients. Trying to convince people to trade up to an 8% ABV beer brewed with beet sugars and raisins, or a stout made with chicory and St. John’s wort, was difficult.
Over 95% of the beers sold in America are slight variations of the same exact beer style—the light lager. In our mind there was something wrong with one beer style dominating the global beer landscape. We were interested in standing out, not joining in. We wanted to create beers that look, smell and taste nothing like a light lager. Our belief was (and still is) that beer can have as much flavor, complexity, diversity, food-compatibility and age-ability as the world’s finest wines. We have never wavered from this belief. We have never dumbed-down or discounted our beers in order to grow.
So, for many years, we stayed very, very small. But something began to change in the late 90’s. While our company is located in sleepy, scenic coastal Delaware (we love it here!), it is still only two hours from DC, Philly and Baltimore and three-and-a-half hours from NYC. By the late 90’s, beer-believers from these cities were making the pilgrimage to the beach to try our unique, off-centered ales. Publications as diverse as Esquire, Men’s Journal, The New York Times, Food & Wine, and The Wall Street Journal took notice of the ground-breaking beers coming out of our little brewery as hardcore beer-believers continued to spread the word among their own friends and family.
So, we’re a little less small now. We’re the biggest craft brewery in the Mid-Atlantic region, but we still make less than 1/20th of 1% of the beer sold in the entire US (the big guys are surely quaking in their brewing boots). Today, the average case of beer coming out of our 103,000-foot, state-of-the-art, Milton, Delaware brewery is still 9% ABV and brewed with six ingredients. To borrow a refrain from the Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.” We haven’t had to bend toward the status quo. The status quo, thankfully, has slowly moved in the direction we have always been going. Americans are waking up to the fact that world-class beer is being made right in their own backyards. Now there are lots of other amazing, independent American craft breweries who have set their own course and helped to educate people to think outside of the light lager style. We are proud to be part of this beer renaissance. While we’re proud of our craft brewing brethren, we have never once looked to another brewery for inspiration or direction. We have grown because hardcore enthusiasts have discovered Dogfish and spread the word.
We don’t have a multi-million dollar marketing budget. We don’t work with a PR firm. In fact, we pretty much only advertise in beer publications and our local newspapers. We don’t do focus groups or hire marketing consultants. We design our own packaging and marketing the way we design our own beers; with very little concern for the way things are done traditionally but with great concern for continuing the off-centered tradition we have established. Along the way, we have never once let the tail of money wag the dog of inspiration.
Visit Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales to learn more.