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Being right and wrong about the New Yorker

I give Jeff Allworth credit for bucking the crowd and suggesting the New Yorker feature on Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head Brewery wasn’t perfect in every way.

It wasn’t.

But his post titled “Wrong” is just as wrong when he writes “I see that he [Burkhard Bilger] has done a great injustice to the world of craft brewing” and that “Calagione’s model for brewing seems to be: pull something out of your ass, think it through incompletely, run with it, and sneer ‘neener neener’ at the naysayers along the way.”

In the second case he totally overlooks innovative and terrifically drinkable beers. Later he implies that Dogfish Head’s brewing style is less than disciplined — despite the fact the story documents Dogfish Head’s growing level of sophistication when it comes to quality control.

That’s not my real point, since Sam hardly needs my help defending himself. Instead . . . My initial reaction to the story was “How can you write about ‘extreme beer’ and not mention a brewery whose clock is not set to Eastern Standard Time?” Then I refocused and viewed it as a feature on one brewery (and its founder). It gets a lot better.

Jeff’s post makes me realize others viewed the story as I did on first reading. So he’s right. Even if he’s wrong.

Further reading: The Beer Advocate discussion includes input from the author, Sam and plenty of Garrett Oliver (in case you missed it).


14 Responses to Being right and wrong about the New Yorker

  1. Jeff Alworth November 30, 2008 at 3:16 pm #

    Stan, I’ve responded at greater length at my blog, but I’ll include the final paragraph here:

    The point is, there are a lot of breweries in this country doing exceptional brewing, and many that have been doing it for decades. Innovation may mark Dogfish Head’s approach, but Dogfish Head isn’t, in my view, the brewery that embodies the spirit of innovation in American brewing. And I don’t think Burkhard Bilger realizes that.

    Also, to clarify, I never said Dogfish had quality control issues.

  2. Mike Mullins November 30, 2008 at 4:09 pm #

    I think it’s possible that Jeff’s disdain for the article-and for Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head, in general-springs more from the fact that the brewer and brewery are on the East Coast (or from anywhere other than the West Coast)…

    Of course, I could be wrong but how else do you explain the idea that Jeff has yet to find a beer that Dogfish Head makes that he genuinely likes or admires? Please! There are a number of great beers made in that brewery.

    Maybe Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione are simply one of the breweries that embody the spirit of innovation in craft brewing? I can live with that…

  3. Chris November 30, 2008 at 4:43 pm #

    My problem with the article is that the discussion of “extreme beer” is so 2007. I thought we had moved beyond that once we realized the Belgians have been doing extreme for centuries. I guess it is partly my fault because I think I was one of those people who suggested Sam to the author as a possible subject for his article.

    I am not sure that you can talk about Sam and not mention the ‘e’ word but many other brewers are just as creative. We live in a great age of brewing and more than just Sam and Dogfish needs to be nationally/mainstream press recognized for what they do.

  4. Stan Hieronymus November 30, 2008 at 11:46 pm #

    Jeff – I should never start a discussion when I’m not sure I’ll be around to comment on comments. And after this one I may not be. Off to watch Berliner Weisse be brewed today, Gose tomorrow.

    I apologize if I didn’t correctly characterize what you wrote when I quoted this: “One wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that his lack of discipline also characterizes the industry.”

    I should have stuck with the word discipline. To me that embraces all parts of brewing, from making sure is beer is something people want to drink before releasing it (Dogfish Head does) to ensuring its integrity in the bottle (again, Dogfish Head does).

    I agree that no single brewery can properly represent the innovation taking place in American brewing. And I’m not really in favor of using the word extreme to do it. But Dogfish Head is as deserving of being featured as any other.

    This might be a conversation you should have had with Rob and Jason ;>)

    Anyway, I linked to your article first of all because I wanted people to read it.

  5. Stephen Beaumont December 1, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    Having read Jeff’s original post and his follow-up reply to your post, Stan, I have to say it looks to me like this is just a retread of the tired old west vs. east battle. At the heart of what Jeff appears to be saying is a strong undercurrent of “we did it first out west, so why is the east getting all the credit?”

    As the BA discussion makes clear, the story’s author spoke to many individuals on both coast and in the middle, before deciding on Sam as his focus. It could have been Tomme Arthur or Adam Avery, but it wasn’t, presumably because the best story was found in Delaware, and knowing all of these guys as I do, I reckon I’d probably have made the same choice. It’s not about credit; it’s about the narrative.

  6. Stan Hieronymus December 1, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    It’s about the narrative.

    Exactly. Although, if the New Yorker is paying expenses, I’m prepared to try it find a story just a good in every US timezone.

    Right now, though, I’m looking forward to Gose in Leipzig.

  7. Jeff Alworth December 1, 2008 at 11:11 am #

    Stephen, you misread me. The reason I specifically didn’t couch the language in East versus West is because that tired old debate isn’t one I wanted to have. It’s why I specifically reference Allagash as a counterpoint.

    I don’t mind a disagreement, but it should be about my actual position. I never mentioned east v west.

  8. Jeff Alworth December 1, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    (Though it is true that my audience is largely a local, Oregon one, so in the first post I used it by way of comparison. I might have used New England, the Midwest, or California–all of which had early, vibrant craft markets and innovative breweries.)

  9. Stephen Beaumont December 1, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    I never mentioned east v west.

    Very true, Jeff, which is why I noted that the coastal dichotomy was an “undercurrent” rather than declaring that you say it straight out. It’s how I interpreted your responses, simply enough.

    As a Canuck, I have no interest vested with either coast, or the vast swaths of land in the middle, so when I say that, for me, Dogfish certainly does qualify as one of the most innovative breweries south of the border, it’s because that’s what I honestly believe. In fact, every time I get ready to write off Sam as a brewing novelty act, he comes out with something new and extraordinary, Palo Santo Marron being the latest such beer.

    Back to your comment: “…Dogfish Head isn’t, in my view, the brewery that embodies the spirit of innovation in American brewing.” So what brewery to your mind would embody such a spirit?

  10. Jeff Alworth December 1, 2008 at 4:14 pm #

    If I had written the article (fat chance!), I would have gone with someone like Craig Nicholls of Roots Brewing or Alan Sprints of Hair of the Dog or Gary Fish at Deschutes as a local choice, or perhaps Vinnie at Russian River (he’s the most rockin’ sockin’est brewer of the moment) or I might have gone with the folks at Brasserie Dieu du Ciel or Unibrou in your fair country. Or again, Allagash, where Rob Tod has gone so far as to build a koelschip to experiment with spontaneous fermentation? That’s just off the top of my head–there are others I would choose before Dogfish.

    FWIW, I don’t think it makes much sense to distinguish between Canadian and US breweries–if America can be called a region (perhps unwise)–then North America makes just as much sense.

  11. Stephen Beaumont December 2, 2008 at 8:26 am #

    I would counter that no single one of those breweries is any more innovative than Dogfish, Jeff, and some less. (Rob building a koelschip vs. Sam building the Palo Santo Marron tank is a wash, I think.) But that’s just my opinion against yours and furthers this discussion not at all.

    On the Canadian vs. American front, however, I do believe there is a cultural difference in attitude, with Canadian brewers being roundly more conservative in nature than their peers south of the border. The exception that proves this rule is the Quebecois, who are firmly rooted in Belgian brewing tradition — Achouffe once sold a full one-third of its production in Quebec! — and so are far more experimental than the rest of us.

  12. Jeff Alworth December 2, 2008 at 10:31 am #

    Stephen, I think you’re right about the Dogfish discussion being played out, but I’m interested in this Canadian v. US idea. I’m more ignorant about Canadian breweries than I am about Mid-Atlantic breweries, with one exception–BC. The breweries there are very much an extension of the US west coast (tiltling, unsuprisingly toward the NW sub-style). There’s plenty of innovation happening there, along with an emerging, robust beer culture.

    I actually think it’s unwise to talk about “American” brewing. Craft beer, more than almost any product I know, is local. There are a few key regions in the US that are distinct from one another–the West Coast (NW is yet distinct from California, though in degree only), the Upper Midwest, New Enlgand, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Rocky Mountain states. I wonder if what distinguishes Quebec from Ontario and BC has less to do with international than regional lines. Thoughts?

  13. Stephen Beaumont December 2, 2008 at 1:34 pm #

    Thoughts I have, Jeff, but perhaps the comments column of Stan’s blog is not the best place for us to further this discussion. How about you open a thread on your blog and we’ll take it from there? Or email me.

  14. Kevin Mudrick December 5, 2008 at 6:06 am #

    “I specifically didn’t couch the language in East versus West is because that tired old debate isn’t one I wanted to have. ”

    Yet you immediately, in your blog entry on this, mention how DFH started a full decade after your west coast innovators?

    “Well, as everyone in Oregon knows, the “extreme-beer experiment” was already well, well underway. Dogfish Head came to the party 20 years after it started.”

    “Calagione founded his in 1995, more than a decade after craft beer had heated up on the West Coast”


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