Dogfish Head Founder’s Unique Recipe For Creating A Great Beer Company

Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, traded brewing tips with White House policy advisor Sam Kass at our Most Creative People event last week. We caught it all on video: how to brew beer with coffee beans passed through a jungle cat’s digestive tract, how to start up a business with a loan from your orthodontist, and how anthropology plays into beer-making.

Sam Calagione


Most Creative People in Business 2011Where else but at a Fast Company event can White House assistant chef and food policy advisor Sam Kass trade beer tips with Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery?

The two Sams, Nos. 11 and 46 on our Most Creative People in Business list, respectively, put their heads together last week at Fast Company‘s Most Creative People conference, where Calagione praised the White House’s home brewing and cooking initiatives. (Kass has been brewing beer at the White House from locally sourced honey.)

“We just tasted the honey porter yesterday, which was unbelievably good, if I do say so myself,” Kass said. “We have no idea what we’re doing–we’re just experimenting, so anytime you want to come for a visit and give us some pointers, we’d be more than happy.”

“What herbs and spices are you and Michelle [Obama] growing in the garden?” Calagione asked Kass.


“Only legal ones,” said Kass, to peals of laughter.

The serendipitous brainstorming session occurred during Calagione’s enlightening talk on the state of the brewing industry (see video above). His startup, Dogfish Head, is one of 1,700 breweries in the country–two of which, InBev and SABMIller, control over 80% market share. Roughly another 10% of the market is owned by imports Heineken and Corona, while independent domestics such as Sam Adams and Yuengling make up for the rest. “You can see the odds that us little guys are up against in this industry,” Calagione said.

The odds were always stacked against Dogfish. When Calagione started the company years ago, he did so with just $25,000 borrowed from his dad, another $25,000 from his orthodontist, and roughly $50,000 from the guy he used to do stonewall for in the summer. His business plan was to make “off-centered” ales with some of the most unusual ingredients you can imagine, including one that is fermented in part using his own saliva.

Yet despite the competition, Dogfish has flourished, thanks to Calagione’s almost anthropologist-like approach to brewing. During his talk, he spoke of ancient recipes from Africa and the U.K., help from molecular archaeologists, and referenced research on crockeries in the tombs of Egypt. Some of the earliest beers, he explained, were developed during the time we shifted from hunter-gatherers to settlers.

“So really beer is recognized in many schools of thought as being somewhat responsible for civilization as we know it,” he said, with a barely contained smirk. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


[Image: Flickr user Adstream]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.