Calagione Discusses Latest Creative Projects


Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione is no stranger to the spotlight. He’s one of – if not the most – recognizable figures in beer, thanks in part to some extracurricular activities including multiple books, an appearance in the popular 2009 documentary “Beer Wars,” a television series, Brew Masters, which aired on Discovery Channel in 2010, and even a brewing partnership with Eataly, the world’s largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace.

His relentless attempts to brand Dogfish Head beyond beer have put the company in front of millions of new craft beer consumers and helped make the company into one of the most successful craft breweries in the U.S.

In recent years, however, Calagione has focused less on outward-facing projects and more on internal growth initiatives, like an expanded brewing and distilling facility and the Dogfish Inn.

But with key executives like CEO Nick Benz and recently added VP of Sales Todd Bollig keeping the bulk of Dogfish Head’s day-to-day operations humming along, Calagione has once again shifted some of his attention to more creative outside endeavors.

His latest, a collaborative web series with First We Feast, a food culture site owned by New York-based Complex Media, features Calagione creating beers with famous athletes, musicians and chefs. Among others, Mario Batali, Chris Bosh, Mac Miller and DJ Z-Trip have signed on for the first six episodes.

He’s also helped to launch “Pallet Magazine,” a new print publication for people who like to “think and drink.”

Brewbound reached out to Calagione to learn more about the new projects, and to better understand how they help Dogfish Head sell more beer. The following exchange has been condensed and edited for clarity. Episode one of “That’s Odd, Let’s Drink It,” is also included below.

Brewbound: Talk to us a little about some of your outside projects — like this series with First We Feast as well as the new Pallet Magazine. What are the primary goals of these endeavors and what kind of lift does the Dogfish brand see as a result?

Sam Calagione: They are very different projects with relatively similar goals. The joint-venture Dogfish/Complex web series ‘That’s Odd, Let’s Drink It” lets us make really adventurous beers, one-on-one with artists, athletes and icons we love and then share them as a small-batch brews at our pub. But it also allows our brand entry into intersecting communities that compliment the craft beer tribe, but don’t always overlap.

When I did the episode with Mario [Batali], we did a lot of interviews and stories about the series with food magazines and websites. This week I am doing interviews with sports magazines and websites as well as Forbes about the Chris Bosh episode. Next week I have some stuff set up with music media for the Mac Miller episode. So it gets the interest for drinking more full flavored and exotic craft beers to these related communities. It’s more of a millennial demographic and foodie oriented too. The complex property it runs on recently won a James Beard award for its content, so it’s a fairly informed and young demo.

Our project with Pallet Magazine, for which I am executive editor, is similar to the web series in terms of browsing the awareness for craft beer and Dogfish outside the inner circle, but it hits more of a boomer/gen x demo. Longer stories. Beautiful photography and design. Folks like David Eggers contributing. In the first issue I wrote an article on the overlap of beer and wine and interviewed brewers from a few different countries for it.

BB: Why is it important for Dogfish Head (and yourself) to continue participating in outside of the box initiatives like a video series, a magazine etc.? Weren’t you writing for Medium at one point as well? Are you still contributing there?

SC: These are projects that let us talk to beer lovers in spaces that not all breweries are trying to talk to beer lovers within. Also, we have always loved telling stories about what make our beers special at Dogfish, almost as much as we love making and drinking those very same beers (almost, but not quite). I’m not writing for Medium anymore, but I am finishing a new book as a follow-up to “Brewing Up a Business” that is scheduled to be released early December.

BB: Between building a new brewpub, a distillery and running the brewery, how do you find time for all of the “extracurricular” stuff?

SC: I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many talented and dedicated leaders at Dogfish, so I can spend time on projects like these — from Mariah [Calagione] to Nick [Benz], to our new VP of Sales Todd [Bolling] who is working hard and acclimating nicely.

BB: What’s the next Dogfish Head project? Got anything else fun that you’re cooking up over there?

SC: Jet packs. They promised us jet packs!!!!!