—THE CHOW 13—
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Walk into a corner market in any major city and look at the beer cooler. You’ll see labels with magic hats, yetis, and albino sword swallowers; labels listing ingredients like juniper, wild yeasts, blueberries, chestnuts. And yet, even in this wildly creative period of American beer-making, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales stands apart as being the most experimental: the Frank Zappa of the brewing world.
The Delaware-based brewer, whose company’s tag line is “Off-centered beers for off-centered people,” hit the national scene in the early 2000s with the award-winning Raison D’Etre, a dark ale flavored with spicy Belgian yeast, puréed beets, and raisins. Since then, there’s been Midas Touch, reverse-engineered from samples of a 2,700-year-old beer recovered from King Midas’s tomb; a malt liquor made from heirloom corn, with its own hand-stamped paper bag; and most recently, chicha. This ancient Latin American beer is made by chewing and spitting out corn kernels, allowing the enzymes in human saliva to start the fermentation process. (Boiling the mixture kills the cooties.)
Well-balanced and consistent, these weird beers are loved by critical beer geeks and newbies alike. And Calagione, a charismatic guy who once posed for a Levi’s ad, has a genius for marketing craft beer to the mainstream. He holds scores of beer-pairing dinners at high-end restaurants, and devises J. Peterman-esque narrative hooks for each brew.
Who are your mentors?
“Andy Warhol, Coco Chanel, even Hemingway, as far as making your words really concise and ring like a bell, and putting thoughts out there that were different and easily accessible. Julia Child, because the way she came to her profession was nontraditional. I would consider those people to be more my mentors than anybody in the craft brewing industry.”
What would you change about your industry?
“The fact that 80 percent of the domestic beer market is controlled by InBev and SABMiller, and collectively all the craft breweries combined have a 5 percent market share, is first of all the biggest bummer. But also the thing that most excites me is what’s happening in the food world: the locavore movement, and people wanting to support small, innovative companies. I think a lot more people’s eyes are opening up to what craft beer has to offer. It’s a great affordable luxury. To buy world-class wine you have to be a millionaire, and to buy world-class beer you don’t.”
How do you stay so fit drinking beer all the time and going to these fancy dinners?
“On the road I do yoga so I don’t have to pack a bunch of crap for working out. Also you get so beat up from traveling—you ache—and nothing makes you feel better. Getting in your head for 10 minutes in the morning, doing some Downward [Facing] Dog—it’s the ultimate hangover helper.