I spent this past weekend in Bethany Beach watching close friends of mine tie the knot (congrats!). Before that, though, I got a chance to take a tour of the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, Delaware—about half-an-hour from Rehoboth and 45 minutes from Bethany. I've always loved Dogfish Head beer for its bold flavors and creative, avant-garde marketing (Johnny Cask might be the best beer name ever), so I was anxious to get a peek at the brewery.
We made our reservations in advance, but, tickets are free and include a tour of the craft brewery, as well as four samples of beer at the end. The tour started out in the brewhouse where our guide gave us a mini-history of the company. Founder Sam Calagione opened the Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach in June 1995 when he was just 25 years old. What started out as a 12-gallon brewery system in Rehoboth is now a 100,000-square-foot operation in a converted cannery in Milton, as well as the Rehoboth restaurant and distillery. Dogfish Head now distributes to 25 states and is the 16th best selling craft brewer in America.
The tour then moved into the cellar, where much of the aging beer is stored. This room contained massive tanks, including handmade wooden ones, used to age various beers, such as the intensely dark 12-percent Paraguayan Palo Santo (akin to a darker Guinness). Our guide talked about the key to fresh ingredients—and even passed around some hops for us to smell and keep if we wanted. He also explained that Dogfish Head beers are "continually hopped," giving it its ultra-bitter taste. For example, 60 Minute IPA is made with 60 hops additions over a 60-minute boil.
At the conclusion of the tour, we're led to the bar/gift shop to sample some brews. The first of the four was, not surprisingly, Punkin, Dogfish Head's take on a pumpkin ale. Punkin is a spicy, full-bodied beer with hints of brown sugar and cinnamon—perfect for fall. We then sampled my favorite of the four, Pangaea. This was a spicy, ginger-flavored ale with, apparently, ingredients from every continent (I'm a little skeptical on the water from Antarctica).
Then we tried Olde School Barleywine, which is a whopping 15-percent ABV (remember this is all free!) This is a well-aged, bold beer with accents of dates and figs. The last sample was the aforementioned Palo Santo, a very bold, dark ale with earthy wooden flavors (probably due to the casks it's aged in). After you're good and buzzed, they let you loose in the gift shop to buy various memorabilia (beer-scented soap, anyone?). It's an unabashed, genius strategy, I must say.
Overall, the Dogfish Head tour was fun, educational, and and an absolute steal. It feels good to support local-ish brewpubs that put thought and care into the ales they're making. Also, check out Heavy Seas and Flying Dog's tours if you want to stay closer to home. Cheers!