There have long been murmurs about Dogfish Head’s distillery program—the small, almost fabled program that has been operating out of its Rehoboth brewpub for the past 13 years. Peculiar flavors like peanut butter vodka, chocolate vodka, and other curious creations fitting for a brand that notoriously branches out with its brews, like the Midas Touch, which falls somewhere between a chardonnay and mead, showcasing profiles of honey, barley malt, muscat grapes, and saffron.
Sam Calagione, Dogfish’s founder and president, is no stranger to the conversation. During his travels, Calagione mentions that discussions about the well-known craft beer, which is available in 31 states, has nine year-round selections, including the iconic 90-minute and 60-minute IPAs, and handfuls of seasonal and limited-time labels, often circle back to spirits. Mainly, when will an expansion similar to the growth of its beer program take place?
In mid-November that movement will start taking place, first in Dogfish’s home state of Delaware and then branching out in due time. True to form, there’s also something a tad different about the initial offerings head distiller Graham Hamblett has concocted.
“We want everybody to understand [when they taste the spirits] that we’re Dogfish Head, and that we have a reputation to uphold,” Hamblett says. People expect some zany stuff from us. We want to make sure, though, that even though it’s zany, it’s a very approachable spirit.”
The first three spirits to hit the market will be its Analog Vodka [80 proof], Compelling Gin [88 proof], and Whole Leaf Gin [90 proof].
One of the ways Hamblett made sure the products stayed true to their label was to keep marry their flavors, in some ways, to the products that made them successful in the first place. Explanation: expect to see plenty of hop-forward profiles on display. “Yeast is one of those things that distilleries don’t necessary focus on. It’s just kind of a distillery yeast that is fast and efficient. We want to take a different approach and make a vodka that could actually showcase some of the heart and soul of the beers as well.”
The Analog Vodka is made with 100 percent brewers malt and the brand’s proprietary “Doggie” yeast. Hamblett calls the vodka a “sipping vodka for whiskey drinkers,” with grainy notes and a “little bit more character.”
The Compelling Gin is distilled from the peel and flesh of Dogfish’s favorite citrus, and a longer list of brewpub ingredients, resulting in a citrusy, bright, crisp juniper gin with a lingering cinnamon note.
The Whole Leaf Gin dipped not only into the beer flavor for inspiration, but the process as well. Similar to the IPAs, its continually dosed with whole leaf hops into each step, from the maceration of hops, to adding hops to the still, to one final dose into the gin basket.
Hamblett says, now that the equipment is in place, this should just be the beginning. Two 500-gallon copper stripping stills and a 250-gallon copper vodka column, sourced from four-generation custom fabricator Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville, Kentucky.
As far as getting the word out, Hamblett says they’ve invited regional bar managers, sales representatives, spirits stores, and anyone else who might be interested, to find out more, and learn how to present the spirits beside the craft brews. He expects the interest to carry the products throughout the same states that offer the beer, and for additional spirits, such as whiskey, rum, and other offerings to follow suit. “We have some things up our sleeves,” Hamblett adds with a laugh. “We’re excited about what’s coming next.”