Brewery Tour: Dogfish Head

9 06 2010

Last month I traveled to Delaware with Christine and some friends. It was a repeat of the trip we made last year that we mentioned in the review of the 120 Minute IPA last year. Unlike last year, however, we did not get lost on the way to the brewery. So we go there before the first tour of the day. Plus, we had a secret weapon. One of the employees at Dogfish Head had come to my restaurant a few weeks before and offered us a private tour.

We couldn’t pass that up. So we got to Delaware as quickly as we could. This is our tour of the Dogfish Head Brewery. In it, you will see some things that are not on the normal tour.

It begins out front. Dogfish Head had recently increased their brewery size including brand new four story tall fermentation tanks.

We walked up the front past the mailbox and to the front door.

Tours begin in the gift shop. Since we were early and had the hookups, our tour guide Josh started us at the end and started pouring us drinks.

My favorite tap handle is over on the far right side. It is kind of Steam Punk inspired to play off of one of Dogfish Head’s themes: Analog Beers in a Digital Age.

Here is a picture of me enjoying a delicious beer from the draft. I do believe it might have been the Wrath of Pecant–a pale ale made with carob, plantains and grains roasted over pecan wood. It was quite tasty.

Here is a picture of our friend Kate. Kate does not really like beer that much. But she enjoyed the Midas Touch.

After we had our samples of beer, Josh took us in the back. We had to wear these quite fashionable safety glasses.

Josh then started showing us around. First we went to the Mashtun. This is where the grains are mixed with water to make a sweet liquid called “liquor”. Here, Josh is telling us about how the spent grains are given to a local cattle rancher who then sells the Dogfish Head grain-fed beef to the brew pub for their burgers.

People who have been to Belgium may recognize this guy. Apparently he actually does work. And that is how they take testing samples of the liquor before sending it to the kettle.

Next, we saw the kettles. Next to the kettle is quite possibly one of the most important tools the Dogfish Head Brewery has. It is called Sofa King Hoppy (Say that three times fast). The Sofa King Hoppy gets filled with hops pellets and over the course of 60, 90 or 120 minutes it continuously sends hops into the beer. Resulting in an extremely smooth, complex and mellow IPA.

Next, we saw the special fermentation tanks. These tanks shown below are made with Palo Santo wood from South America. Palo Santo is the densest wood in the world. It sinks in water and it smells amazing. The brewery uses this tank to condition their Palo Santo brown ale as well as some other specialty ales. Next to the Palo Santo tanks are two American Oak tanks of the same size. Needless to say, this room smelled amazing! It is hard to understand the scale of these tanks. They hold 10,000 gallons and are the largest wooden fermentation tanks built in America after prohibition.

In the same room is the firkin filling station. Nicknamed “Johnny Cask”, this is where all the cask conditioned ales are prepared. Below is a stack of empty firkins.

Josh showed us some other things including the original keg filling machine that Sam Calagione had bought from PBR back in the early days of the brewery. Apparently, the keg fillers had to wear giant trashbags and swim goggles and the machine did not fill kegs as much as shoot beer all over the place. Then Josh took us to the main system that controlled the fermentation tanks outsides. This maze of pipes took the unfermented wort from the kettles into the fermentation tanks.

Also in this room was the dry hopping machine. Called “OOOH…Miso Hoppy” this machine shoots pressurized hop pellets into the fermentation tanks.

Next we saw the bottling line. Before this line started up, the Dogfish Head bottling line was one of the largest employers in the city. But when the new, more efficient bottling line was put in, it only required two people to run. Instead of firing every one, they stayed on as “quality control.” It was not functioning when we came. But it looked pretty cool. Like a bottle roller coaster.

Around here is also the kegging line–a far cry from the original kegging line. This one actually puts beer in the kegs with very little waste. Also, we got to see “Sam’s Secret Stash,” a room filled with aging beer that Sam Calagione gives away to friends, colleagues and at pairing dinners.

Those fermentation tanks outside are not the only ones Dogfish Head has. There is a labyrinth of tanks of various shapes and sizes that they use for smaller batch beers. And for when the big tanks just don’t cut it.

Finally, we got to see the “Dogfish Head Museum” we got to see the original Sir Hops-A-Lot, the bucket that Sam used to make the first 60 Minute IPA and the source of inspiration for Sofa King Hoppy. We also got to the original brewing system Sam used as a home brewer.

And if you were at all curious about those Dogfish Head grain-fed cows. I can tell you from experience, they are amazing! This one I got with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings made with 60 Minute IPA.

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