Steve and I went to Taco Mac yesterday for lunch to a) drink oatmeal stouts while eating nachos (hmmm, turns out not the best pairing) and b) mull over the state of our brews, just a little bit. I’m not exactly sure how it came up, but we quickly got onto the subject of what appears to be the reigning champion of microbrews:
The name is everywhere. Dogfish’s founder Sam Calagione is, as James Spencer of Basic Brewing Radio put it, a bit of a rockstar of sorts, and not just in the brewing world. I probably have one of their beers in my fridge at any given time, as do many, many other craft beer fans. But that’s just it, right there: I probably have one. I rarely buy more than a four-pack of anything Dogfish, and I don’t think I’d even consider a torpedo or 1/2 barrel keg. Why? Because Dogfish Head doesn’t really produce anything that I can get very friendly with. I appreciate the innovations that Sam and his crew make season after season, and I like trying all the crazy stuff they come up with, but I’ve yet to find a product that I’m going to come back to again and again, just to “have a beer”. I may sound like a simpleton to some of you more zealous beer folks out there, but Dogfish definitely doesn’t offer anything like a Sweetwater 420 of their own, at least not around here.
I feel like 420 gets a bad rap at times, and it’s not just because I’m a local. It’s a popular beer that’s offensive to no one, and though not exactly in line with my personal tastes, the name really is brilliant. It’s the definition of that loyal, friendly beer that guys like Charlie Papazian find themselves drinking more often than not. You always know what to expect. In a sense, it is indeed “ordinary”. But, I hear it referred to as “weak” and “watery” by some fellow beer enthusiasts, as if anything with less than 6% ABV isn’t worth their time or money. Well, to me, such a beer is worth both, and a lot of “ordinary” beer drinkers tend to agree.
Now for instance, Dogfish 60-Minute is a wonderful IPA, but I’m just not inclined to drink more than one of them in a sitting. It’s too much everything to consume in any quantity, especially at ten dollars for a six-pack. Too bad, because it’s maybe the only Dogfish-branded brew consistently available at my favorite package store. The rest of them seem to change with the season, and some are very good (Palo Santo Marron…wow!) while others are very bad (Festina Peche…what?), but almost none are available year-round, and I feel like that sort of inconsistency isn’t a sustainable model for business growth in the long term. Their slogan is “Off-centered ales for off-centered people” and it does ring true; maybe they really don’t care about capturing anyone in that more “centered” market segment.
But we do.
Ten years from now, I hope to be a lot of things, and a brewery owner is one of them. 35 years old is not. In ten years, will radically different breweries like Dogfish Head still be cranking out a half-dozen new brews each year? Will they run out of momentum and level off? Or will they find their 420 and induce the masses (that word, of course, is relative, in the face of big beer competition) to become loyal to their brand? Maybe the better question is, will we have found ours? I can tell you right now that we’re looking…hard.