How Sam Calagione Created Dogfish Heads' Iconic Continuous Hopped Beers - Exclusive

When Sam and Mariah Calagione founded Dogfish Head Brewery back in 1995 (according to the Dogfish Head website), American craft brewing was just starting to pick up steam. At the time, Vinepair states that there were only 974 "permitted" breweries in the U.S., compared to 7,190 nationwide by 2016. In these ensuing years, the American beer scene clearly experienced nothing short of a Renaissance; today, beer drinkers in the United States have such a plethora of beer styles (and varieties within those styles) to choose from, that it's hard to remember just what the market was like when Dogfish Head first began offering its iconic beers, especially the brewery's famed continuously hopped IPAs. 

When Mashed caught up with Sam Calagione for an exclusive interview, the brewer fondly recalled the early days of Dogfish Head, especially the creation of those signature beers, saying: "That was in the late 90s, back when IPAs were not the hot style of craft beer Renaissance. For today's craft beer drinker, there is no other single beer style in the craft beer Renaissance that has moved the needle volumetrically as much as IPAs. [The style] is essentially responsible for moving the craft beer movement in America out of the niche community and into the mainstream."

The creative way Sam Calagione first brewed Dogfish Head's famous IPAs

The first continuously hopped Dogfish Head IPA was created with a bit of culinary inspiration and plenty of classic American innovation. Dogfish Head brewer and co-founder Sam Calagione told Mashed the interesting story, saying: "In the case of [the continuous hop IPAs], it was really just a fateful day where I was watching a cooking show on TV and learned about chefs adding tiny pinches of spice continually while they simmer dishes, and that gave me the confidence to MacGyver an old vibrating football game and convert it with a bucket, duct tape, and 2x4s into our first continually hopping device, which I angled over my boil kettle ... the hops would vibrate down the football game into the beer for 90 minutes."

Calagione went on to share a very impressive accolade for his invention. "And we are really proud that that original continual hopping device is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian, along with the Wright brothers' plane and the Apollo [capsules]. So that's super cool." A well deserved place, as the DogFish Head IPAs, in our opinion, represent American innovation at it's finest.

The strongest IPA Dogfish Head makes

The story of that fateful day, watching that cooking show, is "an easy concept for the consumer to understand," explained Sam Calagione. "That unique proprietary continual hopping approach that we use makes our IPAs extremely beautifully hoppy, without being crushingly bitter ... That's an example of [how] one epiphany helped me build an entire recipe concept. Not just for one beer, but as you mentioned, a family of continually hopped beers."

Soon, that concept would lead to one amazingly potent brew. The brand started with its 90 minute 9% IPA, "then we brewed 60 minute at 6%," said Calagione, "and then a few years later we brewed the world's strongest IPA, 120 minute. All built around that unique continual hopping proposition."

As for which Dogfish Head beer Sam Calagione likes the most himself, he joked that it was a bit like picking your favorite kid. "We all love our children equally, but at different phases of our children's lives as parents, it's the secret that you like hanging out with some children more than your two others. Yeah, so for me personally, volumetrically, there has never been a beer Dogfish has made that I drink as much as Sea Quench Ale. It just hits all my personal buttons. I love being by the water, so the sea salt just reminds me of the ocean when I drink it. And it is 4.9 ABV so it is sessionable. So, Sea Quench is my jam."

For his wife Mariah, however, it's Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA all the way.