Dogfish Head might be the most difficult craft brewery in the entire country to get to.
The three nearest airports — Ronald Reagan National, Philadelphia International and Baltimore Washington International — are two hours away, by car. If you’ve got a private jet, or you fly on Frontier Airlines, you can travel through the Wilmington-Philadelphia Regional Airport, but even that still puts you an hour away from the brewery.
Up for a road trip down the east coast? It’s a seven-hour drive from Boston and a three-hour drive from New York.
But despite the hurdles, each summer week, nearly 1,000 people make the journey to coastal Delaware to get a taste of Dogfish’s famous off-centered brews, straight from the source.
The craft brewery, which has grown to become the 13th largest in the U.S. since it opened in 1995, conducts informal surveys of its guests and believes that half of its visitors are not only from out of state but also traveled to Delaware specifically to visit Dogfish.
Like so many before me, I, too, was drawn to visit the brewery this summer. Of course, passes to Firefly, a multi-day music festival that Dogfish Head sponsors, as well as the opportunity to be one of the first guests staying at the brewery’s new Inn in Lewes, Del. certainly made the seven-hour drive more bearable.
Last September, Dogfish announced plans to purchase the 16-room Vesuvio Motel, which sits in between its production facility and brewpub. The idea, Dogfish founder Sam Calagione said at the time, was to offer visitors of coastal Delaware a chance to see Dogfish Head and become more closely connected with the brand.
So, last month, I packed my bags and headed south from Boston to see exactly what kind of renovations Calagione and company had made to the old Vesuvio Motel, which it bought for $1.6 million in October.
I was impressed. When Calagione’s career in the beer industry comes to an end, the one characteristic he’ll be most known for is an unrelenting attention to detail, and I felt his creative touch everywhere at the Dogfish Inn. From the soaps to the sheets, the space is exactly what you’d expect it to be: simple, homey and elegant, all at the same time.
For anyone who’s ever stayed at an Ace Hotel, the décor at the Dogfish Inn will feel similar and for good reason — Dogfish teamed up with Jou-Yie Chou, the current partner at Brooklyn’s Tack Studio and the former brand director at Ace Hotel. Coincidentally, Chou also sits on Dogfish Head’s board of directors.
Upon checking-in, guests will likely be greeted by a friendly innkeeper, Andrew Greely, who previously worked as a tour guide at the Dogfish Head production facility in Milton, Del..
The lobby itself feels more like a ski lodge with a nautical theme. Elements of the 1970’s Vesuvio Motel still exist, including the original sign, which has been refurbished.
To make guests feel at home, Calagione spared no expense or, at least wouldn’t disclose to me how much he spared in expenses, on the entire remodel. But he tapped more than a dozen independent suppliers, designers and artists to outfit the Inn with things like locally roasted coffee, a library of books curated by City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and custom furniture in the lobby areas and bedrooms. There’s even a fire pit, outdoor showers and paddle board racks.
“We have spent more fixing it up than we did buying the Inn,” he said.
Needless to say, a night at the Dogfish Inn won’t be anything like your average stay in a motel. In fact, the whole experience might feel more like staying in Calagione’s basement guestroom than a beachside motel.
The oak floors give each room a rustic feel, while giant washbasin sinks are a nice departure from the more traditional hotel bathroom vanities.
“We really wanted it to represent our brewery without it being a lot of in your face branding,” he said.
He’s right. Other than the company’s branded soaps, pickles, glassware and bottle openers, there aren’t many items in the rooms that scream “Dogfish” — unless of course you count the branded wastebaskets.
Nevertheless, what Calagione has created in the sleepy town of Lewes is an opportunity for beer lovers and serial travelers to engage more closely with the Dogfish Head brand.
“We thought having a hotel would allow us to extend the conversation beyond just the one hour brewery tour or two hours of dinner at our pub,” he said. “That way, people have a really great idea about our company and hopefully, if they leave and love it, they become evangelists and help spread the word.”
But don’t expect to be able to check-in and charge a pint of 60-Minute to your room. Dogfish will not be selling any beer on site and instead will encourage visitors to visit local retailers.
“It seems counter-intuitive to open a brewery-themed hotel that doesn’t serve beer but it is designed to get you out into nature and go find our beer and bring it back,” he said. “I live three blocks away and my friends own all of the restaurants in town. They all serve Dogfish beer and I don’t want to compete with my friends.”
For guests looking to travel to the Dogfish Head pub or production brewery, Calagione is promoting human-powered transportation and suggests visitors travel up the canal to its restaurant by paddle board or kayak. The company may consider a shuttle service in the future, Calagione said.
So what’s the going rate for a room?
“It will be pretty affordable but on the higher-end of local hotels,” said Calagione.
Depending upon the season and the room type, guests can expect to pay upwards of $250 per night for single rooms. A two-bedroom suite will go for $595, depending upon availability. Two-night minimums will likely be required during summer months for all room types.
The Dogfish Inn is currently open and accepting online reservations.
Photo credits: Sarah Whitling, Maine Media.