Innovation Delaware Q&A: Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery

For 22 years, Dogfish Head Brewery has been producing craft beer and spirits — and, more recently, it has been offering dining and accommodation options.

Founder Sam Calagione continues to pursue his passion while playing a big role in the area’s agricultural community. In May, he received his first James Beard Foundation National Award for Most Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, after being nominated for seven consecutive years. Here, he talks about Dogfish Head’s relationship with the agricultural community and the company’s continuing commitment to innovation.

How do you interact with local farms?

We buy a lot of fruit from area farmers, especially Fifer Orchards. We buy tons of apples and other ingredients, like peaches. It’s not just for our beers, but also for our spirits and for our kitchens. We also contract with local farmers for land application of our water. Our water is rich in nutrients from our production, because of the hops and barley, but it doesn’t go into the water supply.

Do you provide anything for livestock?

We feed thousands of cows in the Mid-Atlantic region with our spent grain program. We take the cracked open barley, steep it in water and extract the sweetness for our beers. There are a lot of nutrients left in the husks. We produce thousands of metric tons (12,500 anticipated this year) of cattle feed.

How do you use technology in your brewing process?

All of our brewing systems are controlled by an automation platform that allows us to have highly repeatable processes that we have optimized to keep waste to a minimum. Nearly all of our systems rely on highly accurate flow meters to ensure we use only the minimum required amount of utilities (steam, water, carbon dioxide and compressed air) during the brewing process. We also use an array of inline and handheld instrumentation to measure and control things like temperature, sugar content, oxygen, alcohol content, carbonation and clarity.

What technology are you using in packaging?

We use computerized vision systems to inspect our empty cans and bottles to ensure only good packages are filled. Once the packages are filled, we use other computerized inspection systems to ensure they contain the correct volume, that the cap is correctly applied and that the labels are in the correct place. These systems even allow us to identify which of the 100 filling valves might have an issue.

What are you doing in terms of developing new products?

This summer, we are installing a seven-barrel automated research pilot brewery at the Milton brewery. It’s a complete scale model of our larger system. This will allow for very precise control of our brand development process and ensure that we can match the flavor in our larger system. It will also allow us to try new ingredients and processes in a very scientific and controlled manner.


This article appeared in the premiere issue of Delaware Innovation Magazine, an overview of the state’s cutting edge industries and the people leading them. See the whole issue here.

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