My “Uncorked” interview with Sam Calagione, from the Dogfish Head Brewery, is in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. If you’re unfamiliar with the Uncorked series in the San Francisco Chronicle, they’ve been doing them for some time now, and it’s an interview that begins with some expository background information. They’re meant to be fun and a little thought provoking, with at least a few quirky, off-the-wall questions thrown in for good measure. I read a number of them in preparing my own questions, so I could get the tone right. So when I came up with my questions for Sam, I figured ask far more than I needed so that I could pick and choose the best ones. Sam, of course, is no stranger to public speaking and so made the process much easier. The hard part was choosing what to include and what to leave out. So here are a few more questions and answers from the original interview that I didn’t have the room to include in the Chronicle article.
What’s your favorite style of beer for spring?
I would have to say, just IPA. In general, whether it’s a big imperial IPA or a regular one. Those grassy, fruity, estery characters of an IPA remind me of the greening of the trees and the greening of the grass and just nature coming back to life.
Why should everybody in America be drinking craft beer?
Because Americans are starting to trade up and appreciate the finer things and recognizing that instead of a soul-killing SUV or vacation house, that they can spend $10 and get the world’s best beer. The craft beer renaissance is truly an affordable connoisseurship and compared to wine, where the world’s best bottles are going to cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, anybody in America can buy the world’s best beers. And because every American lives within ten miles of their local brewery, it’s not only an affordable connoisseurship but it’s an accessible world, too.
As an Italian-American, what do you think of the recent Italian beer renaissance?
It’s beautiful. It’s just indicative of a culture that embraces the finer things, whether it’s wine, beer or culinary. They got their priorities right over there. It’s about living well and spending time with loved ones and friends around a table full of great food and drink. I think it’s a wonderful sign of the craft brewing renaissance to watch it landing in other cultures that had traditionally been more associated with wine.
Why Did You Choose Delaware?
To be perfectly honest, by the time I got my shit together and raised the money I needed to start it, there were only eight states left in America that didn’t have a brewery. And I thought it would be great marketing cache to be the first brewery in a state and the first brewery in the first state sounded good. My wife, Mariah, who runs the company with me was born and raised in Delaware. So I’d go down and visit her in the summer, and living right on the Atlantic beach seemed pretty cool. I love it, we’re two hours from D.C., Baltimore and Philly, and it’s a great place to live and have a brewery.
What is a Randall?
A Randall is an organicalyptic hop-inducing module. Basically it was an invention we came up with for an east coast vs. west coast beer event, where Russian River Brewing, and some others, brought their beers and at the end of the day the east coast brewers beat the west coast brewers for the best hoppy beers in the country. We’ve now made 300 Randalls, and they’re being used in breweries all around the world. Basically, it’s a glorified, customized pool filter that we load with whole leaf hops and the beer acts as a solvent and strips the oils off the hop leaves and pour them in your glass. It’s just a great tool to educate the consumer on what hops does to beer. Not many consumers see hops changing their beer at the point where they’re actually drinking it, so it’s been a neat educational tool for us.
Do you take a certain pride when brewer’s say about their own beers, “No Randall Required?”
I actually do. Basically, to me, it sounds like insecurity, like maybe they should start thinking about using a Randall.
You’ve done a couple of Rap CDs, the Pain Relievez, with your head brewer Bryan Selders, and on a few songs you taunt West Coast brewers. Are you worried about any reprisals while you’re in town, on their turf, so to speak?
I hope they don’t Tupac my Biggie. It’s all done in good fun and we love those guys. But boy, I hope they bring out a response album, but I don’t think they have the guts or the rhythm.
What did you drink last night?
About 10-12 beers, to be perfectly honest. I was with my good friends that own breweries from around the country and we collectively brewed this gueuze-style beer called Isabelle Proximus. So we ended the night with that, but we enjoyed each others’ beers in all the courses that led up to that. That project is indicative of how altruistic and mutually supportive the craft brewing industry is. It’s an amazingly unique community where we teach each other what we know for the greater good and try and help each other, recognizing that collectively 1450 breweries in America have less than a 5 percent share and three giant ones have over an 80 percent share, but the craft beer [segment] is where the growth is at and it shows that the consumer now understands and appreciates what the small breweries in America are doing.
The rest of the interview can be read in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (page F-3) or online at SFGate.com.