Sam Calagione: The Innovation Interview

Sam Calagione, Founder & President of Dogfish Head shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and scaling Dogfish Head into one of the fastest growing and well respected breweries in the world.

When Sam Calagione opened Dogfish Head in 1995 it was the smallest commercial brewery in America making 10 gallons of beer at a time. Today Dogfish Head is among the fastest growing breweries in the country. Dogfish Head has focused on brewing stronger, more exotic beers since the day it opened as the motto “Off-centered ales for off-centered people” attests to.

Dogfish Head has grown into a 200 person company with a restaurant/brewery/distillery in Rehoboth Beach and a production brewery in Milton, Delaware, selling beer in 27 states. Sam currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Brewers Association and was a finalist in 2011, 2012 and 2013 for a James Beard Foundation Award in the Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional category.

Fast Company Magazine named Sam one of The 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2011. He is the author of “Brewing up a Business” and “Extreme Brewing,” and coauthored “He Said Beer, She Said Wine.” Sam lives in beautiful Lewes, Delaware, with his wife and Dogfish VP Mariah and their two children Sammy and Grier.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

It is a central part Dogfish Head’s Purpose – which is : Off-centered ales for off-centered people. I define innovation as valuable differentiation. Making something super distinct that has more benefits than competing products or services – and therefore customers find more value in it and will pay the premium if it is a fair premium.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Distilled Spirits – Dogfish is working on this – we have been making off-centered spirits for 11 years and we intend to step up our investment and presence in this industry. It is ten years behind the craft brewing movement but it is ripe for a renaissance.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis – I take it to heart and share it with other entrepreneurs whenever possible.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My marriage to Mariah – working side by side with your spouse while also raising a family isn’t easy – it’s challenging – but equally rewarding.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

I am a raging luddite – never read a book digital – I like to have them on my wall like trophies – for newspapers – we get the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the New Yorker at our house.

You have scaled Dogfish Head Brewery from the smallest brewery in America into one of the fastest growing and well respected breweries in the world. How have you managed this rapid growth and constantly kept your customers happy?

By focusing on innovation and the marriage of beer-centric foods and food-centric beverages – these are the affordable luxuries that bring a lot of joy to a lot of people and we try to do it in a way that hasn’t been done by other companies – we take our work seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously – we are a fun place to work and to hang out – we are making beer not nuclear armaments after all.

When you attended your first Grateful Dead show in the Summer of 91, in your wildest dreams could you have ever imagined that you would collaborate with the Grateful Dead to brew the American Beauty pale ale?

Nope – it has been a lot of fun – We are doing trial batches for the fall wide-distribution batch now. The band asked that we do a big American pale ale as the base beer and the specialty ingredient we will be using is granola that is pronounced almond and honey notes. What a long strange trip it’s been. But a fun trip for sure.

What technologies have had the greatest impact on the brewing process?

For us it would be the technologies we have developed ourselves – Randal the Enamel Animal – our hopping/spicing device – the comes in both home and commercial sizes and is available for anyone to buy at And Sofa King Hoppy – 2 which sits next to our boil kettle and fires in a load of hops every minute in equal doses which is what gives our 60, Sixty-One, 75, 90, and 120 great hop complexity without being crushingly bitter.

What is the inspiration for the company’s “off-centered stuff for off-centered people” slogan?

The inspiration is also the long version of our Purpose Statement – it’s an Emerson quote: Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the word goodness but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing at last is sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

What does the future hold for Dogfish Head Brewery?

We intend to keep putting the where in Delaware and the mental in experimental.