Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Dogfish Night at the Toronado and a conversation with Sam Calagione

By William Brand
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008 at 8:46 pm in Uncategorized.

Dogfish Sam CalagioneIt’s Monday night about 5 p.m. (April 21, 2008) and I’m in the back room at The Toronado in San Francisco in advance of the big event welcoming distribution of three Dogfish beers in the Bay Area for the first time: 90 Minute IPA, Midas Touch and Palo Santo Marron. But it’s Passover and I, curses, am drinking bottled water.

Sam Calagione, who founded Dogfish Head in 1995 after spending his college years as a homebrewer, devising stronger and stronger and weirder beers is also there. He’s tall, lithe, with a deep tan and a stubbly start of a beard. Women would definitely call him a hunk.

Sam Calagione at The ToronadoHe’s drinking a soda. Sam was one of the featured brewers at Beer Chef Bruce Paton’s sold-out Five Guys and A Barrel beer dinner Sunday night at the Cathedral Hill Hotel on Van Ness. There was a whole lot of very strong beer consumed. More on that in a later post, hopefully tonight if I have the energy.

The San Francisco Chronicle is going to do a BIG DEAL on Sam. Jay Brooks is writing the piece and he has a sheaf of questions to ask. Chron photog Katy Raddatz is unwinding a roll of background paper and setting up lights. I told you it’s gonna’ be a big deal. So I have literally seconds to talk to Sam, whom I’ve interviewed many times before. He’s invariably polite and quite brilliant. Brilliant, hell, from a journalist’s standpoint, this guy’s a walking sound bite.

Me: You’ve been on a book and beer tour through California for the last few days. (The book is He Said Beer, She Said Wine. You can find my interview in the San Jose Mercury News with the authors here. How’s the sophistication of California beer drinkers compared with the rest of the country?

Sam: California is amazingly craft beer savvy…The beer IQ of the average California beer consumer dwarfs the average elsewhere. They not only understand craft beer, they have real preferences. They’ll tell me, ‘Yeah, I like hefes and ipa’s or I like imperial beers and extreme beers. They have a broader understanding of beer styles out here.

My friends with breweries out here, like Tomme Arthur (Port Brewing/Lost Abbey), Greg Koch (Stone), Vinnie (Cilurzo, Russian River) and Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) have done great leg work in educating people to experience a wider breadth of styles. Because of what California craft brewers have done, breweries like ours that play on the outer edges of the craft beer world have a chance.

Me: So what’s the deal with Dogfish? Why’s it taken so long to get your beers out here?

Sam: We were in Southern California seven or eight yers ago. Our friends at Stone Brewing distributed us. But we grew so fast on the East Coast that we couldn’t keep up. The East Coast distributors got pissed at us. They said, ‘Stop selling beer out West until you can supply us around here.’

Well, we’ve just completed a $9 million expansion, We did 55,000 or 60,000 barrels last year and we’re on pace to do 75,000 or 80,000 this year. So we’re back.

Me: What are your biggest sellers?

Sam. We’re a little different than many craft brewers. We have four best-sellers: 60 Minute IPA is 40 percent of our sales, 90 minute IPA is 20 percent, Midas Touch and Indian Brown are about 10 percent each. 90 minute is 9 percent alcohol, 90 IBUs. It’s got big malt and hops and it’s our fastest-growing brand. It’s on track to pass overtake 60 Minute by 2010.

Here in California, we’ve come in initially with just three, 90 Minute, Midas TouchPalo Santo Marron and . They’re all in four packs, all 9 to 12 percent, so they have great shelf stability and can make that cross country journey in good shape.

Going into Georgia, we had great anticipation and within a month of opening distribution there Georgia became a top 10 market for us. The excitement here in California is even greater than it was in Georgia. I’m really hopeful and excited that our off-centered ales will be embraced by California beer drinkers.

LAST NOTE: Bob Stahl of DBI Distributing, the San Francisco distributor, says a four pack of 90 Minute IPA will have a suggested retail of $11.99, Midas Touch, $12.99; Palo Santo Marron, $13.99.

Are you a pub owner? Bob says a half-barrel will cost $200. For comparison, a half barrel of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is $110.

CORRECTION: I typo’d the name of the Dogfish distributor for Marin and Sonoma counties. It’s Mesa Beverages, Santa Rosa. Sorry about that. b

PHOTOS: Top – The crowd at the Toronado Monday night marking the beginning of distribution of Dogfish Head beers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Below: Sam Calagione hoists a pint of Dogfish at the Toronado. He’s standing in front of the Chronicle’s background paper. 

Credit: Photos by William Brand

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