When your brewery has experienced double-digit growth for the last 17 consecutive years, you’re bound to field a few offers.
So it should come as no surprise, then, that the world’s largest brewery recently tried to arrange a formal sit down with one of craft’s most revered “indie” brewery owners: Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.
“They reached out to us and wanted to talk about some of their recent craft deals and arranging something similar,” Calagione told Brewbound.
Calagione, an outspoken and staunch defender of the Brewers Association’s craft brewer definition, said he politely told Anheuser-Busch InBev that he “wasn’t interested in having a meeting,” but invited company officials to take part in one of Dogfish Head’s regular brewery tours instead.
“The BA definition of an indie craft brewery is too important to me,” he said. “We are a family-controlled company, but we have other stakeholders. We are always going to come from a pure place and I feel an obligation to keep Dogfish Head a family-owned company that prioritizes our passion for beer over a passion for making money.”
At least, he added, until his two kids are “old enough” to have a conversation about a generational transfer.
“We have about a decade to think about that,” he said.
Until then, Calagione is focused on growing Dogfish and its beer, spirit and restaurant endeavors in a sustainable and manageable way.
“We have learned that, at the scale we are at right now, if we grow too quickly we outgrow our equipment and processes and people faster than we can replenish them,” Calagione said. “My hats off to my craft brewing brethren who have chosen a path of fast growth, but a more enjoyable experience for us means prioritizing strong growth over fast growth.”
That means focusing more energy on projects like a new distillery as well as a high-end, seafood-focused restaurant and bar located next to its Rehoboth Beach, Del. brewpub.
Produced in a recently expanded distillery that features two, 500-gallon copper pot stills and a 26-foot vodka/gin column still, three entirely new Dogfish Head spirits brands will hit the Delaware market in October, Calagione said. New Jersey and New York markets will follow in early 2016, once the company finishes interviewing and selecting distributors.
On the beer side, Calagione said he’s expecting another year of at least 10 percent growth and sales of more than 250,000 barrels. 60- and 90-Minute IPA are still the company’s top two beers, but the lower alcohol “Namaste” has recently emerged as the company third largest brand.
“Is it any coincidence that a 4.8 percent non-IPA but very approachable and sessionable beer is our fastest growing beer? I don’t think so,” he said, crediting much of Namste’s growth to accelerating session beer trends.
60-Minute IPA is still around 47 percent of total sales volume, Calagione said, but Namaste has grown from just one percent of sales to about eight percent of sales in the last 24 months.
Still, there’s no urge to step on the gas pedal, even with a brewery infrastructure that is capable of supporting 600,000 barrels annually (with the addition of new fermentation tanks).
“It’s going to be another four or five years before we are contemplating another huge capex investment,” he said. “We bit off a big chunk two years ago and now we can focus on our relationships with distributors and retailers without worrying about a looming capex project.”
To help with those relationships, Dogfish has hired former Constellation executive Todd Bollig as its new vice president of sales. He’ll be tasked with “focusing” the company’s entire sales force and its distributors partners around “what differentiates [our] core lineup, and being an innovative brewery with a portfolio that is IPA-centric.”
Once “focused,” Dogfish may look to add new markets, Calagione said.
“The fact that we can be up over 10 percent I think shows the health of our brand and gives us opportunities to explore in future years,” he said. “We are having discussions about the future and we are aware of how quickly the marketplace is evolving.”
“We’re on the cusp of a new era in the craft beer world,” he added. “Most students of the industry recognize that the current environment of two craft breweries opening every day, and the world’s largest breweries buying what were once indie craft breweries and making them a priority, changes the landscape. You’d have to be an ostrich with your head in the sand to say that it doesn’t.”
How the space and Dogfish Head’s business will continue to evolve?
“Time will tell,” said Calagione.