Dogfish Head Brewery Tour
If you read the August 22 Beer-cation review, you already know all about the great food, beer and experience I had at the Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats; but the story doesn’t end there. Things got really interesting after lunch when two conversations I had with Judy, our waitress, came together to make my trip to the pub better than I could have ever expected.
When we first arrived, Judy asked where to get a Brew/Drink/Run t-shirt like the one I was wearing. Her boyfriend was a runner and a home brewer and she thought he would love one. Throughout the meal we chatted about BDR, beer, Dogfish Head and running. I mentioned that I had waited too long to book my brewery tour and there were no spaces available the next day. (Tip: If you are planning a brew-cation of any length I strongly suggest booking your tours as early as possible. These tours fill up fast. Of all the tours I took this summer only one was not full and that one was on a Wednesday at 11:00 am. )
It was at this point that Judy called her boyfriend. Clay, it turns out is one of fourteen brewers at Dogfish Head, and was just ending his shift. He came by the pub and over a Palo Sato Marron we talked beer, beer school and running. Clay was kind enough to offer me a private tour of the brewery and we agreed to meet the next morning.
The Dogfish Head brewery is located in Milton, Delaware, a quick 20-minute drive from Rehoboth Beach. Milton is a quaint, pretty town surrounded by cornfields. The brewery itself is on the edge of town in an industrial building that formerly served as a cannery. Dogfish Head is well aware of its location and has made several thoughtful landscaping choices to incorporate the building into the Milton landscape. The most notable external feature of the brewery is the steampunk tree, created by the artist Sean Orlando and the 5-Ton Crane Arts Grouphouse that looms over the entrance to the brewery. My kids were desperate to climb in but sadly it’s closed to the public except for special events.
I met Clay in the lobby of the Dogfish Head and after donning our requisite safety glasses he led me though an unassuming looking door in the gift shop.
We started the tour in a construction site. Dogfish Head seems to be constantly expanding and what had been a storage room for grain and malts is being repurposed for more fermenting tanks and an expansion is in progress for more storage. As with any brewery tour you walk through the steps: Milling, the lauter process, brewing, fermenting and bottling. The interesting stuff comes in the details. Dogfish Head wets its grains as they are milled. This “kick starts” the lautering and cuts down on dust. These wet grains are than hauled off by farmers who feed it to cattle that are then used by the pub for burgers and such. On the day of my visit they were brewing Tweason’ale, the Dogfish Head take on gluten free beer. Tweason’ale, Clay told me is one of DogFish Head’s fastest growing beers.
The one aspect of the Dogfish Head Brewery that amazed me was the sheer scale of the place and the production. Most of the breweries I’ve visited are pretty small scale and in some cases not much more than glorified home brew set ups. The equipment being used at Dogfish Head is unlike any other brewery I’ve been to. As Clay was showing me the computer system used to monitor the beer as it moves from one step to the other I commented on the level of complexity. He brought up that this was a big issue in the craft beer world. Does using this shiny new equipment run in part by computer lessen the “craft” of the beer? This is the beer-geek version of your favorite garage band going corporate. Clay’s reaction was strong. His opinion is that there is no lessening of the “craft.” Creating a great beer and keeping the production of that beer consistently great, while perhaps easier with new equipment, is still a difficult endeavor. The original recipes for Dogfish Head beers are still created at the small level in the pub, scaling those recipes up to the massive production levels while retaining the flavor and eccentricities of the original is a craft in itself. Both Clay and Sam Calagione (in his B/D/R interview) spoke about pouring beer that didn’t meet the company’s standards down the drain. In any case Dogfish Head isn’t just about everything modern and new. Mixed in with the gleaming stainless steel fermenters were several of the massive Palo Santo Marron tanks and various barrels of experiments and special releases, including some World Wide Stout soaking in bourbon barrels.
Quality control at Dogfish Head sounds like my kind of job. All employees of the company are asked to review beers as they come off the line. The quality control room was small, dark and divided up into several cubicles. Each cubicle was lined with papers listing the qualities of each beer. Quality control keeps records of all tasters and how consistent they are insuring that every batch of 60 Minute IPA tastes as consistent as the one that proceeded it.
My tour ended as all the Dogfish Head tours do, in the gift shop/tasting room. Clay and I sampled the Palo Santo Marron and talked about running and in particular the DogFish Dash a 5K/10K race that benefits the Nature Conservancy and begins and ends at the brewery. We also discussed the beers of Maine. Clay is from Maine and I was headed to Portland and then the Craft Beer Comes to Boothbay Festival. He gave me several insights on what to expect and what to look for. Expect to hear about some of those insights in my next post.
The Dogfish Head Brewery is open for tours Tuesday-Thursday: 11:00, 11:45, 12:30, 1:15, 2:00, 2:45, 3:30 and Friday & Saturday: 11:00, 11:45, 12:30, 1:15, 2:00, 2:45, 3:30, 4:15. It is highly recommended you have a reservation which can be made online or by calling 1-888-8Dogfish. The tasting room is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11:00AM – 5:00PM but is closed on Sunday & Monday.For more information visit www.dogfish.com.