Sam Calagione vs. The Beer Geeks: Dogfish Top Dog Speaks MY Mind

Written by Steve Body for

Steve Body aka The Pour Fool

Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Brewing in Delaware and éminence grise of the American Craft Beer community, was recently moved by what he read in the forums of to write the following. It has since gone viral and is – justifiably – being used as a virtual manifesto by those of us who reject the increasing tendency of craft beer’s hard-core fanboys/geekazoids to cop attitudes and begin, in effect, to Eat Their Own when a brewery dares to become successful.

I found Sam’s essay to be a piece of diplomacy on the order of one of Hank Kissinger’s forays into Palestine. I would have been nowhere near as nice about it and I applaud his decency, common sense, and restraint. For a graphic example of how NOT to respond to stuff like Sam found in BA, read what I have to say after Sam’s eloquence…(this has been lightly edited for space)

It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site and see the most negative threads among the most popular…Yet so many folks that post here still spend their time knocking down breweries that dare to grow. It’s like that old joke: ‘Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.’ Except the ‘restaurants’ that people (crap) on here aren’t exactly juggernauts. In fact, aside from Boston Beer, none of them have anything even close to half of one percent market share.'”

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing

“It’s interesting how many posts that refer to Dogfish being over-rated include a caveat like ‘except for Palo…except for Immort…’ etc. We all have different palettes which is why it’s a great thing that there are so many different beers. At Dogfish we’ve been focused on making ‘weird’ beers since we opened and have taken our lumps for being stylistically indifferent since day one. I bet a lot of folks agree that beers like (ours) don’t seem very weird anymore. That’s in large part because so many people who have been part of this community over the years championed them and helped us put them on the map…We could have taken the easy way out and just sold the bejeezus out of 60 Minute to grow but we like to experiment and create and follow our own muse. Obviously there is an audience that appreciates this as we continue to grow…We have mostly grown by just sharing our beer with people who are into it and letting them decide for themselves if they like it. If they do we hope they tell their friends about us…Knowing each of your palettes is unique you will probably prefer one beer over the other. That doesn’t mean the one you didn’t prefer sucked. And the breweries you don’t prefer but are growing don’t suck either. (emphasis mine) Respect Beer.”

And one great, heart-of-the-matter response from a BA reader:

“This thread is hilarious. Seriously? Bells, Founders, FFF, Surly, RR, DFH, Bruery, Avery, Cigar City, Mikkeller are all overrated?  Since I’m from Ohio, I’ll pile on and add Great Lakes, Hoppin Frog, and Brew Kettle to the list. You’re welcome.

Hopefully soon we will have every craft brewery in the US on the list.”

There’s a human propensity, a throw-back to our having evolved out of living in caves and forming tribes for mutual protection and food-gathering, to form little groups and, to varying degrees, shut out the world and create our own little cultural/religious/business/hobbyist universe, operating with its own logic, preferences, tastes, worldview, and modes of expression. When I first moved to Seattle, my GF’s sister used to frequently say, “People around here don’t like __________“, or “People here do _________ this way.” Having just arrived, I thought maybe Seattle was simply a much more homogeneous atmosphere that my rather wild ‘n’ wooly North Carolina ‘hood, where there is literally a different outlook – or several – in every household. Turned out that what this otherwise fine and intelligent woman was saying is exactly what that phrase means when it’s said in Greensboro, Tuscaloosa, Mogadishu, Singapore, Novosibirsk, or the Azores: “I and four or five of my friends don’t like ________.”

Proper Beer Geek Posturing

Beer geeks, maybe more than any other group of cultural anythings, tend to cluster. Beer, of course, is not Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons. I’m sure somebody at Microsoft is working on it right this minute but it’s not currently possible to taste an unbottled/canned ale online. (We can “virtual taste:, with everybody buying one beer and tasting simultaneously, sloshing all over their keyboards, but that’s less satisfying…and a little creepy) To taste a tap beer, you still have to do the ol’ Snail Tasting: get in your car full of McDonald’s wrappers and physically, literally haul your fleshly shell over to a brewpub, stand in the germy cloud of your friends’ bodily exhalations, and pour the actual liquid into your own mouth. I know, I know: barbaric. O, that we could email beer over the ‘net!! And I pray that the programming geeks at Microsoft and Adobe put in the needed overtime to help end this troglodytic, public-assembly activity, ASAP. But, for now, that’s how its done. And the vast majority of beer geeks, when schlepping about to do this, are traveling in their Tribes, tasting in concert…making Judgments.

Guys, if you never pay attention to another word written here, read this carefully, because it’s Tough Love Time:

It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference to any human being on this planet, outside your little circle of friends, if your group-think says that – using actual comments that I have received via email to The Pour Fool – “Deschutes beers are all flabby“…” Sierra Nevada is too big to make good beer, anymore“…”Oregon is the only place in the US making REAL craft beer“… “Everything under 100 IBUs is just another lady’s beer“…” Stout is so 1995“…”All fruit beers suck“…”_______ Brewing has sold out“…”Imported beers are for old people“…”Rogue is over with“…”Only Colorado is brewing real artisan ales“…”Fat Tire is just Budwesiser for soccer moms“…”German beers are the only real beers“…”Westerners confuse all those weird, freako ales with real beer like Sam Adams and Yeungling“…or, my favorite, “Craft beers are only for hippies and bored frat boys.“

TRY to get over this unshakable conviction that whatever you and your six or eight buddies deem as worthy OR lame is the be-all and end-all of human thought. Your collective wisdom on anything is nothing more than a bunch of similarly-oriented opinions, desperate for validation and many people feel that posting those opinions online lends them the weight of actual fact. It doesn’t. I spend sizeable chunks of my life posting just that, right here in TPF: my OPINIONS. I am NOT under the impression that my views are or even should be adopted by vast numbers of my fellow Americans and the odd Egyptians, Brits, and Norwegians who occasionally respond. They’re my thoughts on various subjects – as are the scribbles of EVERY beer, wine, auto, restaurant, movie, music, or any other type of critic in the world. Robert Parker, Janet Maslin, Roger Ebert, Perez Hilton, me…we all have something in common: we’re ONE person, airing ONE set of tastes. The only validity any of us have is what comes from people’s decision to act on what they read. Parker, Maslin, Ebert, et al, wield massive influence over large numbers of people. Me, a tiny, tiny bit, geographically centered on Seattle…and that’s the way I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh. I don’t know their reasons for doing what they do but mine has been stated here and bears repeating: in the course of my day job, I taste and evaluate several thousand beverages of various types every year. I felt like it was better to use that exposure to these beverages to possibly help other people find worthwhile things to spend their $$$ on than just have it decorate the inside of my cranium. Hence, The Pour Fool.

The Suddenly and Mysteriously Over-Rated Beers in Question

I’ve read the BeerAdvocate forums extensively and my reaction is basically the same as Sam’s: what a steaming load of crap. What set him off was widespread accusations that Dogfish was becoming “too big” and “too corporate”, both of which are laughable if you know a single thing about Dogfish. But we as Americans also have this rooty distrust of anything that seems too successful, too popular, too accepted. That’s especially true here in the Northwest, where we sit right on top of the single largest technological miracle in human history, the basic language that has made possible the billions of immeasurable benefits of computers and information processing and communications systems. Many Northwest types routinely dump all over Microsoft for their aggressive business practices, just like all of Steve Jobs critics couldn’t wait until the body was cold to start berating one of the greatest technological minds of our time for being a hard guy to work for. Little minds working overtime, is my reaction, and best ignored. And this is what Sam Calagione has to read about the company for which he hung his financial derrière on the line, devoted the vast majority of his time and energy to, and poured all of his considerable creative force into: little beaks chirping about how Dogfish is over-rated…except, as he mentions, most of those saying that included something to the effect of  “except for Palo…except for Immort…etc.” Gee, over-rated except for…? Sounds like a simple matter of… individual tastes, to me.

It’s a free country and – at least for now – a free internet, and people can write whatever they please and will slide past a site administrator but let’s all get real for a moment: if you’re writing crap like this on ANY online forum, KNOW that your windy opinions DO…NOT…MEAN…SQUAT. If you’re under the impression that the little nugget you just wrote about how Mac & Jack’s being “so 2000″ is going to cause Mac & Jack’s to suddenly come to their senses and stop brewing or even that someone reading it is going to stop popping into the brewery for a growler just because you think they’re passé, try to remember what happened last time you read something derogatory about a brewery you liked. Do you still drink that beer? Still enjoy it? Did you stop liking it?

Did you answer yes, yes, no?

I rest my case.

One Reply to “Sam Calagione vs. The Beer Geeks: Dogfish Top Dog Speaks MY Mind”

  1. This is one of the reasons I went the BJCP route. I find I am a better judge of beer I don’t care for because I don’t have preconceived notions. And if AB (InBev) or Miller actually made a craft-like beer that fit the style I might have been kinder in my reviews. Bud, for example, is a classic of the style. I don;t care for it, but that’s not the point.

    Truism: we indeed all have different palates. 4 different judges at the same table will sense differently. One will find a defect others don’t, and that’s not always rank-based.

    To claim that any one brewery makes crappy beer, or any one portion of the country can’t make decent craft beer… ignoring for them moment any legalities that may limit that region… is foolish.

    There are some breweries that, to me, have a lesser product line than others… but that obviously is opinion. And the creative endeavor that is Dogfish deserves respect. I admire Mr. Calagione and his staff… the inventiveness, the “DOGged” determination to brew authentic weird and/or historic beers, and push the stylistic envelope is damn near divine in nature. I type that despite, Mr. Calagione, the one time we met in Rehoboth I could have interviewed you but you were too blitzed.

    Ya OWE me Sam…

    …or at least I can join you in the fun?

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