By Pam George
When Karen and Jim Falk strolled into Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth on May 9, their friends greeted them with concerned faces. “Did you hear the news?” they asked the couple. Karen Falk immediately pictured a terrorist attack. “I said, ‘No! Is it bad?'”
The answer depends on your outlook.
Boston Beer Company—whose flagship brand is Samuel Adams—that day had announced it was merging with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. The deal, valued at about $300 million, was broadcast nationally on CNBC, NPR, CNN and in Fortune magazine.
While the hops have settled in most of the craft brew-loving world, Delawareans are still debating the merits of the merger, with some calling it an acquisition or buyout. Boston Beer CEO Dave Burwick will lead the company; Sam Calagione will have a seat on the board.
Many, like Delawarean Amy Kevis, are worried that Delaware will lose one of its signature charms. It’s easy to understand her concern. Dogfish Head and it’s defiant, “off-centered” approach never lacked charisma. Credit the affable Calagione, who is neither publicity shy nor at a loss for words. He also never lacked for creativity, and boldly bucking the brewing norm was a raison d’etre.
He and wife Mariah put their Midas touch on Milton when they moved the brewery to a former cannery in the town. They gave new life to a motel in Lewes, now the Dogfish Inn. Then they added Chesapeake & Maine, the brewpub’s sister restaurant. All have quickly become landmarks; all are included in the deal.
And all these venues draw tourists. Restaurateur Ami Rae has benefited from the legions of Dogfish Head fans who flock to Milton. She owns The Backyard, where many tourists—and Dogfish Head employees—dine after being at the brewery.
“At first I was surprised,” she says of the news. “But I had a giant smile on my face when I heard it. They’ve built a business that’s so big. Not only are they on the national stage, but they’re about to take it further.”
She’s heard some naysaying around the restaurant about the deal. She wonders if the disgruntlement stems from the deal’s financial aspects. Calagione and his family will receive about 407,000 shares of Boston Beer stock based on a share price of $314.60. “They look at those numbers and the salaries and wonder why [the Calagiones] would work again?” Rae says.
Former area brewer Rob Pfeiffer compared the Calagiones’ success to a band that put its “heart, soul, talent and money” into their music, and lived in their vans. When the band got a gold record, the fans told the members: “You sold out! We still want you to play in little bars for cheap!”
Falk isn’t worried about the Calagiones resting on their laurels. “They have been so creative and they’ve broke boundaries in Delaware for the microbrewing industry,” she says. “I just can see them doing grander things on a larger scale now. They have the opportunity to be more creative. They love to keep it local.”
Ron Cohen of Wilmington, who hears a lot of grumbling in his gym about the deal, says, “They cashed out. I don’t blame them a bit.” But it wouldn’t be smart to change the products because they complement each other, he notes.
Pfeiffer agrees. “I think Dogfish will stay the same in Delaware for the most part. I don’t think we’ll have Sam Adams 90 Minute Light Lager anytime soon,” he says. “I’m fine as long as they don’t take away that Dragon & YumYums.”
This article originally appeared in Delaware Business Times’ sister publication Delaware Today.