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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Beer: Mapping Dogfish Head's 2010 adventures

By Greg Kitsock
IMG_1544_opt.jpg Calagione may brew like an Egyptian soon. (Photo by Elias Orelup)

Where in the world is Sam Calagione?

As of the Monday after Christmas, the president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery was vacationing with his family in New England. Most of his employees were enjoying an extra holiday as a result of a blizzard that dumped 14 inches of snow on Milton, Del., where the Dogfish brewery is located.

It was, perhaps, a well-deserved respite for Calagione, who spent last summer racking up frequent flier miles. If you had asked about Sam's whereabouts then, the answer might have been Peru. Or New Zealand. Or Egypt.

Last June, at the now-defunct Brickskeller, Calagione inked a deal with the Discovery Channel to star in six episodes of a new TV series called "Brew Masters." Five of those episodes aired between Nov. 21 and Dec. 16, chronicling Calagione's efforts to push the envelope by concocting new beer styles (tomato porter, anyone?) and recreating indigenous brews from other times and cultures.

Episode No. 2, for instance, saw Calagione and company researching chicha, a kind of South American spit beer. Village brewers in the Andes masticate maize and spit it into a pot, where amylase (an enzyme in saliva) sparks the breakdown of starches into simple sugars that the yeast can ferment (basically duplicating the malting process we use here). Calagione put his entire staff to work chewing and spewing to yield enough raw material for a 10-barrel batch of chicha at his Rehoboth Beach brewpub. Administrative assistant Connie Park described the corn-based ale as "very light, very summery, with a lot of citrus in it." But the chicha proved "too labor-intensive" to repeat for a larger audience.

Calagione, however, confided that he was considering a bottling run of ta henket, an ancient Egyptian tipple that takes its name from a pair of hieroglyphs that translate into "bread and beer." The Dogfish brew crew fermented the "super herby" beer from loaves of emmer (a kind of red wheat) and spiced it with a blend of coriander, thyme, marjoram and other ingredients that Calagione picked out at a bustling Cairo street market. They also used a wild yeast strain that was cultured in a date grove in sight of the pyramids.

But 2010 wasn't an unbroken string of successes for Dogfish Head. Another episode of "Brew Masters" shows Sam and his staff reluctantly dumping 500 barrels of 120 Minute IPA after the yeast pooped out in mid-fermentation, resulting in a sweet and syrupy brew that flunked the brewery's quality-control standards.

The TV show depicts eddies of a cloudy liquid swirling down a drain. Calagione insists, however, that his staff pumped the failed brew into a tanker truck and sprayed the nutrient-rich liquid onto local farmland. "We used a half million dollars worth of beer to grow hay," he sighed. "It was the biggest financial loss in Dogfish history." Dogfish brewers are doing test batches to try to determine how to prevent future fiascoes, and Calagione hopes to have the super-potent (about 18 percent alcohol by volume) IPA back on the market this year.

One episode of "Brew Masters" remains unaired: a segment on Italy's burgeoning craft breweries. The story isn't complete yet, explains Calagione. The episode was supposed to conclude with the grand opening of Dogfish Head's latest project: a rooftop brewpub atop New York City's Eataly, an emporium of upscale restaurants and markets that opened last fall under the guidance of celebrity chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.

The Eataly brewpub was originally set to debut in September, but the partners realized that an open-air restaurant would be shut down half the year by inclement weather. So they decided to build a retractable roof to shelter the kitchen and copper-clad three-and-a-half-barrel brewhouse. The anticipated opening is now mid-March.

Collaborating with Calagione on the venture are two Italian craft brewers: Teo Musso of Birreria Le Baladin in Piozzo and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo in Borgorose. According to Calagione, the brewpub will feature three beers, all cask-conditioned: Wanda, an English-style mild brewed with Italian chestnuts; Gina, an American pale ale spiced with Italian thyme; and a rotating seasonal. Perched on a 14-story building at 200 Fifth Avenue, the brewpub will feature panoramic views of the Flatiron and Empire State Buildings. "All that stuff is right in your face as you drink beer," promised Calagione.

According to Josh Weinberg, vice president of communications for the Discovery Channel, the final episode of "Brew Masters" will likely air in "late winter or early spring." There are no immediate plans, he said, to rerun the previous five segments, but the network might air a mini-marathon leading up to the program's conclusion.

Also yet to be decided: Whether the Discovery Channel will film additional episodes of "Brew Masters." "Our production and development people are keeping all options open," Weinberg said.

By Greg Kitsock  | January 3, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags:  Greg Kitsock  
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I stumbled across this program one night and really enjoyed the series which seemed much more 'natural' than any other reality show - it never seemed like people were performing for the cameras and everyone at the brewery looked like you and me. Personally, I would like to meet Katrinka.

Did Sam really drive that pickup truck to Maine? I think that you have to give him credit for having a normal house, with a normal family and a normal car. I can see how this type of show could be a distraction to a small business, but it is a nice addition to the Discovery lineup.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | January 3, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

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