This fun feature originally appeared on the Dickies Nation blog and website. We love the copy. We love the photography, and we love the idea of Sam Calagione and craft beer enjoying the spotlight as a model industry for the American-made, commercial workwear and apparel brand Dickies. Cheers.
At a busy bar on the Upper West Side of New York City, Sam Calagione is topping off drinks and wiping down tabletops. The year is 1993. Fresh out of college, Calagione waits tables at a Mexican restaurant to pay the bills while he dreams of pursuing a career in creative writing. In between mojitos and margaritas, Calagione discovers the bar’s extensive craft beer list and is instantly curious. The dark, rich and flavorful craft brews are a far cry from the light lagers he drank in his college days.
Inspired, he buys a homebrewing kit and a basic pale ale recipe to try his hand at making his own beer. A gut instinct tells the self-proclaimed rebel to experiment, and he squeezes overripe cherries into the brew kettle. From the couch in his tiny NYC apartment, the beer gets two thumbs up from Calagione’s roommates, also known as his unofficial taste testers, and he now knows what he wants to do with his life. And he knows it’s going to be an adventure.
Going against the grain
“When Dogfish Head opened with this idea of being the first brewery focused on culinary ingredients instead of traditional beer ingredients, that was not cool in the mid-1990s,” says Calagione. Blazing a new trail might intimidate some first-time small businesspeople, especially when competing with big name brands. “The beer industry was dominated by these Goliaths, these global companies, that controlled our country’s beer marketplace.”
For Calagione, it was the perfect storm of factors that drove him to found Dogfish Head Brewery.
“I thought, what a great contrast, to allow me as a tiny little company to stand up for something very different,” he says. “We never dumbed down our beer, we never wavered from what we wanted to be and in time, we started getting recognition.”
The off-centered way
Dogfish Head’s mantra of “Off-Centered Goodness for Off-Centered People” has been its guiding light since the beginning. “It’s so rewarding for me when I’m at an event and people are like, ‘All I have to do is see that shark and shield on a tap across the room, and I’m going to try it because I love what your brand stands for and it’s stood for the same thing all 21 years.’ I’m super proud of that,” Calagione says.
From crafting the brews to running the business, everything Dogfish Head does is a team effort.
“We try really hard to be a collaborative company,” notes Calagione. “We’re a family-owned company but I’ve never once referred to a coworker as my employee. Nobody here works for me or for Mariah [Sam’s wife]. We all work for Dogfish.”
Tireless dedication and a passion for brewing are key ingredients in the success of both Dogfish Head and its brewer, Chris Wood. He started as a server in the company’s restaurant more than 10 years ago and is now one of its longest tenured brewers.
“They let me take the baby steps that I needed to and work my way up. By the end of my first year, I was a full-time brewer,” Wood said.
Brewing is a physically demanding job, and getting dirty comes with the territory. Whether crawling under tanks to clean them, or lifting sacks of wheat over a shoulder, a brewer and his clothing take a heavy beating.
The Dickies Original 874 Work Pant is a go-to option for Calagione when he’s brewing and when he’s doing business.
“They’re durable in the sense that they last based on their quality, but also durable in that they can move from one part of what you’re doing, brewing a batch of beer, to another part where in front of 80 people in a fancy restaurant talking about your beer,” Calagione says.
He laughs as he noted that a love of Dickies is one of a few things he shares with his son, Sammy.
“It’s funny, as a 16-year-old boy, your mortal enemy usually at that age is your dad and there’s certainly a lot that my son and I don’t agree on,” he says. “Probably one of the only things we agree on is Dickies, because he’s a big skater and I’m a brewer, so we wear them for different reasons, but it’s one thing we do share.”
It’s early on a Thursday morning in Rehoboth, Del. This usually bustling summer destination is empty; vacation season is still a few months away. With chairs stacked on tabletops, it’s quiet inside Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats. The call time at the brewpub isn’t out of the ordinary, but this particular Thursday is. It’s the 21st anniversary of Dogfish Head, and as Calagione says, the company is finally of legal drinking age.
To celebrate, Calagione and Wood are recreating Chicory Stout, the first beer officially brewed by Dogfish Head. With some slightly off-centered updates, the “Beer for Breakfast” edition features maple syrup, milk sugars and scrapple. And even though Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head, inside the brew room, Wood is the one in charge, making sure this brew lives up to the Dogfish Head legacy.
Once it’s finished, the beer will ferment for a few weeks before it’s ready to be served on tap, but something this carefully handcrafted is worth the wait.