In the inaugural episode of “EOD Drinks,” the VinePair editorial team is joined by Sam Calagione, the founder and president of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Here, he sits down with VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, senior editor Cat Wolinski, staff writer Tim McKirdy and associate editor Katie Brown to talk about four important beers from Dogfish Head: SeaQuench Ale, Hazy-O!, 60 Minute IPA, and Slightly Mighty. While each brew represents Dogfish’s constant effort to find “white space” in the beer market, they come together to celebrate the brewery’s longstanding commitment to culinary ingredients and creativity.
Calagione shares the tale of how each beer began, explaining everything from his brewing process to the heavy lifting each beer’s name performs. Some of these stories have landed his beer tech a spot in the Smithsonian — and have made Dogfish Head one of the fastest-growing craft breweries in America. Committed to innovation, the success of each of his beer’s has pushed Calagione to incorporate new ingredients like oat milk, monk fruit, and black limes. Now, he tells the team Dogfish is experimenting with hard seltzer and is excited to release “The Dogfish Head Book: 25 Years of Off-Centered Adventures.”
While Calagione admits choosing a favorite beer from his brewery is like choosing a favorite child, he eventually gives in and shares the brews he can’t get enough of, and what fans have to look forward to in the months to come.
Or Check out the conversation here
Adam: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, this is End of Day Drinks, where we sit down with the movers and shakers in the beverage industry. So pour yourself a glass, and listen along with us. Let’s start the show. On today’s episode, we talk with Sam Calagione about Dogfish Head’s newest beer Hazy-O!; their fastest-growing beer SeaQuench, and the story behind 60 Minute IPA and how the beer owes its entire invention to a tabletop football game. We’ll also hear Sam’s thoughts on how it’s gotten harder and harder in the craft beer industry to find white space. And finally, Sam tells us what he thinks about the whole hard seltzer craze and whether or not there is a hard seltzer in Dogfish Head’s future. Let’s get started. Take it away, Cat.
Cat: Hello, everybody. I am Cat Wolinski, editor at VinePair, and I am extremely excited to be joined today by Dogfish Head co-founder, craft beer pioneer, and all-around awesome champion of the craft beer universe, Sam Calagione. And this is VinePair’s first episode of EOD drinks. So since this is our first one, I’ll introduce everyone now. We have some of the VinePair team here with me. That is VinePair CEO Adam Teeter, say hello.
A: What’s up, Cat? Hey, Sam.
C: Our staff writer, Tim McKirdy.
Tim: Hi Cat, Hi Sam, how’s it going?
C: Good, and then our editorial associate, Katie Brown.
Katie: Hey guys, how are you?
C: We’re great, I’m so excited. Sam, say hello.
Sam: Hello VinePair team, good to be back in touch with you, Cat. I’m a big fan of what you guys do. It was cool to see the story you just did on my buddy Hollie at Guinness. She runs the brewery there in Baltimore. So thank you guys for all your evangelism on behalf of all us little craft spirit, beer, and wine makers.
C: Hey it’s what we do. I didn’t know you knew Hollie. That’s awesome, very cool. So you’ve got a lot going on right now. You have a new beer coming out, Hazy-O! Which I know a lot of us are interested to hear more about and taste. You have a book coming out: “The Dogfish Head Book: 25 years of Off-Centered Adventures.” And you’ve also sent us a pretty great lineup of beers here today. We have Slightly Mighty, the low-cal IPA. We’ve got 60 Minute, the OG, Hazy-O! And of course, SeaQuench, which is now the top-selling sour beer in the United States. So what’s going on? You want to taste through these? Do you want to go in any particular order? I thought this was a cool cross-section of Dogfish Head through time.
S: Yeah. You guys choose the direction. First I want to also just say I’m honored to be your inaugural guest. Give me your guys’ vision for this sweet podcast concept and where you’re going with it.
C: Yeah! So the way that we imagine this was like we’ve invited you into our office, VinePair HQ in New York City. You came and brought some beers to taste with us, and we’re just hanging out, talking through the beers, hearing about how the business is going, and having a grand old time.
S: Fireside chat, by an open fire.
C: Yeah. Fireside chat, or an IPA-side chat, something like that. So I think we should jump in with 60 Minute.
S: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.
C: I don’t know what people are situated with right here, but I’ve got all the beers in front of me ready to go.
S: So let’s hear that gorgeous Pavlovian sound, you guys ready?
C: Oh, yeah! Music to my ears.
S: So you guys, want me to just riff on the inception of this beer, or where do you want me to start?
A: Yeah, that would be awesome.
C: Yeah go for it, there’s a lot of mystery and story to tell about this, so I am curious to hear how it’s doing now as well.
S: So, yeah, I’ll say that it’s ironic that it’s still our best-selling beer. There’s two beers we’ll talk about later that are potentially on a path to eclipse it. But when we opened Dogfish in 1995, we had the dubious distinction of being literally the smallest craft beer in America. There were about 800 breweries in America when we opened. Flash forward to now, and there’s over 8,000, which is pretty incredible. And when I wrote the business plan for Dogfish, the first page said Dogfish Head is committed to being the first commercial beer in America that will make the majority of our beers using culinary ingredients. In a way, we went making Chicory Stout with chicory and coffee and Aprihop, which I think was the first distributed fruited IPA and Raison D’être with raisins, but around 1999 or 2000 I was watching a chef show about adding spice to a soup, and the chef was talking about if he cracked peppers, little pinches of it the entire time the soup simmered and just added it incrementally, continually, that the flavor and sort of complexity, nuances of the pepper would be woven in a more impressive way for a sensory experience. And I said, “Oh, maybe I can apply that to brewing,” where traditionally beers get hopped twice, once early for bitterness, once for aroma. And so I went and found this vibrating football game in a Salvation Army and I MacGyvered it together with some two by fours and a big old perforated bucket and filled it with pelletized hops and angled the football game over my boil kettle, trying to make it so that one pelletized hop hit the beer the entire 90 minutes that it boiled. And that’s how 60 Minute and 90 Minute were born. So the concept is when you continually dose an IPA for the entire boil, there’s no aroma hop, there’s no bittering hop, there’s no end hop. It’s all evenly distributed. It makes for an IPA that’s impressively hoppy without being crushingly bitter. It doesn’t have the lingering bitterness that it would have had if I added that same volume of hops in the two big traditional additions. One early, one late.
C: Right, and has this nuance that you taste through the beer, like you said, it’s not just totally up front in the aroma or completely bitter in the beer. And for those who don’t know or haven’t been in a brewery, what he is describing with this football game, or whatever the measurement was going into this beer, that is very hard to do. And it’s just a ridiculous image to even think about, especially to see the guy that’s doing that become one of the most famous brewers in the world and one of the most successful breweries in the country. So it’s a crazy beer.
S: Thanks for saying that, Cat. I’m proud to say I think the machine is now more famous than I am. It’s pretty cool. Last year, that original vibrating football game jalopy that we built got acquired and is now part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. So it’s under the same roof as the Wright brothers’ plane and the Apollo capsule rocket. So that’s something that really warms our heart that it was considered an American invention and we’re really, really proud of that distinction.
A: Hey Sam, I have a question for you, sorry Cat I’m just going to jump in. I mean, they say that copycatting is the most sincere form of flattery. In beer, we see a lot of brewers copy each other and what they’ve done all over the place now. Did other brewers sort of start copying this trend and this technique once you created 60 Minute? And are there other beers out there like it? Because I feel like I’ve never seen another beer like 60, 90, 120. But maybe it’s because they have not explained that they’re using the same technique. But these beers are so unique and delicious. But maybe you know something that I don’t.
S: Yeah. I mean, we did a show on the Discovery Channel. We had a series called “Brewmasters” like 12 or 15 years ago or so, it aired in a bunch of different countries. Someone did bring me a “60 M” beer from China soon after that aired and said it was made by two crazy guys in China. We continue to hop the beer. And so that was interesting to find that and we knew there was no way we were going to stop them from making that. So we just said, “OK, I guess that’s flattering.” But Adam to your point, yeah, we’ve seen other breweries talk about adding hops and equal regiments over the course of the whole boil. But the term “continual hopping” we’ve been able to keep our own. The technology is definitely unique to us, but the premise has been adopted in different variations from different breweries as well.
C: Right. And you see this happen in other brewery equipment and tech, like Sierra Nevada’s Hop Torpedo. And then each brewery has their own proprietary mechanism that they MacGeyver for themselves. It’s cool to see that, actually. I know that Sam, you’re all about the rising tide raising all ships and that these innovations morph and change and make the industry better overall.
S: Yeah Cat, and to Adam’s point earlier, it is harder and harder to find white space in an industry where we started with 700 competitors roughly, and now there’s over 8,000, and moreover, in the mid-‘90s to late ‘90s, we were the only commercial brewery focused on utilizing culinary ingredients in beer. And it wasn’t considered cool back then. We took a lot of s***. We’d go to festivals and people were like, “Hey a**hole, why’d you put coffee in your stout? That’s disrespectful to the style.” And so it took some time before it was recognized as a positive that we were breaking out of the jail of just four ingredients, but that other breweries adopted that broader definition of beer, which is awesome globally because American beer used to be the laughing stock internationally when it was all just generic, sort of monolithic light lager. And other countries were like, “American beer culture sucks.” But, the American craft brewing renaissance changed that. And now we’re recognized as pillars for creativity. That’s great. But it means now everyone’s innovating and 360 degrees with different ingredients. So it is more challenging to find white space. And we can talk about that as we talk through the four beers tonight, because it’s still the most fun part of the job, and finding that white space for me as a creative brewer is more joyful, frankly, than thinking about the scale of what we’ve grown to.
C: Yeah, you talk about white space. I feel like I wanted to go to Slightly Mighty next, but now I think we just have to jump into Hazy-O!
S: Oh, really great, you’re driving this process!
C: I really wanted to wait until the end, but let’s just get in there, OK? Culinary ingredients, yes, you use everything from chicory to chocolate to coffee to lobsters. There’s nothing you haven’t put in a beer, probably. And now this one, Hazy-O!, is made with oat milk, is that correct?
C: And not only oat milk, but oats in pretty much every form. So there’s malted oats, rolled oats, naked oats, and oat milk.
S: Indeed. When we’re talking about finding white space, we’ve been doing hazy-style, non-filtered IPAs for well over a decade. We did a beer called Squall with a clothing company back when 750-milliliter bottles sold in the beer world.
C: Yeah, I remember I have a memory of that bottle, of drinking that on a beach or a dock.
S: All right, that’s a great memory. But, we’ve never made a hazy part of our core portfolio because frankly, we didn’t feel comfortable. There’s really two different models for not just breweries, spirit producers, or wineries, really any CPG company was the pioneering model where you take risks and do something that hasn’t been done before again, trying to find white space or there’s sort of the fast-follower model where you build a company that’s really good at identifying trends from smaller companies and using your skills and resources to beat them at something that they innovated. But you can commercialize better. And Dogfish has always been more of the pioneering model, which sometimes means you f*** up. And the things you think might be interesting aren’t sustainable. But sometimes, you find a white space that is really sustainable. And obviously the hazy IPA category is now the fastest-growing beer category in America. For context, hazy IPAs are growing at 97 percent year-to-date. The fastest growing alcohol segment is seltzer, growing at about roughly twice that, which is about 200 percent year-to-date, mostly with White Claw and Truly. But oat milk is growing 303 percent year-to-date. And so our Hazy-O! sits in the sweet spot between this better-for-you trend of people leaning out of dairy milk and into plant-based milks. And it’s something that I mostly gleaned from the barista culture and going into places that take coffee really seriously and watching them prioritize oat milk, what it gives for body and creaminess and silkiness in a relatively bitter product, right? Coffee. And I was like, maybe this would be something really cool to bring into the world of hazy IPAs, because a big component of most hazy IPAs is malted oats or un-malted, and that’s what gives haze. So the idea of using oats in the hazies is absolutely not new, but the fact that we’re combining all four of these formats and working directly with this really pioneering oat milk company that has their own unique process called Elmhurst, right down the road from your guys HQ in New York, really makes a difference in this beer. What do you guys think? You’ve got it in front of you. I’ve drank it a lot.
C: I wanted to wait so I could do my cracking sound.
S: Oh go, go, go, go, go!
C: Oh, yeah. Hazy-O! here we go. Something we were talking about in the office, or I guess our virtual offices, together recently was: Which came first, the hazies or the oats? Like you said, oats have been the component in hazy IPAs and hazy beers for a while. So is it the oats in the beer helping oat milk become more popular? Or is oat milk going to make this beer more popular? Or is it just like a whole?
S: Yeah, yeah, I never thought of that, a chicken-and-the-egg type of thing. I think the oat milk trend is definitely just part of the “better-for-you” trend, and with consumers prioritizing ingredients that are what they perceive as having a “better-for-you” component to them. And so I think that trend was on its own trajectory in parallel with the hazy IPA trend is how I would say.
A: So I have a quick question for you Sam. We talked about this, too, so I’ve got the beer in front of me. What was the business decision to go with the sticker can? So obviously, Dogfish recently sold to Sam Adams. And you guys could have done a shrink wrap can, I assume? But you went with the sticker can. Is there a reason? Is it because so many of the other hazies are that way? Or do we have a prototype that’s going to look differently when it goes into the market? I’m curious.
S: No, no, no. Good question. Really. It was speed to market. And so we have a small canning line at our Rehoboth Beach Brewery, and that’s where the samples we sent you are from. And that one since it’s small-scale, we want to be really dexterous and make quick decisions on our new batches that we want to launch. So we launched Hazy-O! in the 16-ounce that has the paper label. But you’re right, by the time we sell the batch coast to coast, it’ll be in 12-ounce fully wrapped artwork on the actual can. So you guys are among the first people in the country outside of Delaware to try this beer. Right now, it’s only being sold in these 16-ounce 4-packs from the brewer.
T: So I have a question for you here as well, related to that. You are speaking about innovation the whole way through, and that seems like a thread that really links together all of your products. As you’ve grown as a brand, do you find that it’s harder to be that dexterous and quick to market with things and as someone who is or sounds like an innovator? Is that frustrating maybe?
S: That’s actually a good question, Tim, I’ll go back to Adam, you’re right. Dogfish and Boston Beer merged last year, and so we now have Dogfish, we have Sam Adams, we have Angry Orchard, Twisted Tea, and Truly. And our company is actually, I feel, more risk-excited than risk-averse. I think it’s in part because we have resources and 10 different retail locations, so our big breweries can be like fine point making the Monets and the Renoirs while our little tiny 10-barrel systems in New York and Delaware and California can be like throwing s*** at the wall and Jackson Pollocking on a small stage. So we try to embrace risk as aggressively as possible, but do it on a small scale, so they’re manageable-scale risks. So that’s why we have the small canning line at our small brewery and obviously a much bigger canning line once we’ve proven out a concept and we want to take it nationally.
C: I forgot to mention the new brewery, it’s in Wynwood, correct?
S: Yeah in the art district and maybe when we drink SeaQuench, we can circle back because the fruited sours are very popular down there. So we can circle back on the brewery.
C: Yeah. I’m ready to move on does anybody else?
A: No, I mean I think I want to talk about SeaQuench because I think you have alluded to some stuff we’ve talked about a lot at VinePair and that’s like this idea of the “health halo.” And you’re talking a lot about wellness, and with the oat milk and things like that. And I feel like SeaQuench is like one of these beers that speaks to people in that way. You feel good about yourself when you drink it, if that makes sense. You don’t feel guilty, it has some of these qualities about it that makes you feel like, oh, you could drink it after working out or whatever, was that intentional? Did you mean to hit that market? Because I feel like that’s a market that really embraced this beer. And I would assume this is your fastest-growing beer behind 60 Minute. I know you also alluded to that in the top of the program when you said that you think there are some beers that could catch 60 Minute, is this one of those?
S: Yep, and I’d say Slightly Mighty and SeaQuench we could see potentially being on a trajectory that eclipses 60 Minute. The verdicts out on Hazy-O! because we haven’t even launched it yet. But those are our four core beers and we’re glad they’re so complementary and differentiated from each other. But yeah, and Adam as you guys and as everyone on this podcast knows, as a brewer, we have to walk a really fine line and be careful how we present our beers. In other words, the federal government is very much interested to make sure producers of alcohol don’t make health claims in association with their products. But that said, Dogfish has been focused on this sort of “better for you,” call it “active lifestyle” might be a better, nuanced way to say it, since we started doing Namaste, our yoga-themed white beer, well over a decade ago. And when we released that beer, we started getting a lot of non-beer drinkers excited about it. We would do these Pints and Poses yoga happy hours. But we also started getting a lot of folks that had left craft beer and gone to Michelob Ultra and stuff, frankly, because they got to a certain age that their metabolism slowed down. They started getting a beer belly, and they started saying, hey, I’m coming back to craft, with lower-ABV beers like your Namaste. And that kept us going further down that journey like five or six years ago, coming up with SeaQuench Ale that’s high in sea salts and black limes and lime juice and stuff like that. And then Slightly Mighty is the original low-cal IPA and certainly, I think, in that active lifestyle space as well. And now Hazy-O! is leaning into oat milk, which is certainly in that active lifestyle space as well. So I think Dogfish, having always had this culinary raison d’être or touchstone in our creative process, it’s evolved into a focus on active-lifestyle orientation around culinary ingredients that are associated with active lifestyles. But still, we still are every step away, very respectful of the federal government’s expectations, that it’s not about health claims, it’s about celebrating the natural culinary ingredients in our beers.
T: And are there any of your beers that you can point to that maybe have surprised you that the profile would be so widely accepted? I guess I’m asking because I find this SeaQuench Ale to be delicious. I love sour beers. And I always wondered to what extent do maybe just casual beer drinkers around the country really enjoy sours, or maybe feel challenged by them? And would you say that’s something that surprised you or any other beers that have really taken off that maybe you didn’t feel like they would in the beginning?
S: The sour style, Tim, is an awesome one for us to have this conversation on the point that you’re bringing up around, because Dogfish began doing sour beers almost 20 years ago with Festina Lente, which then became Festina Peche. And when we first sent it out to our distributors, I think 25 percent of it got sent back to us where the distributors and retailers were like, “Hey a**hole, your beer went sour.” And we were like, “No, no, no, no, no. We wanted it to be sour.” And that was like 12 or 13 years ago. And flash-forward to today and think how many breweries just in the greater New York area are making fruited sours or session sours, and you can see how far this style has come. And I know you guys often cover the intersection between the world of beverages and the world of food. And I think one of sour’s selling points is that essentially they’re generally, whether it’s a gose base, a Berliner base, or a true wild ale like a lambic base, they all share that they’re relatively low in “IBUs,” which is how us brewers calibrate bitterness from hops. And, for example, SeaQuench Ale is roughly the same hop load as Miller Lite. And it’s not a hoppy beer. I think the average consumer, when you think today almost 50 percent of craft beer that is sold is something in the IPA category, and yet as ubiquitous as craft beer seems, less than 15 percent of beer drinkers are drinking craft beer. So when people are getting turned on to craft, if 50 percent of them are some version of an IPA, that is the entry lane, often into craft, whereas a beer like a session sour like SeaQuench, has such a low hopping regiment that it can not only appeal to a beer geek, and that’s a term of endearment, someone who already knows and loves our beers like me. But it can appeal to a “mineral Pinot Gris” drinker. It can appeal to a Margarita drinker, because the big flavors are coming from the lime and the salt. So, yeah, I think sours are a great place to take craft beer out of the stereotypical hophead niche and bring it to a broader audience of cocktail lovers and white wine lovers, especially.
C: Yeah, I can totally agree with that, having worked in a beer shop as well and serving beer to people that would come in just sort of confused and overwhelmed. And a lot of people do have an entry point as a sour beer because they are a wine drinker. And there are some similar flavor profiles there. And it is interesting that I wouldn’t think of Dogfish Head as a sour beer brewery. There’s just so many other things that you do that I would be reaching for, whether it’s IPAs or otherwise.
S: And I guess it shows, Cat to build on your point, it’s awesome to see that there are tens of thousands of breweries making sours today, and actually on a percentage growth basis, year-to-date, sours are growing faster than IPAs — granted on a much smaller base. So the percentage looks big on a small base, but there’s no American craft brewer, great ones like Sierra Nevada or New Belgium or whatever, there’s no IPA central craft brewer that has more than like 10 or 15 percent market share of IPAs. But Dogfish has over, I think, 51 percent share of the sour beer market in SeaQuench, which shows that it is a relatively small segment. We’re obviously very proud to be the market leader, but it also is really encouraging to see how many consumers and brewers are interested in getting this fast-growing, but still small segment.
A: I would never have known that. That’s insane.
C: That’s crazy, because it’s not like another sour beer or another gose. I mean, there’s something about it that is clearly hitting the mark in multiple ways that could make it so outstanding in these stats that we have. I think it is really the salty sour, the Margarita, the Pinot Grigio. There’s something about the beer that seems very intentional. And I’m curious what the R&D looked like for this and how you decided on a session sour to be this very particular and fairly complicated recipe.
S: Yeah, I mean, you guys have the packaging in front of you and our rallying cry has always been “off-center ales for off-center people.” And like I said, we try not to copy. We try to innovate. But when you’re doing these beers that you want to be really sessionable and approachable but appeal to a broad amount of people — but they have the complexity and nuances and wider range of ingredients than most beers that are out there — we feel that the packaging and the naming of the beers has to do a lot of heavy lifting to tell the story about what not not only differentiates them, but why someone should take a risk and try it. So in the case of SeaQuench Ale, that name does a lot of heavy lifting. Right. The first word is “Sea” because it’s made with sea salt, so it’s phonetically speaking to the fact that it’s actually three styles of beer brewed, boiled separately, and then blended in “sequence.” And so basically we brew a Kölsch first, and we grow yeast in the Kölsch because that’s a very yeast-friendly, low-acid environment that the yeast loves to grow in. And then once the yeast is really healthy in just the Kölsch on top of the Kölsch, we bring in a thread of gose made with sea salt harvested off the coast of Maine and from the mouth of the Chesapeake. And then on top of that third thread, we bring in a thread of Berliner Weisse made with black limes, which are culinary limes from the Middle East, and lime juice as well. So it’s three beers brewed in sequence that have sea salt, black limes, and lime juice in it. And the softness that you get compared to other more acidic sours comes from the fact that we start with that nice, clean, non-acidic Kölsch base in the brewing process.
C: Interesting, because it is so soft and very easy to drink. Some of us even at VinePair have some trouble drinking a lot of sour beers.
S: Take your Tum before you go.
C: I always have them in reach just in case. But I don’t need it with this. It’s good. So I guess that English major of yours finally came in handy then, Sam. Figuring out a name like that.
S: Yeah, I guess there’ll be other brewers tuning into this, and I know they can commiserate with how hard it is now to find an ownable name when there’s 8,000 breweries. We all play that same buzzed roulette at night. When we think we have an awesome idea and we enter that name into the Google machine with the word beer after it and we hit send and then we cross our fingers and we’re like, f***, there’s a little brewery in Spokane that already thought of that. OK.
C: Yeah, we hear about that a lot, actually, you’re searching on Google, you’re looking at Untappd, usually if there’s an issue it resolves in a friendly phone call. But sometimes, there’s a little more drama.
A: So, Sam, I have to call you out a little bit on something. That is: You were an early, early supporter of VinePair. I remember you coming to the offices when we were still in a We Work and it was just Josh and I. But I remember it was at the time when session IPAs were all the rage, and I asked you if Dogfish was ever going to do one and you told me “60 Minute is a session IPA.” You were joking, but now you do have one with Slightly Mighty. Obviously, you’re calling it more “low-cal.” So when did that process change from seven years ago meeting with us and sort of realizing or thinking about doing this. It’s definitely different than the session IPAs at that moment, for sure. I can admit that.
S: No, you’re totally right. And I remember that, because our rallying cry back then with “60 Minute is the session IPA for non-wussies” is what we used to say because it’s 6 percent alcohol, but it drinks very approachable. But you’re right. We have always been a brewery that’s brewed beer with a broad spectrum of ABVs. We did the first Imperial IPA, I think, that was distributed in America with 90 Minute in terms of the first to have the word “Imperial” on a label. And we were certainly known for a number of the stronger beers that we’ve done. But right from the beginning, we were doing Chicory Stout at 5 percent, Shelter Pale Ale. But when the session IPA started coming out, we’re like, “Oh, that’s cool.” And watching some breweries around the country have success with that, we were happy for them. And we’re like, all right, that’s cool, but we can’t really find a white space in there. There’s some breweries doing some nice things and we’re not going to step on their coattails. But then about six or seven years ago, we were listening to people say, “Oh, I used to craft beer, but I went back to Michelob Ultra.” We gave ourselves an internal challenge. And I do think ABI is the world’s biggest competitor against craft, but my hat’s off to them for what they’ve done with Michelob Ultra. They’ve grown a great, sustainable brand built on that sort of active lifestyle platform. And so we challenged ourselves and we said, “Let’s brew a beer that has the exact same calorie count as Michelob Ultra, but let’s try to figure out a way to make it taste like a full-flavored IPA.” And to Adam, to your point, session IPAs may be perceived as similar to low-cal, but it’s actually really a fairly different proposition. For example, hats off to Founders. I think they have the best-selling session IPA that says that style, call it on the label with All Day IPA, but I think they’re at about 142 calories per 12 ounce, whereas our Slightly Mighty is exactly the same calories as Mich Ultra, 95. So where do we find the white space there? Well, whether it’s Slightly Mighty or Coors Light or Bud Light, the practice, the technical approach to making a beer that’s super low in calories, that has the best ratio of lowest calories to higher alcohol, it comes from using natural enzymes that break down complex sugars, so yeast can eat every bit of available sugar. And that’s really effective for making a beer low-cal. But usually when the sugar is all taken out by the yeast, that’s what makes the beer have a very low body. When you hear people maligning light lagers, they say “Oh, that’s water. It doesn’t have any body. That’s water.” So our breakthrough is we use that exact same natural enzyme process as those big brews I mentioned. But then we add back in a Chinese extract of monk fruit, which is over 100 times as sweet as table sugar per ounce, but has no calories. So in essence, it becomes a skeleton inside of Slightly Mighty, which gives it a body onto which we can pack a real hop musculature. So when you drink it, it tastes like a full-flavored IPA, but it has 95 calories.
C: And then with that skeleton and muscular body, you can achieve that by drinking Slightly Mighty instead of regular IPAs.
A: We are not making health claims here. I will say that again, the name works really hard, right? It’s a beer that’s light in calories and mighty in hop character.
C: Yeah, that’s great. And the monk fruit wasn’t that in another session beer, or low-alc or low-cal, the Super 8?
S: We didn’t use monk fruit. We had eight super fruits in there, and some sort of grains in there. But I will say again, ours was the first beer with a label that called it a low-cal IPA style released in America. And I know there’s obviously dozens and dozens have come out since Slightly Mighty, so again, that tells us we found the white space that we wanted to. And having other folks enter that category that we started only gives that category more validity and gives the consumer more choices, which is a beautiful thing.
K: I was wondering, because you had mentioned earlier, obviously the popularity of spiked seltzer or hard seltzers right now is major. And I was wondering if this was your way into that market with a similar calorie count of some of the top- selling hard seltzers. Actually 95 calories, whereas I think White Claw and Truly are about 100. Right? So do you think you’re dipping into that market with this?
S: I think you’re right, Katie, that I think for better or worse, that 100-ish threshold and staying at or below 100 is an area that consumers are now interested in — or I should say, a big fraction of consumers are interested in that on their drinking journey. So I do think Slightly Mighty is intentionally calling out the low-cal literally in the style of the low-cal. And I do think like we talked about with Hazy-O! and SeaQuench, they’re all part of that “active lifestyle,” “better for you” space, albeit they each have their own lane that they’re in. Hazy-O! at 7 ABV is nowhere near 95 calories like Slightly Mighty. But that’s an oat milk point of differentiation. Whereas with SeaQuench — also somewhere around 130 to 140 calories — but that’s a sea salt, black lime, lime juice point of differentiation. So they each are unique. But you’re right, I think that they’re all in that “active lifestyle,” “better for you” space that in some ways, mostly because of calorie count, not because of culinary ingredients. The seltzers are in as well. What do you guys, think? I’ve got this brain trust of beverage experts. Do you guys think seltzer is on a trajectory that it’ll be the biggest thing in beer for years to come? Do you think it’ll slow down? I’m sure this isn’t the first time you guys have talked about this.
C: Yes, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we see hard seltzer sticking around for quite a while and just becoming more and more like beer in terms of its creativity and trends. I’ll let Tim speak to that, because he actually wrote a really great feature on this recently. So Tim, take it away.
S: Please do, Tim.
T: Sure, thank you for your kind words, Cat. I’m definitely of the opinion that hard seltzer is here to stay, or at least for a long time, and not sure quite how long that will be, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere fast any time soon. And one thing looking at seltzer, a lot of pieces that I’ve worked on, one thing that struck me, and this wasn’t an idea that I came up with so I don’t want to take credit for this. But I was speaking with a hard seltzer producer at the beginning of this year, and their opinion was that the hard seltzer category is probably going to evolve in the same way that beer has, but maybe at an accelerated pace. So you have like these three, maybe four market leaders that are probably always going to have the majority of the share, Truly being one of them. And then the rest of the space, you probably have this market that looks in a way like craft beer does now, and that craft beer or craft hard seltzer, I should say, even just this year, we’ve really seen it evolve. So I’ve been lucky enough to try some very weird innovations and like a barrel-aged hard seltzer. And I see people doing like higher-ABV ones. Some producers are doing “imperial hard seltzer.” And so it’s really interesting to see the category evolve like that. And then I guess on the other end of the spectrum as well, looking at some brands this year brought out seasonal releases. So whether that’s peppermint patty, or I tried my first pumpkin spice hard seltzer. So I guess for this category to really, I mean, you could maybe say it’s five or six years old, but really we’re talking one or two years since the famous summer of a certain brand. So, like, I think it’s just incredible to watch that evolution play out sort of parallel to what we’ve seen with beer. But at this really increased speed. And I’m not sure if that’s something you’ve seen as well, Sam, or if anyone else wants to add to that or challenge me on that.
A: Yeah, I think that Tim is completely right, that that’s where we’re going. I also think, you’re going to start seeing — Tim, you and I talked about this — that you’re going to see basically the seltzers that continue to win are the ones that come out as their own individual brands. I feel like some of the ABIs that are literally just Bud Light Seltzer and stuff, I think are actually diluting their overall brand equity. And the only reason they’re doing that is either because they just think that it’s going to replace Bud Light in the future, which I guess it could, or they aren’t creative enough to come up with another brand because the brands that are winning are like the White Claws and the Trulys of the world that are their own things or their own things to their consumer. So I don’t know. But I do think it is here to stay for a very specific-use case and for what people want. But we’ll see.
T: I think it’s interesting, as well, to see in the craft world where craft beer or craft brewers are getting into this, many are also using a different name for their hard seltzers. But I feel like that might be a different reason rather than branding. Maybe it’s more of a street cred kind of thing. I’m not sure, but I definitely see that play out. Whereas you don’t see the same Bud Light Seltzer shamelessness.
C: The question on everyone’s minds now: Will Dogfish Head do a seltzer?
S: Yeah. Yeah. So, I agree that seltzers are going to continue to fragment. We are actually because we have the Truly base at our disposal. So we’re playing around in our own properties, and we have what we think is a pretty well-differentiated seltzer concept. But to your point, Adam, I don’t know that we’ll ever see national distribution. Time will tell. People are digging it now, but we’ll see if we’re going to distribute it broadly someday.
K: So before we wrap up, Sam, I was just wondering, of the four beers that we’ve been talking about today, which of them are your current go-to? Which of them are you reaching for after this is over and you’re just relaxing?
S: So, I mean that’s like asking me to choose a child.
T: Everyone has a favorite.
A: Yeah, come on.
S: Sometimes, I want to hang out with one more than the other, but I love them both. So I would say, literally in my 25- year history as a brewer at DogFish, I’ve never drunk a beer in volume in a short time the way I drink SeaQuench. It’s like my life blood is SeaQuench Ale. And I’d say right now I’m drinking the heck out of Hazy-O! because we’re just starting to launch that one, and we’re doing the small batches in Rehoboth. So I’m really interested in each batch and trying each new one that comes out as we get ready to launch that nationally. So right now, SeaQuench No. 1, and Hazy-O! No. 2.
T: Can I just say as well — just one last comment from myself — 60 Minute IPA might not be the only thing ever that’s been inspired by soup, but I’m guessing it’s probably the best thing that’s been inspired by soup in history.
S: Well said.
A: Tim, you’ve been sitting on that comment.
T: I’ve been sitting on that for 46 minutes.
S: At least since the paintings of Andy Warhol, right?
C: So SeaQuench is basically Warhol.
A: No, 60 Minute is. Come on, Cat, how many of these beers have you had now?
C: Gotta keep it together. So Sam, thank you so much for joining us for our first “EOD Drinks” episode. This was a lot of fun. And let us know on the way out where people can get your beers. Where can they buy the book, and when is Hazy-O! launching?
S: Oh, yeah. So again, guys, this means a lot to me, I got to be with two pairs of VinePairs, all four of you. This has been super fun for me, a long-time fan, first-time caller, all of that stuff, and all the goodies about Dogfish can be found at Dogfish.com, including our book, which is coming out Dec. 22. And then, yeah, Hazy-O! starts shipping coast to coast right after the new year. It will be coast to coast everywhere that we sell our beer by Feb. 1. But it starts shipping in early January. But if anyone can safely get to us in Delaware, Covid regulations do apply, but Hazy-O! is alive and well and already selling from our locations in Delaware.
C: Awesome. Sounds great. I hope to make it up there myself someday. I know that Adam does, too.
A: Yeah, I do.
C: I have been to a couple of times, but it’s been a few years, for sure.
A: I’ve never been. I want to go really badly.
S: Road trip! Road trip! When we get this Covid thing figured out, come on down and see us.
C: For real. I have to get a car first.
A: Yeah seriously, thanks Sam. This has been awesome.
S: This has been fun, guys. Congrats on everything so far.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of EOD Drinks. If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts, it really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends.
We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program. And now for the credits and “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters and it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair’s tastings director, yes he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director, who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for End of Day Drinks was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cicci. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
Published: January 15, 2021