Dogfish Head and RAR Brewing founders explain why craft breweries work together. Produced by Ryan Marshall and Megan Raymond
Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione was in Los Angeles recently supporting the push for Dogfish’s SeaQuench Ale as it continues to grow in the Pacific.
He was about as far away from Milton as he could be in the continental U.S., drinking a beer made in Delaware. And he wasn’t alone.
Since the sour session beer's wide release in cans earlier this year, SeaQuench has kind of taken the craft beer world by surprise, selling 120 percent more than forecasted, according to the company.
Brewbound, a website that follows the craft beer industry, named it “Beer Product of the Year” for 2017 because it so well differentiated itself in a crowded field of emerging beer styles.
The enthusiastic reception and sales numbers surpassed both Calagione’s wildest hopes, but also his distribution plans. It also kind of highlighted the dangers of success in today’s craft beer world.
When Dogfish 60 Minute IPA had its first huge season of growth, the brewery was a lot smaller and had a lot fewer people to keep up with the demand.
“It’s a lot easier to coordinate the efforts of 35 people than it is 350 people,” Calagione said.
Moreover, in the relatively empty craft beer market before the turn on the century, the worst case scenario was that 60 Minute fandom might grow just a little more slowly.
If they couldn’t deliver enough beer, production would get set back, but that was kind of the end of it.
In today’s craft beer world, where brands and beers constantly are fighting for shelf space, if a store can’t get a brewery’s beer, it just can choose another one. In fact, breaking into the market at all on this kind of scale, even from a brewer of note like Dogfish, is rare and difficult.
Once it was clear that SeaQuench was growing twice as fast as everyone had planned, it became imperative to ramp production up.
“What I want the most to convey is the team effort that went into this,” Calagione said. “Especially, the production line, but really all 300-plus (Dogfish team members) — they all stepped up.”
The success of SeaQuench Ale coincided with a banner year for Dogfish Head in general, which experienced nearly 20 percent growth.
To put that in perspective, American beer consumption overall is expected to be down 1 percent by volume for 2017, according to the Brewers Association, but craft beer is expected to be up about 5 percent.
Last year, overall beer showed no growth while craft beer was up nearly 7 percent.
The disparity has to do with fewer people drinking “Big Beer” products like Budweiser and Blue Moon and gravitating instead toward craft beer, industry experts say. The fact that it continues to show gains in a flat market indicates a switch not only in public tastes, but also public consciousness about independent craft beer.
SeaQuench, however, is peculiar unto itself. It’s light and tart but not sour, thanks to the addition of black limes and sour lime juice with a saltiness that is vaguely reminiscent of a margarita. It’s brewed with sea salt, though, so it isn’t super-salty. Instead, the salt makes the fruit-flavors pop.
“It’s flavorful but it’s super-approachable,” Calagione said. “We’ve been making fruit-infused beers for more than 20 years, so we have plenty of experience.”
The approachability is a significant factor in its success because it allows everybody to be a craft beer drinker, not just hard-core hop heads. In addition to opening craft beer to new drinkers, it followed a growing industry trend.
Sour beers in general had a revival this summer, but SeaQuench struck a nerve.
It was popular with active-lifestyle types, as noted by Sports Illustrated, because it is comparatively low calorie and high sodium which made it appealing as a post-workout beer. It’s low in alcohol which makes it an appealing lunchtime beer, especially given how well it goes with light food.
Men’s Health Magazine named it “Best Low-Calorie Beer” and Brewbound named it “Beer Product of the Year” for 2017.
But Calagione knows the accolades are dependent on people being able to get their hands on the beer in some sort of reliable fashion, which is why the Dogfish Head team gets so much credit.
This year, Dogfish Head didn’t just introduce SeaQuench, but also Flesh and Blood, a blood orange IPA in a can that also was a solid hit, selling 105 percent more than they had anticipated.
“It’s a lot to put on the back of just a little more than 300 workers,” Calagione said. “But they were able to just sync up an cooperate.”