Dogfish Head turns 25 this year. Here are 25 fun facts about it

Sam Calagione started his beer company with a brewing system that would only fill one-third of a barrel

Sam Calagione started his beer company with a brewing system that would only fill one-third of a barrel

In 1995, a young Sam Calagione started Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in downtown Rehoboth Beach. At the time, it was one of America’s smallest breweries; the 10-gallon system that Sam cobbled together made 0.3 barrels per batch.

Twenty-five years later, Dogfish Head is a top-20 craft brewery with a notable presence in coastal Delaware. 

In 2019, the company—which now sells beer in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.—merged with the Boston Beer Co., which makes Samuel Adams Boston Lager. But it has kept its distinct identity.

 

Dogfish Head celebrated its anniversary this summer by announcing the release of “The Dogfish Head Book: 25 Years of Off-Centered Adventures.” 

In honor of the Delaware brewery’s milestone, here are 25 fun facts from those of us who’ve followed Sam and Mariah Calagiones’ trajectory over the years.

1. Sam and Mariah are high school sweethearts.

The couple met when they were both students at Northfield Mount Hermon, a preparatory school in Gill, Massachusetts. They were working in the school cafeteria and had an art class together. 

 

However, Sam noticed Mariah’s mother first. 

Rachel Grier-Reynolds, then in her 30s, brought brownies to an event, and the teen was captivated by the pretty mom and her recipe. 

She asked him if he’d met Mariah yet. He hadn’t at that point, but could she bake like her mother? She could. “I’m going to marry your daughter,” he quipped.

Delaware native Mariah Calagione met her husband, Sam, in high school.

Delaware native Mariah Calagione met her husband, Sam, in high school.

2. Sam went to college without a high school degree.

By March of his senior year, Sam had bent so many rules that the school kicked him out. But he’d already been accepted to Muhlenberg College, where he went on to earn a bachelors’ degree in English. (Mariah studied public policy at Brown University.) 

When son Sam graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon in 2018, dad received an honorary degree. Meanwhile, daughter Grier has been in the same dorm that her mother had once occupied.

 

3. As a homebrewer, Sam’s first beer was called Cherry Brew.

Sam poured the beer, made with overripe cherries, into newly sterilized bottles that melted the synthetic rug underneath them. Later, he cut the jars from the carpet.

4. Dogfish Head is a marriage of two coasts. 

Sam grew up vacationing in Maine, where Dogfish Head is a peninsula in Southport. Originally from Milford, Mariah’s family has long lived along the Delaware beaches. Today, the couple have a home in Lewes and on Dogfish Head.

 

5. Dogfish Head is a family affair.

The couple’s fathers were equity holders in the company’s early days. Tom Draper was a valued mentor. The owner of WBOC, the broadcast pioneer died in 2017 from injuries following a bicycle accident. 

6. Delaware was ripe for a brewpub.

Sam considered starting Dogfish Head in Providence, Rhode Island, where Mariah was living. The couple chose her home state of Delaware because there were no brewpubs yet. 

DFH was the first of three brewpubs to open in quick succession. Stewart’s Brewing Co. in Bear and Brandywine Brewing Co. in Greenville followed. Stewart’s is still open. The first Iron Hill Restaurant & Brewery opened in Newark in 1996.

 

7. There have been three DFH brewery locations.

When demand for Dogfish Head beers swelled, the company opened a brewery-only location in 1997 near Nassau Valley Vineyard. In 2002, DFH moved to the former Draper-King Cole Cannery in Milton.

8. The cart is often before the house.

Dogfish Head was initially an illegal operation. Before opening, Sam had to petition Delaware legislators to pass a law allowing brewpubs. 

In 2002, the company moved to Milton only to learn that the city’s wastewater system was inadequate. 

Dogfish Head later received a $1.85 million loan through a partnership between the state and Citizen’s Bank to purchase a new bottling line and a closed-loop wastewater system.

The Delaware born Dogfish Head Brewery merged with Boston Beer Co.

The Delaware born Dogfish Head Brewery merged with Boston Beer Co.

9. Cows like the beer.

After moving to Milton, the brewery hauled 60,000 to 80,000 gallons of barley- and yeast-infused wastewater to nearby farmland. In summer, when the ingredients started fermenting, cows chased the truck, eager for a taste. 

10. Payroll came before childbirth.

Mariah came on board full time in 1997. When she was pregnant with son Sam—who was born in 1999—she didn’t worry about the pain associated with childbirth. Instead, she fretted that she’d go into labor on a Tuesday when payroll was due. There was only a four-hour processing window, and no one else knew how to do it. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. 

 

11. Shelter Pale Ale was the first beer bottled for distribution.

A top seller at the restaurant, Shelter Pale Ale was released in bottles and kegs in 1996 in 14 Delaware locations. Sam spent 36 hours, broken up by a three-hour nap, bottling the first batch.

In honor of its 25th anniversary, Dogfish Head brewed a limited-edition batch of Shelter Pale Ale.

12. Initially, bottles were capped by hand

It took three people eight hours to fill 100 cases.

 

13. Dogfish could have gone bust.

In 1997, the business teetered on bankruptcy. Mariah, who handled the accounting, disguised her voice when suppliers called for their money.

14. Sam is an inventor.

As a college student, he created a chair with a hidden compartment for a keg. For Dogfish Head, he developed Randall the Enamel Animal, a 2-foot-long device filled with sticky hop buds. When poured through the system, beer develops a stronger flavor. 

His first boil kettle, topped with a repurposed kitchen pot lid, and the vintage electrical football game that he used to shake hops into his brew are now in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection.

 

15. He’s also an author of business books.

Publications include Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer From the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, which relayed his early experiences in entrepreneurship, and the more recent Off-Centered Leadership: The Dogfish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration and Smart Growth.

16. And a TV star.

In 2010, Sam starred in Brew Masters, a Discovery series that followed his team as they explore the world searching for inspiration.

17. Sam rowed across the Delaware River when DFH entered the New Jersey market.

The brewer built an 18-foot boat for the 5½-hour trek but forgot to follow-up with the press. Only one reporter waited on the shore.

 

18. But he got attention anyway.

USA Today didn’t send a reporter but ran a press release. Officials at Levi Strauss & Co. saw it. The company was launching an ad campaign featuring entrepreneurs, and they asked Calagione to participate.

19. He’s got the music in him.

Sam and brewer Bryan Selders started a two-person hip-hop group, The Pain Relievaz, to rap at industry events. 

They created a six-song CD on “Dogfish Records.” If you don’t understand the industry, you might miss the pithy lyrics. References to the “boys in Mendocino,” for instance, refer to one of America’s first microbreweries.

 

20. Sam has something in common with daytime actress Susan Lucci. 

Lucci was nominated for an Emmy almost every year between 1978 and 1999, the year she finally won. Sam was nominated for a James Beard Award seven times before winning in 2017 in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional category.

Initially, Sam wasn’t aware of the cachet. When he was a finalist in 2011, he and Mariah gussied up for the ceremony in New York.  Sam wore a pin on his lapel that indicated his finalist status. 

In the elevator, the couple met a group so sophisticated that they felt underdressed in comparison. A man with the same pin had been nominated three times, though he had yet to win. 

“Wow, you lost three times, and you still came back?” Sam asked. Smiles faded, and chins dropped. Sam now jokes that the gaffe earned him lousy karma. 

Dogfish Head's wacky treehouse first appeared at the Burning Man music festival.

Dogfish Head’s wacky treehouse first appeared at the Burning Man music festival.

21. The now-iconic Steampunk Tree House debuted at the Burning Man festival.

Built for the 2007 Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, the piece portrays a future where the petroleum-based economy has crashed. Natural trees in this world are so rare that people can’t remember them. They cobble a facsimile together using gears, belts, steam pipes and whistles. Think Jules Verne.

DFH purchased the artwork for $1—plus shipping costs. The tree house, which now stands at the entrance to the Milton brewery, boasts a working phone, a wood-burning stove, Victorian sconces, firefly lanterns, beach chairs and a calliope, a musical instrument that pushes steam or compressed air through whistles to create sound. Visitors can take in the view using the telescope or balcony. It even has Wi-Fi.

 

22. Dogfish Head has a lot of “firsts.”

SeaQuench Ale is the leading sour beer in the world. Slightly Mighty is the number-one selling low-calorie IPA. (It has 95 calories.) 90 Minute Imperial IPA is the first continually hopped beer and one of the world’s first Imperial IPAs.

23. Some ingredients work. Some don’t.

The black limes, sour lime juice and sea salt in SeaQuench are a winning combination. Lavender and peppercorns? Not so much.

 

24. Coworkers have chewed and spit as part of their job.

DFH demonstrated its dedication to authenticity with when brewers made a chicha beer, a Latin American libation made by chewing and spitting corn into a communal pot.

25. The family has grown.

The original brewpub, Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, has relocated to a new, contemporary building alongside Chesapeake & Maine, another company-owned eatery. Siblings include Dogfish Head Inn in Lewes and Dogfish Head Distillery.


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About the Contributor

Pam George

Pam George

Pam George is an award-wining writer and the author of five books, including Shipwrecks of the Delaware Coast: Tales of Pirates, Squalls, and Treasure; Landmarks & Legacies: Exploring Historic Delaware; and Charles Parks: The Man Behind the Art.
Her work has appeared in Fortune, USA Today, Men’s Health, and Forbes Travel Guide. She divides her time between Wilmington and Lewes, Delaware.