Serious Reads: Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
I wasn't sure I was going to like Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione. I knew the book was popular—the original version, published in 2006, was successful enough that it's been revised and reissued this month. So whatever Sam Calagione is doing, he's doing it well. But I feared that the book would read like a smaltzy, ghostwritten business bible full of industry lingo and MBA case studies. I was worried the book would be so mind numbing, I'd need a cold one.
Dogfish Head, once a small Delaware brewpub, has changed a lot in the five years since founder and owner Sam Calagione first spilled his secrets about brewing a successful beer business. There's the constant new craft beer creations featuring zany ingredients like honey from Egypt, water from Antarctica, and more. Calagione has a show about beer on the Discovery Channel and will soon open a new brewpub on the roof of Eataly in New York. Not bad for a kid who's adolescent pranks and constant wheeling and dealing got him kicked out of school weeks before graduation.
Dogfish Head proudly makes "off-centered ales for off-centered people." This business book is a little off centered too, but in the best way possible. Like many of the beers Dogfish brews, this book is quirky but delicious, an engaging read.
Early on Calagione says that the kind of business books he likes are the personal ones, where you learn to understand strategy and decisionmaking by understanding the mind and personality of the person who made those choices. So it's not surprising that Brewing Up A Business is really his story. We learn about Calagione's rowdy high school and college years, his deep love for his wife and family, and how he started Dogfish. What began sixteen years ago with a home brewing kit and a deep desire to craft something unique is now a multi-million dollar business.
Many mistakes were made, and Calagione is happy to share them. One tale is particularly gnarly: Calagione managed to wreck two vehicles trying to get a truck load of beer to a poorly run event. He arrived bloodied and with a torn t-shirt to discover the party was badly managed and his beers were under appreciated by the crowd of Coors lovers. Stories like this make you wonder how he kept going—and remind you that perseverance is key to making any business go.
Despite his success, Calagione still actively works for Dogfish, and keeps an eye on every angle of the business. Stories of homespun marketing campaigns comprised of bottles of beer sent to press contacts along with rambling hand written tasting and cellar notes make you believe that it's passion—and effort—that count, not a huge marketing budget.
He's also devoted to developing—and keeping—good relationships with the people who buy his beer. Calagione deeply believes that creating community is an essential part of any good business. His lessons about how to treat customers, train staff, and engage in the social media world are applicable to any small business owner, anywhere.
The folksy tone of the book and engaging stories allow for Sam Calagione's tried-and-true business acumen to slip in without making it feel like a lecture. He makes you believe that with a good idea and enough heart, anything is possible.
He's a darn good salesman too, because by the end of Brewing Up A Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, there's little I wanted more than a cold six-pack of Dogfish beer.
About the Author: Anne Zimmerman's first book, An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher, was recently published by Counterpoint Press. Discover what fuels her writing at the blog Poetic Appetite.