Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has finally come to Minnesota and it’s a very big deal, but not for the reasons you may think.
Now in it’s 21st year, Delaware’s Dogfish Head is expanding into the local market at a time when competition from local, regional, and national brands is nothing short of cutthroat.
Their famous hoppy beers, many of which have numbers for names — or times, to be more accurate — are synonymous with quality, plus they carry an exotic appeal. This is no accident. Dogfish Head has been delivering unusual styles for decades, while both reviving and making history. This year, the reach of the craft brewery will expand to 33 states, something that Founder and CEO, Sam Calagione, tells me they are finally ready to do.
I met Sam in January, and not wanting to monopolize his time, immediately asked when we would see Dogfish in Minnesota.
“This year!” He assured me, with a laugh. “We are finally ready. I can’t wait!” But while I was all business, he was excited to chit-chat about the Midwest and our readiness for their product.
How an East Coast brewery got famous for West Coast styles is part of why Dogfish Head matters. It was the brewery’s persistence in obtaining quality, fresh product that led to the initial quality of their pale ales and IPAs at a time when the nation didn’t necessarily have a thirst for them.
When Sam contacted breweries and hop farms in the Pacific Northwest looking for heavy amounts of hops, he got this in response: “What the hell are you guys going to do with West coast hops on the East coast? You don’t know what you’re doing!”
That, of course, is not all. Dogfish Head has been in the spotlight over the years for resurrecting ancient styles through the use of a molecular anthropologist, Patrick McGovern, and team at the University of Pennsylvania. Their most famous resurrection, a beer called Midas Touch, was made from ingredients found within the tomb of King Midas. Midas Touch contains za’atar spice, doum-palm fruit, among other ingredients.
Moreover, a term that is broadly used at bars and breweries internationally comes from a device actually invented by Dogfish Head — the Randall. It’s full name, Randall the Enamel Animal, was coined by the brewery due to its material – it’s an enamel Nalgene-meets-oxygen-tank made for storing hops or other additions which are added to the beer at the point of service. Tap beer flows through the device in a rapid sort of infusion.
So why now, amidst a rapidly growing local scene and competition for tap and SKU real estate everywhere, and what does that signify for the Midwest? Dogfish Head has an unprecedented appeal, one that I have never witnessed in my many years writing and taking note of those entering the Minnesota market. Their chance of success is very high.
But their debut also signifies the success of the Twin Cities market and its recognition as a beer city, something that is good for everyone.
Dogfish Head has added immensely to their sales staff, and the brewery also added a canning line. The beer that came to me was unexpectedly in cans and with a packaging style I had not previously seen, another indication of their growth.
The 60 Minute IPA is a fan favorite and has also received critical acclaim. The name is based on the method of the boil – more than 60 hop additions over the course of 60 minutes, rather than the traditional additions broken into about three or so stages. The result is an incredibly balanced beer with equal parts bitterness, flavor, and an intriguing savory aroma of thyme and black pepper. Though it is profound, the bitterness doesn’t linger, and a grassy finish takes over.
A newer release, the Flesh and Blood IPA, displays the same hop finesse with underscored citrus notes that never venture into candy or juice territory. The aroma isn’t as heady as I expected; mild fruity and vaguely floral notes dominate. A true IPA in bitterness, the beer is made with orange peel, lemon flesh, and blood orange, with a generous amount of Warrior, centennial, and Citra hops.
The brewery has always been forward-thinking about fruit beer since the release of Aprihop, an IPA with apricots, in 1996.
Finally, Dogfish Head has consistently taken a culinary approach to beer. Their recipes take ingredients very seriously, and the finished product is destined to be paired. Press releases typically list food pairings for beer and Dogfish has hosted beer dinners since the debut of the brewery, which is entirely unprecedented. As a result, Sam has been nominated for a James Beard award in the “Outstanding Wine, Sprits, or Beer Professional” category.
The addition of Dogfish Head to tap lists and coolers state-wide is much more than appealing to the tastebuds. It’s the welcome of the brewery that paved the way for modern craft beer in many ways.