If you are a frequent reader, you know that I spent my birthday at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton. The whole reason we went was to take part in their Grain to Glass tour, a deeper look at the operations going on behind those steel walls. It was my first brewery tour. I didn’t know what to expect from what was inside or the tour guide. I was pleasantly surprised all along the way, and learning about what goes into what is easily one of my favorite craft breweries of all time was an enlightening experience.
They have you meet up in the Tasting Room, an onsite bar. It is a good, central location, and they have a box of safety goggles and close toed shoes there for your safety before the tour. Definitely wear a pair of jeans and sneakers if this is something you want to do one of these days. They recommend it on the website, and they won’t let you go if you aren’t wearing long pants on Grain to Glass. If you aren’t sure where to meet up, no worries. They do a PA system page for each tour about ten minutes before they get under way.
Our tour guide was named Ben Jammin, according to his shirt. Let me tell you, he was pretty jammin’. Even before we left the Tasting Room, it was obvious he was a knowledgable man. He loved what he did. Everyone there seemed to love it. The vibe was infectious as the group of us half-drunk beer lovers waited to see what went into our favorite brews. He handled us all remarkably and guided us out of the Tasting Room and into the bowels of the brewery.
If I sat here and recounted the entire thing play by play, I’d ruin the experience for anyone who may want to go after me. I can’t do that to Ben Jammin’ and the fine people at Dogfish Head. I can, however, give you a fine summary of my favorite parts: the samples.
Oh yes, my friends, there are many free samples on this tour. Beers. Hard Liqours. If they make it, you will get to sample an item of it. The samples are all taken in areas of the brewery that correspond with the product, so I made a lot of new friends among the alcohols during this trip. I drank an IPA for the first time in my whole life, and by drank, I mean I really drank the whole damn glass.
And I hate IPA’s. They run too biter for me most of the time. Their 90 Minute IPA is a special creation that they give you to sample in their room full of Oak Barrels and Palo Santo barrels. You would never know it to be an IPA if not for the undercurrent of the bitter tone that is more prominent in a longer brew time IPA. They do a process called ‘continuous hopping’ to finish the brew, and I think that keeps the quality I so dispose in an IPA to a minimum.
In the same place I tasted the first IPA I could give a damn about, I learned a lot about what the company went through to produce those great big aging barrels. The Palo Santo Marron which has become a famous beer among their brews apparently came close to bankrupting the company when the owner tried to get the Palo Santo wood barrels into the brewery! Ben Jammin’ tells it better, and I’m sure there is a proper article about it out there. Still, they give you the answers to questions you didn’t ask yourself when you first popped open a can of Seaquench, but they are answers you wanted.
We walked and walked through the winding hallways, tanks, and pipes before reaching the distillery. Dogfish Head is better known for its beers, but it has distilled a variety of hard liqours within the same facility over the last few years. This is where my interest keenly lay. I am a fervent rum drinker, and seeing the process that they go through to produce it here was interesting.
The distillery did not appear to be active when we visited, but that didn’t stop us from getting samples here as well. We were first given a healthy shot of their vodka which was, well, vodka. I don’t have a good taste for it, so I couldn’t tell you if it was quality or not. It burned like hell on the way down and warmed me up. Beyond that, I would definitely use it in a mixer.
We were given the shot glasses as part of the tour to keep, small little tasters with the Dogfish Head logo on them. It looks nice on my counter with the others from a variety of trips my husband and I have taken since moving to the east coast. It didn’t see much more use, as after we saw inside the actual distillery, we were brought out again to taste their own mix of a Moscow Mule--- and that was delicious.
You get to experience and see a lot of what’s in there that won’t be available for full release for a long time. For example, we saw some whiskey barrels in there, and that won’t be done aging for another year or so. Rob enjoys whiskey, so we will be watching closely for that release when the time comes.
Our final stop was the ‘stash’. Here, we drank a beer that had been aged since my junior year of high school. The ‘Fort’ was brewed and bottled in 2009, stored away in the stash for it to age. It’s the mother of the Fruit-full Fort that they currently have on tap, but I much prefer the first version. The aging process made it sweeter and more palatable.
Within the stash are some cool pieces of Dogfish History. For example, this fancy piece of work made for Firefly a few years ago. It can’t keep the beer cold, but it did dispense through her boobs. Yes, those are taps. It was a glorious machine.
At the end of the tour, we were allowed to go up into that mysterious stream punk treehouse that is set up in the middle of the seating area near the Kitchen. It was warm and humid due to the summer day, but it is an interesting piece of history for the brewery. You can look down at everyone, even call down to the tasting room from a rotary phone if you happen to be up there during a more seasonable time of year.
I highly recommend visiting Dogfish Head brewery on any kind of tour you can manage. It’s a fun experience, especially if you’re already fond of the brand like I was. There’s so much to see and do. Rather than pepper this bad boy with a bunch of pictures, I have included a slideshow here at the bottom so you can take a look at my favorite pictures my friend Amanda took (my phone was dying).
It’s a trip I will make again and again whenever friends or family come out to Delaware to visit us. It is an experience worth reliving a hundred times over, and there is something for everyone.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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