Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione has been brewing better-for-you (BFY) beers from the very beginning. Others have caught on, but they can’t replicate his “off-centered” intuition for knowing where the puck is going.
CAN YOU SAY “NUTRIENT-RICH” INGREDIENTS?
When the American craft beer movement began, flavor was the focus. Disappointed by a lack of choice, the earliest homebrewers began making barleywines and IPAs in their kitchens, garages and eventually, for a fervent few, in their own breweries. At the same time, drinkers were clamoring for full-bodied beers, beers to pair with dinner menus, beers that aged like fine wine.
But now, a new generation of consumers is entering the market, and they have their own ideas. Millennials are health-focused, and they want their choice in beer to reflect that. The highest ABV or cork-and- cage packaging doesn’t matter to them; if craft beer doesn’t fit their healthy, active lifestyles, they’ll seek out something that does.
Active lifestyle beers – at least the ones that are heavily advertised – might be “lite” in carbs and alcohol, but great taste was thrown out with the calories.
If the idea of sacrificing taste for calories terrifies you, don’t worry. Craft beer pioneer, Sam Calagione, saw this change coming and he’s taken on the challenge with his typical cheerful vigor. You could say that Calagione is the Wayne Gretzky of beer. The hall- of-fame hockey star was famous for instinctively skating to where the puck was going before anyone else on the ice.
Calagione did it not just once, but several times with the release of beers like SeaQuench and Slightly Mighty, among others. And he did it by staying true to his pursuit of culinary ingredients and quest for new flavors.
But what actually makes a beer ‘active lifestyle’, or better-for-you?
“It’s a very nuanced proposition,” Calagione says, “because the federal government won’t let you make health claims about beer. So, we have to respectfully walk that line as we innovate beers that have wellness-centric attributes.”
Those wellness-centric attributes might mean low- calorie, low-carb, lower alcohol or even no alcohol at all. But here is where Calagione’s 25 years of off- centered experimentation really shines: functional ingredients.
Brewing with culinary ingredients is in Dogfish Head’s DNA. When the brewery opened in 1995, Calagione was already looking at the health benefits of different foods. One of Dogfish Head’s earliest brews, Chicory Stout, contains not only chicory and coffee, but also licorice root and St. John’s Wort, two ingredients used in traditional medicine.
“These ingredients were being recognized for not just being all-natural,” Calagione says, “but actually nutrient-rich – you can say nutrient-rich when you’re talking about food – so I studied a lot of nutrient-rich food from a brewer’s perspective.”
Some of the results of that study were applied to beers including Pangaea (brewed with ingredients from every continent, including the superfood quinoa) and brewpub exclusive Verdi Verdi Good (“greened” with spirulina, an algae suggested as a sustainable and nutrient-rich food source for astronauts). There are dozens of experiments like this in Dogfish Head’s back catalog, so it’s no surprise that the brewery has an enviable head start compared to those looking to catch the wave of the BFY trend.
Their current lineup includes several beers that Dogfish Head brewed to fit into an active lifestyle, from the “highly thirst-quenching” best-selling sour in America, SeaQuench Ale (Calagione can’t say it rehydrates you, but USA Today did), to SuperEIGHT, a super-fruit gose containing eight “heroic” ingredients, including elder- berry and quinoa. Calagione even counts the new Rodenbach collaboration Vibrant P’Ocean in the category: it’s sessionable at 4.7% ABV, lighter-bodied and comes in only a little over a hundred calories.
Then there’s the lightweight, Slightly Mighty. Dogfish Head released this ground-breaking lo-cal IPA in 2018. It weighs in at just 95 calories and 3.6g carbs per 12 oz., but with the body and hoppy complexity of a much higher calorie beer. The secret? Monk fruit, a sweetener used in Asia that’s sweeter than sugar, with no calories.
“I discovered monk fruit online while researching alternatives to adding additional malt, and therefore sugar, to Slightly Mighty,” Calagione says. “I saw that it was being used as a calorie-free sweetener by many health-conscious folks. It was then that we decided to use monk fruit to brew Slightly Mighty and it worked splendidly. It allowed us to add body and complexity to the beer, without adding calories.”
Slightly Mighty checks every BFY box: low-cal, low-carb sessionable at 4% ABV, but still full of flavor. And people can’t get enough of it! It’s Dogfish Head’s fastest growing beer, and part of their core lineup.
Despite the brewery’s success in harnessing the trend, this isn’t the only way Calagione promotes healthy, active living. Dogfish Head has hosted events from the annual Dogfish Dash to the occasional bocce tournament for years, and as they’ve increased the number of active lifestyle beers in their portfolio, they’ve added to their extracurriculars as well. The recently launched Dogfish Head Run Club offers members access to training tips, workout regimens, inspirational advice and nutrition- ally balanced recipes (with beer pairings), all curated by four-time Olympian and American long-distance runner, Shalane Flanagan.
If you’re looking to kickstart your own active lifestyle, take a hint from Calagione’s own exercise regimen. The Dog- fish Head founder, who says he drinks 5-10 beers a day as a hazard of the profession, loves to paddleboard along the coast or ride his bike in one of Delaware’s state parks. And after a good hour of communing with nature, he likes to get in about twenty minutes of yoga for good measure.
“Nothing’s better for your hangover than Downward-Facing Dog,” he says. “It’s the best to get some blood pumping to the head.”