A Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Pilgrimage

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A Dogfish Head ale flight was one of our first tastes of craft beer. We were hooked. For about a decade our crew of friends would meet us at Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church and Fairfax for dinners and a much needed catch ups. While each of us has our own favorites styles, DFH is famous for using weird ingredients in their recipes so we almost always started with a taster flight. My favs include the Namaste White, Rasion D’Etre, and the Punkin Ale.

“At every turn, our restless desire to create what hasn’t yet been imagined keeps us bringing new stories, new tastes, and new experiences to you.” – via Dogfish Head website

Sam Calagione, the owner and founder of DFH, started his homebrew journey with a cherry ale, a rather ambitious recipe for a first timer, back in the mid-1990’s. The brew got rave reviews from his friends and coworkers and he decided that rather than following his English major path he was going to be a craft brewer. He won a homebrew competition later for his Punkin’ ale and has been winning awards and aweing brew enthusiasts ever since. Sam even  hosted a television show called Brew Masters were he traveled the world with his genius brew team to discover new (and old) brewing techniques, recipes, and inspiration for new beers. It was really fascinating for us as homebrewers as we were able to watch, learn, and get to know DFH. Talk about brand loyalty, ha! You can read more about their story here.

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For years, our closet friends Melissa, Joy, and Kyle, have walked this craft brew journey with us. Kyle and Tom have become quite the brew snob bros. The five of us have been talking about taking the trip from Northern Virginia up to Rehoboth, Delaware to the original brewpub. This summer we finally made it happen. Our “pilgrimage,” as we are referring to it, included a tour at the brewing facility, happy hour at Chesapeake & Maine, dinner at the newly constructed brewpub, and finally a stop at the original brewpub where it all started to shop.

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At the DFH brewery we partook in our 4 free tasters as we waited for our tour of the facility; also free. The team behind the bar was friendly and willing to chat about their favorites as we tried some of the exclusive offerings and newest brews. We sipped the decidedly sour cider first, followed by the SeaQuench session sour, which was like a margarita in a can, then Flesh & Blood IPA (not as citrusy as I imagined it would be), and the Fort.  Others in the group also tried a barrel-aged version of DFH’s Olde School Barley Wine and a cask version of their English Strong Ale. All were unique and complex in their own right.

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When our fabulous tour guide Marge (pictured above) called us to attention we found our way to the cubbies of crocs and safety glasses. We did not anticipate the need for closed toes shoes (it is summer at the beach after all), so we found the thoughtfully provided crocs that fit to protect us from the various puddles and spills we may encounter along the way. Armed with corny, but funny brew puns and anecdotes, Marge took us through the beginning of DFH and showed us where the magic is made. We learned that Sam and his team were the first to incorporate continuous hopping into their brews, having been inspired by a cooking show. Also, most of the pieces of equipment have been named by Sam, including their very own continuous hopper, Sir Hops-a-Lot – “he likes big hops and he cannot lie.”

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To an English major, names and symbolism are important and Sam takes the naming process very seriously. Marge relayed that the DFH team does help with the creative process as bit, as well. In addition, their mission statement  is rooted in a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, which is where they derived their slogan “off-centered ales for off-centered people” and it is painted on the facilities wall to remind the team what is truly the heart of their work.

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Once we left the brewing area of the facility my crew wanted to go drink all that delicious well made beer at the bar, however I had to see the packaging and shipping department so I continued the tour alone. The designer in me had to know more! What I learned was that the font DFH uses was originally a stamp set that Sam used to label his brews and has since then been converted to an actual font called “doggie font.” They have an in-house graphic design department that creates the labels and packaging, however they have used illustrations by artists they admire to create the label art. Pretty cool!

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Marge also shared that that the original homebrew bottling process took Sam and his buddies about 8-10 hours to bottle 100 cases. Now in 2-3 minutes their state of the art bottling line can bottle and package 7,200 cases. Mind blowing right?!

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Once the tour was over we made the trip south from Milton, DE to Rehoboth. The original brewpub, where until recently one could exclusively taste test small batches of experimental recipes and paired with a delicious and very intentional menu, now stands between two newly constructed restaurants.

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I love intentional and cohesive design, so as you can imagine it was not lost on me that the design of the restaurant buildings mimics the brewing facility in Milton, to include the circular windows reminiscent of bubbles and the wood and metal materials used. Read more about DFH brewing and eats here.

 “We’ve learned from working with Dogfish Head for the past nine years that the company has its own special culture and loyal fan base, so we set out to design a space to provide the background of the unique Dogfish experience,” says Chris McAdams, Project Designer at DIGSAU. “It’s a very raw, wooden, naturally finished space, built with a few special off-centered quirks, like the barrel booths and the nook by the bar – spaces where people can say ‘that’s my spot’.”  (found on the DFH website)

We thoroughly enjoyed our cocktails at Chesapeake & Maine, where they focus on the DFH liquors rather than the brews. You can also do tastings of the liquors at the brewing facility and learn more about the process there as well. We said cheers with a Bloody Mary, a couple of  Sun Salutations, and a Sea Shanty. All delicious and refreshing. I loved all the attention to detail in this nautical fantasy design, including the oyster chandeliers, sea monster map wallpaper, and the rope tying station to practice your skills while you wait.

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From Chesapeake&Maine we made our way to the new brewpub for some fantastic eats. Our favorite plate being the the soft pretzel bites. In our collective book, they are must at every brewpub – seriously pretzels and beer are made for each other!

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It was a fantastic day full of DFH geeking out, the only stop we did not make on this pilgrimage is the newly designed Inn. Which we will hopefully make it to sometime in the next decade, ha!

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We would love for you to share your DFH experiences with us in the comments below! What’s your favorite off-centered ale? Have you made it to Milton or Rehoboth? If not we totally recommend it!

Cheers,

kdg