Sam Calagione on Beer and Music

Befitting the reputation it has built for using diverse and exotic ingredients in the brewing process, Dogfish Head has shown over the years that, as a company, it has eclectic taste in music as well. Spearheaded by founder and self-proclaimed music geek Sam Calagione, the company has made its fandom known through collaborations with the likes of Pearl Jam, the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis’ estate and, most recently, a Dogfish-sponsored live performance by hip-hop icon Tone Loc during this year’s Craft Brewers Conference.

Dogfish Head, the country’s 13th largest craft brewery, was also the official sponsor of this year’s Record Store Day, a nationwide celebration of independent record stores marked by the release of vinyl and CD releases specifically produced for the occasion.

The brewery is also the official craft beer sponsor of the Firefly Music Festival, a four-day music experience in Dover, DE. This year’s event is headlined by Paul McCartney and Snoop Dogg.

The tracklist goes on, and Calagione’s adoration is apparent, but his passion for music is more than just a weekend hobby. In recent years, Dogfish Head has managed to strike a melodic chord between beer, music and business, and put the brand in the hands of thousands of new consumers in the process.

So before taking over the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Ore. as one half of the Pain Relievaz (a joke hip-hop duo that he and fellow MC Bryan Selders of Post Brewing take a little more seriously than they might lead on) during CBC, Brewbound caught up with Calagione to talk about some of the artistic endeavors Dogfish Head has undertaken.

The following conversation has been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.

Brewbound: Give us a quick rundown of the artistic stuff you guys have been doing.

Calagione: I think the overlap between the craft beer community and the music community is huge. Very rarely do you go to a brewery and there’s not music playing while people are brewing or hanging out in a brewpub or a tasting room. I think especially there’s a great affinity for hip-hop and indie rock in the craft beer world. I think that’s because both of them really started as these kind of niche, marginal kind of genres in a world dominated by a few more homogenous giant kinds of music. And their trajectories are very similar. You know, hip-hop has broken through to the mainstream, as has indie rock.

Brewbound: You’ve mentioned in the past these collaborations aren’t entirely altruistic, there’s a sense it actually helps the bottom line. How do these collaborations help Dogfish Head from a business standpoint?

Calagione: I think in the case of the beers that we do with different bands, there’s obviously a revenue stream so in that sense there’s a financial component to it. But also, when you work with artists, whether it’s rock and roll poster artists or the musical artists themselves, once you’re doing something with them, to some extent then what they’re all about kind of informs the Dogfish head logo as well. They’re kind of part of our journey and we’re part of theirs. It really helps us to sort of differentiate ourselves in craft beer.

Brewbound: Is there a sense at all that a fan of Robert Johnson maybe sees Hellhound On My Ale in the store and they might not have known Dogfish Head and they pick up that bottle because of the label essentially?

Calagione: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great point. Think of The Grateful Dead and they’ve got just a giant grassroots following, much bigger than Dogfish’s I would say, but similar in that we’re both very grassroots kind of human scale, you know, artistic sort of entities that also have a financial component to us as well – their tours, and our beers, their music. But we’re also fairly conscious to not just do projects with bigger bands like The Grateful Dead or Bitches Brew, with Miles Davis’ family. We intentionally choose some smaller bands to do projects with.