Like Craft Beer? Thank The Guy Who Raised The Founder Of Dogfish Head Brewery

Pops and suds.

by Brian Kamenetzky
Originally Published: 
Fatherly Advice: Dogfish Head Brewing Sam Calagione

Today you take for granted how much craft beer is on the shelves at the local liquor store (supermarket, packie, state store, what have you), but it didn’t used to be that way. Once upon a time America thought that “ice” beer was a good idea. Then people like Sam Calagione decided to add a bit of pride and creativity to the endeavor of mixing hops, water, barley, and yeast together. Today, Calagione’s Dogfish Head is considered to be one of the godfathers — or maybe the crazy grandpappy — of modern craft brewing.

The guy who raised that guy was not a master brewer or the scion of St. Louis family — he was actually an oral surgeon — but he was still a tremendous inspiration to his son. “He was a home wine maker,” says Calagione, “I got to watch him in the cellar with his friends making wine, and subconsciously that helped give me confidence I could make beer,” It was father, along with mother Mary, who helped secure the loans Sam needed to launch the business in 1995.

Of course, his love of beer began before he drew up a business plan. “Some of my coolest memories were drinking beers with my dad on his boat,” says Calagione. All aboard the S.S. Male Bonding.

On The Name

“I visited my family in Maine, and went on a jog with my dad. He asked, ‘How are your English courses going, Sammy?’ I came clean, telling him I was home-brewing in my apartment, working in a beer bar, and had started writing a business plan. Keep in mind, my mom and dad paid for every cent of my education. Four years as an English major, graduate courses at Columbia. He was quiet for maybe 10 seconds, and I’m like, ‘Oh f–k, oh f–k, oh f–k.’ The first sentence out of his mouth was, ‘You know Sammy, Dogfish Head would be a good name for a brewery.’ In one sentence, I got confirmation that he was cool with me doing this 180 on my career trajectory, and the name of my company. Pretty cool.”

On How His Dad Got Him To Pay Attention

“When I was in high school, he used to call me Sideways, because he could only get a glimpse of me sideways because I was always running out the door or running away from him when he was trying to tell me something. But we would do these long family road trips, and it was always me and him one car, with the massive labrador retriever slobbering in the back seat, and my mom and 2 sisters in the other. I was a captive audience. I had to listen to him, because at 70 miles an hour I couldn’t just roll out of the car.”

On Using The Same Trick With His Kid

“Two years ago, I took a little 19-foot Boston Whaler from Dogfish Head, Delaware up to Dogfish Head, Maine with my then 15-year-old son. It was awesome and an adventure, but it was also a way my teenage son couldn’t escape from me for 8 days. That was a strategy I learned from my dad.”

On Respecting The Working Class

“As a little kid, I remember being really impressed he worked on people for a living, keeping them healthy. I also remember him bringing home all kinds of weird shit: Work boots, hockey sticks, winter jackets. We lived in rural western Massachusetts and sometimes the farmers and blue collar workers couldn’t afford the work that was done on their mouths. Dad would often take trade instead of cash. He showed me that doing a good job wasn’t always just about making money. You have the opportunity to help people, and make people feel better.”

On Planting The Entrepreneurial Seed

“In middle school, dad would put articles from the Wall Street Journal or Forbes under my nose. Stories about professional hockey players who started companies after hockey — things like that. He took my interest in music or sports or whatever, and showed me that business didn’t equate to evil. You can do some cool stuff with business.”

On His Dad’s Taste In Beer

“Dad was a home wine maker, but a beer drinker, too. Moosehead, some Anchor Steam, and Molson. In terms of looking for good beer, he was kind of a man ahead of his time.”

On Taking Calculated Risks

“He taught me to take risks, but not to the extent you’re betting the farm with the risks you take. Be ready to calibrate risk on where you are in the trajectory of your life. We probably took more financial risks when it was just me and my wife Mariah and 10 co-workers, and we didn’t have kids yet. We were just starting the business. As we grew, he asked, ‘Are putting something away for your kids yet’ So, both encouraging us, knowing that by definition entrepreneurs need to take risks, but knowing what your family needs as well.”

On Showing Gratitude

“When I think of that risk that my parents made back when we were a teeny tiny company, I almost feel like I owe them more than what I paid them back. But they’re always quick to say that I’ve paid them back a lot more than money by accomplishing what Mariah and I have accomplished with Dogfish Head.”

On Influencing The Grandkids

“My kids call him Papa. As my kids move into their teenage years, he’s quick to share life lessons with them, often around business and the marketplace. Lately he has been grilling them with his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election. They have started calling him ‘Papa-ganda.'”

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