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My Off-Centered Tour at Dogfish Head

It was December 3, 2015. I wasn’t even planning to stop by World of Beer that night. I had been at another event and it was getting late. But I decided to stop by anyway- mostly because I have always been a fan of Dogfish Head beer. For every beer you ordered, you received a ticket. I drank a couple of beers and my tickets were submitted for the raffle. (I can’t lie here, there was another guy at the bar who slipped me a couple of his tickets as well… shhhh.)

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Myself (left) and Dogfish Representative Josh Jaufmann (right) holding the winning ticket.

All the tickets were collected and at the end of the night a winning number was drawn. I was disappointed when they called the winning ticket because I didn’t have that number. Oh well, better luck next time. But wait a minute… nobody responded when the first winning number was called! So it was time to pick another number. And sure enough (or else this would have been a really short blog post), the second ticket number was mine! I was headed to Dogfish Head! WOOHOO!

I returned to World of Beer a few days later and was talking to the bartender about my victory. A woman sitting next to me who frequently visits Dogfish Head (what are the chances?) overheard our conversation and offered some advice. She said, “You should really try to go the first Thursday of the month. Dogfish does a special event called ‘Vintage and Vinyl’ where a DJ plays old records and vintage beers from Sam’s personal collection are served. Even the employees stick around and have a beer.” The Sam she was referring to is Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head founder. That sounded like an event I would be interested in.

So I looked at the calendar and January 7, 2o16 fit perfectly into my schedule. I recruited a friend of mine, John, who also had this time frame available. We left Buffalo on Wednesday January 6, and visited a number of breweries along the way (see my post here). We stayed in Delaware and Dogfish Head all of Thursday, and then drove back (yes, hungover) on Friday.

Here is a map of the trio of Dogfish locations we would visit. I admit I was a bit confused about which place was where, but luckily we had a tour guide and a van there to help us get around. There is the Dogfish Inn, the Dogfish Head Brewery and the Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats Brewpub.

Map of places

We arrived at the Dogfish Inn late on Wednesday which had now turned into Thursday, around 12:30 a.m. Because it was early January (off-season) the Inn did not have a high occupancy. But the staff was still extremely friendly and more than accommodating to our needs. A couple of phone calls en route with the Inn staff ensured us that our room key would be placed “under the rug” for us no matter what time we arrived. “How cool is that?” I thought to myself.

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Unassuming exterior, amazing interior.

Upon arriving at the Inn, I have to admit that you should definitely not judge this book by its cover. This place looks like a small motor inn with a Dogfish sign posted in the front. But what is inside each room will literally knock your socks off. Sam Calagione, Founder of Dogfish Head, lives within walking distance from the Inn. At the story goes (from our tour guide, more on him soon), Sam’s wife bought the Inn because it was close to their house and she heard it was up for sale. She really felt they could revamp the Inn into a tourist destination. And like everything else the Calagione’s have done, they were absolutely right.

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Items for sale at the Dogfish Inn.

Everything inside the room was Dogfish branded. And I mean everything. The flannel blanket on the bed. The pickles on the desk from Brooklyn Brine (habanero and hop infused pickles… these are so damn good). And you could take whatever you wanted home with you, for a fee of course. It was like an old-school Wheel of Fortune winner’s round in that room. “I’ll take the beef jerky for $8, Chuck.” We didn’t do any “incidental damage” on the first night. (The second night was another story)

Exhausted from travel, we hit the sack, knowing that our tour guide, Matt, would be there at 9:30 a.m. to pick us up. Matt had called me a couple days earlier to verify our arrival and asked what we wanted to see on our tour. Being the science nerd I am, I requested a tour of the quality control labs.

I awoke at 7 a.m. excited about my day at the brewery. I took a stroll around Lewes to clear the cobwebs from the long drive and searched for a light breakfast. I found a coffee and baked goods spot, Notting Hill Coffee, where I sat and enjoyed a muffin after my brisk morning walk. I then headed back to the Inn.

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A picture from my morning walk in Lewes.
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Coffee shop in Lewes.

Our tour guide, Matt, was right on time. Our ride was awesome- a black tour van with Dogfish Head logos larger than life on the sides. People honked their horn wherever we traveled throughout the day. We headed off to the Dogfish Head Brewery for our off-centered tour.

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Our sweet ride for the day.

Matt took us upstairs to the “tour room” and gave us the well-rehearsed and incredibly entertaining version of Sam Calagione’s history and vision. This room was built on top of the large fermentor vessels and you could look down into the actively-brewing tanks. It was just John and I on the tour but Matt still performed his tour as if to a crowd of 20. As a professor, I can attest to the fact that it’s very hard to lecture to two people. Kudos to Matt.

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The Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE.
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Sam’s original brewing set-up.

Upon completion of the introductory tour, Matt let out a sigh and said “Ok, what should we do now?” And here is where we we able to go off-script and really have some fun.

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A look into the belly of the beast.

This is as good a point as any to mention something. Dogfish Head might be making beer, but everyone associated with that company is drinking the Kool-Aid. Every person we met, from the scientists to the innkeeper to even the packaging and shipping specialists, were amazingly happy. They all love what they do and who they work for. And it shows.

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Keg tower ready for distribution.

 

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Coming soon to a retailer near you.

 

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A worker checks out Palo Santo Marron barrels. This room smelled fantastic.

 

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Pipes everywhere in the brewery.

 

Back to the tour. It was approaching 11:30-ish (also known as beer-thirty) and it was time for beer! So we went to the tasting room where we enjoyed some samples. Our tour guide excused himself for a few minutes for a sensory-panel obligation while John and I tasted a few samples of fresh Dogfish beer. We were told to “start light” as the day was still pre-noon. Understood.

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The beer menu for the day.

 

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My “light” selections to start with.

After a few samples, we headed for a tour of the lab facilities. This was the part of the tour I was really interested in. I was in nerd heaven! The quality control supervisor, Ryan, let me fire away with all my geeky questions. He let me take some pictures of flavor charts and quality control machinery.

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Ryan shows us the sensory panel cubbies in the lab. They pass beer through the cubbies to sensory panelists in the next room.

We also had a tour of the distillery and other areas of the Dogfish Head operations at this time. Did you know Dogfish Head is also making spirits now?

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Dogfish Head gin and vodka.

After the lab tour we headed back to the Dogfish tour bus. Matt put on a “party CD” and before we know it we were rocking out to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” That proved to be a slightly awkward moment for us three guys.

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Rockin’ out on the road with Matt.

We headed to the Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach to round out our experience of the Dogfish Head triumvirate. We had lunch and a flight, and yet another tour of the facilities. And once again, the staff were amazing. Somehow, people knew who I was… I’m still trying to figure this one out. “Oh, you’re that guy with the beer science blog?” was heard a few times during my tour.

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Dogfish Pub in Rehoboth has ambiance and beer.

 

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Beer list in Rehoboth.

 

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Samples at the Dogfish Pub.

After a conversation with some of the brewers/staff at the Dogfish Brewpub, Matt dropped us back at the Inn. John and I were on a mission to deliver some Buffalo beer to another close-by brewery: Mispillion River Brewing. So we traveled there and enjoyed some great beers. We had a fun time talking to the folks at Mispillion River.

But little did I know that this side-trip would cost me a face-to-face meeting with Sam Calagione himself. DAMN IT! I really had wanted to connect with Sam, say hi and ask a few questions. When John and I returned to Dogfish Brewery for Vintage and Vinyl, we learned we had missed Sam no less than 30 minutes. UGH! I’m still upset about this. I had purchased one of his books and was hoping he could sign it.

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The line-up for Vintage & Vinyl.

 

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The vintage beers.

Luckily, there was vintage beer and vinyl to help console me. We sampled four “aged” Dogfish beers and listened some some classic vinyl. We struck up a two-hour conversation with one of the Dogfish laboratory employees, Sean, which was very rewarding. We enjoyed some Brooklyn Brine pickles from the food truck and rocked out to some classics.

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The Dogfish signature treehouse at night.

After last call, which came way too early, we headed back to the Inn. We visited some of the local bars in Lewes on foot. I’ll admit that part was a bit hazy. Somehow, three hours later, we managed to make it back our Wheel of Fortune prize room at Dogfish Inn, although much like a wheel the room was spinning a bit.

The next morning I awoke and stepped outside to get some fresh air. There again was Matt, promptly arriving at 9:30 a.m., eager to guide a few other people on an off-centered tour of Dogfish Head. We exchanged some pleasantries before he departed. We soon after departed ourselves for a headache-riddled 8-hour ride home.

 

Final Thoughts

Dogfish is the epitome of a business done right. Sam Calagione is available, approachable and takes care of his employees. Sam Calagione has done a remarkable job with the off-centered craft beer mecca he has built. I can’t wait to return to Dogfish Head so I can spend another amazing day visiting the three Dogfish locations. I highly recommend the “All Inn-clusive” package that Dogfish offers if you are pondering a visit. You will enjoy every minute of it.

 

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Photo from the booth in the Dogfish Head Brewery tap room.

 

 

 

 

 

About Buffalo Beer Biochemist

Buffalo Beer Biochemist

Born and raised in Western New York. Ph.D. in Biochemistry. Professor of Microbiology and Chemistry. And lover of beer.

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