Delaware business: Dogfish reins in distribution
Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
It's a simple beverage that requires just four ingredients -- water, yeast, hops and barley. But what a fuss beer can cause.
Delaware's nationally recognized Dogfish Head Craft Brewery saw that paradox proved in recent months as its enthusiastic fan base -- whipped up by a coast-to-coast TV show featuring founder Sam Calagione and burst of expansion into 23 states in the last nine years -- began scarfing up bottles at a prodigious rate.
The rush left shelves in shops across the country meagerly stocked and prompted a scramble by stores to secure supplies.
After early efforts to ease the shortages fell short, Calagione made a decision that is unprecedented for the ever-growing Milton brewery and the 16-year-old brand -- the steady march across the country had to stop, about face, and pull back. On Friday, markets at the farther reaches of its network -- Tennessee, Indiana, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, which had all been enjoying their Dogfish since 2003-04 -- were told that their pipeline would soon be cut off.
While the news seems sure to inspire grumbling among die-hard craft-beer fans in those states, it's reason to raise a toast or two in Delaware, which should see a sudsy resurgence of Dogfish Head's Black & Blue Belgian wit, its Shelter Pale Ale, and its other "off-centered beers for off-centered people."
While the whole situation has surely been an ordeal for Calagione and his staff, it's also a rousing affirmation of his success and his rising celebrity around the country. What you won't ever see, Calagione says, is Dogfish ramping up production too far, too fast, and possibly endangering quality.
"It would certainly be easier if Dogfish would decide to become the 60 Minute brewing company," Calagione said of the India Pale Ale that stands as a Dogfish standard. Frustrated fans and short-supplied stores are regrettable; half-hearted efforts and substandard brews are anathema to him.
"We commiserate with them and we feel their pain, but we don't want to make one thing and be one thing, because in the end that would erode the excitement over our brand," he said of the retailers and customers.
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