Sam Calagione is a regular guy; he’s married, has two kids and loves beer. The catch, though, is that unlike many beer-loving dads, Sam actually gets to make and drink beer for a living. As the Founder and President of Dogfish Head Brewery, Sam is living the dream — literally.
What started out as the smallest brewery in the US, Dogfish Head has grown into one of the most successful micro-in the country. As a result, the company has built a fan-base that draws parallels to Apple Fan Boys (maybe not in size, but at least in an affinity for the brand).
During a recent phone interview, Sam discussed how Dogfish bucks the traditional beer-advertising method, the brand’s use of social media, traveling the world to find the right ingredients, technology and gadgets, and managing the work-life balance with his wife and two kids.
Unlike big brands, Dogfish Head doesn’t leverage gimmicks or big splashy advertising campaigns to promote their product, according to Sam. They let their customers do the talking.
“We don’t like to do much with traditional advertising. We predominately drive brand awareness through events and social media to get the word out,” Sam said. “We want to get people to the source of Dogfish [referring to the brewery in Delaware] so they can understand what we are all about. We hope that the experience turns them into evangelists.”
Of course, not everyone can take the road trip to visit the brewery, so Dogfish relies heavily on the Word-of-Mouth impact that social media has with consumers.
“Even before social media existed, we’d spend a lot of time literally talking to our customers. When we opened in the smallest brewery in 1995 and had the restaurant, we were able to control the message yet be authentic on a human scale. We would talk to customers about what made the beers special and how they complemented great foods,” he said. “With social media, the same principles exist but the dialogue is amplified. Tools like Facebook and Twitter enable us to have very real conversations with our customers and get valuable feedback on our products.”
In fact, because of their social media efforts — which are managed by his wife Mariah — the company has developed further marketing initiatives to help with the one to one dialogue with consumers. Today (July 1), Sam said, the company would be rolling out a “new experience” on their corporate website, Dogfish.com. (I pried, but he wouldn’t give up the details).
At the end of the day, however, the dialogue still circles around beer and that’s where Sam’s passion lies.
“We realize that there are a ton of great micro-breweries out there and we want to celebrate every single one of them. We know that our customers are the types that like variety. That’s why we don’t worry about competition,” Sam said. “For us, it’s all about collaboration and developing innovative products that the brew-lover will like.”
Dogfish has partnered with a slew of breweries around the world, including Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Short’s Brewing Company, Three Floyds Brewing and many more. Regardless of the collaboration, Sam says, it’s all done with the craft beer drinker in mind.
“The craft beer drinker is promiscuous. They tend to have a dozen or so beers that they will always keep in their rotation. We just hope that Dogfish is one of them,” he said.
To keep the creative juices flowing, Dogfish literally will go to the end of the world to find the right ingredients for their next brew. Their latest concoction, called Ta Henket, was created to incorporate the ancient ingredients and techniques described in Egyptian hieroglyphics. According to the website:
It was brewed to 11.4Plato with Emmer (an ancient form of wheat) and loaves of hearth baked bread and flavored with dom-palm fruit, chamomile, and zatar. Fermentation was carried out by a native Egyptian saccharomyces yeast strain captured by Sam during a recent trip to Egypt.
Ta Henket is scheduled to hit shelves in the fall.
Because of his worldly travels, you’d expect Sam to travel with a bunch of gear to capture the experience.
“All I really need is my iPhone 3Gs. I can do what I have to do with this phone as I have access to email, texting and all the information I need about our business at my fingertips. It does have a cracked screen and I think it’s time to upgrade,” he laughed.
As for technology in the brewery itself, Sam talked about the tour experience and how they are going to be filling in wait times with game — specifically iPad gaming.
Do you remember the iCade (created by the brains over at ThinkGeek.com)? You know, the mini-arcade shells that you could slide an iPad into. Well, the iCade was initially an April fools joke, but because of consumer response, the company decided to actually make them. When the iCade was available this Spring, Trey Bowden, Dogfish’s Information Technology Manager, bought one for the company. In fact, the iCade will give the roughly 7,200 brew-fanatics that visit the brewery every year something to do while they wait for their turn to get a guided tour.
For a company that’s been in business since 1995, having that many people come visit the brewery is quite astounding and shows how the Dogfish has grown in popularity with consumers.
However, despite the company’s success and how Sam has become the recognizable face for the brand, he’s still a down to earth guy who loves what he does just as much as he did when he started out and enjoys all the benefits of being a husband and dad to his two kids.
“I have 140 or so working beside me who are critical to growing this business and making sure we’re headed in the right direction. And for each of us, it’s very important to have that work-life balance in order to continue doing what we love to do,” he said. “For me, I want to continue to do what I do best and that’s creating events to bring people together around our brand as well as creating new and exciting brews. However, I make sure that I schedule time away from it all so I can spend as much time as possible with my family.”
While Sam does work with his wife, they try to keep the brew talk at the dinner table to a minimum. Though, admittedly, he said it’s pretty hard — especially when his kids (11-year-old son and 8 year-old-daughter) aren’t into it yet.
“Working with my wife is great. There’s always stuff we take from work and talk about at home. Often times we’ll be at the dinner table, talking about the next batch of 120 Minute IPA for example. Yea, the kids get a little tired of it, but hopefully someday they will carry on the tradition,” he said. “My kids have their own passions — my son wants to be a professional skateboarder and my daughter wants to be a fashion designer. And that’s totally cool. Maybe someday they will be interested in brewing and will carry on the family legacy.”
Family business or not, to Sam, Dogfish is still all about brewing good beer that people enjoy. There’s where his passion lies. That’s what he loves to do and his advice for those dads out there who are thinking about brewing their own beer is: “Do your homework. Keep it simple at first. Then, put your own finger print on it on it. Follow your own style and enjoy it. Cheers!”