Dogfish Inn, the Beer Nerd's Nirvana
It's Saturday evening, and the faithful are gathered in front of a beefy guy in a Mr. Incredible T-shirt with a growler in hand. "We've got Fall on Me here, so please try it," he says, raising the offering skyward. If you know suds — specifically, the quirky concoctions of Dogfish Head, headquartered just a few miles away — this is a big deal. The saison, sweetened with Red Delicious apples from a local orchard, isn't yet available to the public, and the groups' eyes widen, all wondering the same question: Dude, how'd you get the hookup?
"I know a guy," says Mr. Incredible, nodding to his brother, Dogfish distribution manager Justin Brunda.
We're at a weekly fireside chat at Dogfish Inn, the beach-town motel in Lewes, Delaware, that's become a sort of nirvana for discerning beer geeks. The 16-room inn, with its surfer-chic design, opened in 2014 as the brainchild of Mariah Calagione, the wife of Dogfish founder Sam Calagione, an English major who fell in love with craft beer in the early '90s, ditched his Norton anthology for a fermentation tank, and never looked back. The motel, the brewery, and the company's two restaurants on the main drag in nearby Rehoboth Beach create a sort of Bermuda Triangle of beer that you'd gladly get lost in forever. Guests often need to book two to six months in advance for the chance to sit around the fire and share the rare beers they've brought. Sam Calagione, now a cult figure in the craft world, lives just a few blocks away and usually leads the weekly talks — loose conversations about beer and heady musings on life's great mysteries. Today guests bond with innkeeper Andrew Greeley and a band of affable Dogfish insiders: a new product R&D honcho, a microbiologist, and the architect of their new distillery program.
Around the fire pit, a different Sam — this one a middle-school math teacher from southern New Jersey — is here with his bride on a mini-honeymoon. "This place feels like a reverse intervention," he says. "Like I need to have a beer in my hand at all times." Mr. Incredible plays cornhole with his kids, while three middle-aged pals finish off their 60 Minute IPAs before walking to dinner with their families. Chase McLean, one of the inn's employees, tries to explain what makes the Dogfish enterprise so addictive for its devotees, who come from as far away as Chile and Australia. "A lot of people make good beer," he says. "But there's so much more to the Dogfish experience."
Let's not underestimate the beer, though. Someone notices my empty bottle. "Need another cold one, man?" Absolutely.