Memories of Dogfish Head

Delaware, Essay, travel

This travel essay was part of Charlotte magazine’s July issue about breweries worth a road-trip. I’m originally from Delaware so it was really special to write about the most prominent brewery from the state, Dogfish Head.

Courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

THE FIRST THING I NOTICE as I pull up to Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery isn’t the scent of malt or hops filling the air of small-town Milton, or the giant stainless steel fermentation silos outside. It’s the steampunk treehouse with wiry, rusty branches and a spiral staircase that leads to a hexagonal house planted on the lawn.

The treehouse was first built as an art installation for Burning Man, the massive desert alt-festival, then found its way to Coachella, the massive desert mainstream festival. With no permanent home, Dogfish Head took in the 40-foot-tall steel sculpture, and it’s remained on site since 2010. The eight-ton treehouse isn’t open for guests, but boy, is it fun to look at.

I’m from Delaware, so for me, Dogfish Head is as synonymous with beer as National Bohemian is in Maryland or Bud Light is everywhere. It’s what NoDa Brewing or Olde Mecklenburg Brewery are to Charlotte—but in Delaware, for a long time, we had only one choice. Now we have Mispillion River, Big Oyster, Fordham & Dominion, and about 20 others—remarkable for a state with a population of less than a million.

In my early 20s, I liked Dogfish’s Namaste White so much, I bought Namaste-flavored lip balm from the gift shop. Today, for every birthday and Christmas, my dad still gives me a six-pack of whatever Dogfish has in season. In Charlotte, I scour bottle shops to find the lime green cap with a shark-shaped exclamation point, which signals the ABV is more than 15 percent. The brewery calls it the “Dogfish danger cap.”

I was a year old in 1995, when Sam and Mariah Calagione opened Dogfish Head. As a young kid, I remember my dad drinking their flagship 90 Minute IPA as he cheered for the Redskins—a good beer helped curb the disappointment of Redskins fanhood ever since their 1992 Super Bowl win. Once I was old enough to drink, it was the first beer I tried (beat that, nameless-keg beer).