Delaware's Dogfish Head Expands Brewery, Adds Distillery

By Jack Curtin

Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery took a significant step toward fulfilling the long-term vision of founder and president Sam Calagione on February 13 when the first pour of Dogfish Head Honey Brown Rum was served at its Rehobeth Beach brewpub.

A micro-distillery was installed in the brewpub earlier in the month after intensive lobbying by the brewery convinced the state legislature and Governor Ruth Ann Minner to change the law to permit distilling. "We used Anchor Brewing Company as our benchmark and argued that it would be unfair not to allow us to follow that same path," Calagione says. "Fortunately, this is a very pro-business state."

The new capability makes Dogfish Head the first brewery/distillery/restaurant on the East Coast and is one of two major upgrades which will profoundly change its operations by summer's end.

Last November, Dogfish Head purchased the entire 60,000 barrel brewery and bottling facilities of the defunct Ortlieb Brewing Company in Philadelphia and its existing brewery in Lewes, Delaware will be moved to nearby Milton in April to incorporate the new equipment. The new facility is expected to be up and running by late May. A smaller 7-barrel system, also part of the Ortlieb purchase, was originally intended to be used for a second brewpub in Milton but will instead be sold to help pay for the expansion.

The new brewery will have a new team in charge. "We brought in John Gilloly from Mendicino Brewery to be our brewmaster," Calagione said. "Mendicino has a 70,000 barrel system and John also spent time at both Golden Pacific and Redhook, so he has extensive experience with a brewery the size of our new one. Bryan Selders, who was at Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant in Philadelphia, will be our brewer."

        The brewery expansion was hardly surprising. Growth is all the rage in the Philadelphia market these days, with Victory Brewing Company, Yards Brewing Company, Weyerbacher Brewing Company, Manayunk Brewing Company and Nodding Head all either moving into new facilities or expanding their existing ones since last fall, but the distillery move surprised many. Then again, such an endeavor wouldn't be legally possible in Pennsylvania at this point, so distilling isn't even on most people's radar screens.

        "It was an obvious move for us," Calagione says. "Our focus has always been on stronger and stronger beers, from Immort Ale at 11% ABV back in 1995 to World Wide Stout at 18% ABV in 1999. Making 2002 our `Year of the Rum' was just part of a natural progression."

        Michael Hall, a Calagione mentor ("he taught me how to brew when I took a course at Shipyard Brewing in Maine eight years ago") and 15-year industry veteran, will be distillery manager. As a first step, Dogfish Head paid for Hall, who already had experience at an Apple Jack distillery in England, to attend the AllTech School in Kentucky, where he learned how to make rum from distillers at Appleton and Bacardi. He then built the new 125-gallon stainless steel pot-still, which can produce 20 cases per run of 80-proof liquor.

        Dogfish Head will specialize in high-end, small-batch rums. The first two products are Honey Brown Rum, aged on American oak and wildflower honey, and Wit Rum, aged on orange peel and coriander. These will initially be sold at the brewpub and in wax-sealed champagne bottles in Delaware, New Jersey and Chicago. Distribution in New York, Maryland and on the West Coast is planned by mid-summer.

        Why rum? "Well, rum fits perfectly into the nautical ambiance of our location here by the ocean," explains Calagione. "More importantly, premium spirits are the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry today. There are people doing single batch bourbons and boutique vodkas and tequilas, but no one doing rum. We hope that's a niche we can fill."

        Calagione promises that Dogfish Head rums will maintain the brewery's reputation for employing unusual ingredients in its products, such as beet sugars and green raisins in its Raison D'Etre brown ale and roasted chicory and organic Mexican coffee in its Chicory Stout. "We don't want to make the same old products," he laughs. "That's no fun."

Copyright (c) 2002 Jack Curtin