Not really. But when you plan a trip around most of the country and only plan stops at two breweries, there must be something special about them. While our trip to Founders was amazing, it was a bit of an exotic dabbling; I had hardly ever had any of their beer before visiting the brewery. It was by sheer power of reputation I was drawn there and it proved to be a reputation well deserved. They didn’t offer a brewery tour at the time we passed through, so we couldn’t see the inner sanctum. But we tried a very good share of their beers and they were everything I could have hoped for.
But when it comes to Dogfish Head, well, an analogy is hard to form. Many, many years ago I only knew Dogfish Head by reputation as well. The first time I tried it I knew the reputation was well deserved and the dearth of it in Idaho meant paying special attention while travelling. I was not the only Idahoan with this awareness; my friend Mike “knew a guy who knew a guy” and ended up with a pretty reliable supply. Soon through Mike’s generosity I learned the spectrum of delight that is Dogfish Head’s world-class brewing via offerings like 120 Minute IPA, Midas Touch, World Wide Stout and, what is in my opinion the greatest beer in the world, Palo Santo Marron.
Fast forward to our going-away party; a chance to have one last hurrah with friends before we left Boise. My friend Al, the most accomplished home brewer I know and a possessor of an encyclopedic knowledge of all things “beer”, he asked me about our general travel plans.
“So are you going to Delaware?” he asked me matter-of-factly.
“No.” I replied in the same manner; as if he had asked me if I would like to watch figure skating. “Why would I?”
With a perfectly straight face and even tone he simply said two words: “Dogfish Head.”
“Oooooohhhhhhh…” I answered with eyes as wide as saucers. “I had forgotten they where from Delaware. Well we are going to DC, how much farther could it be?”
I didn’t commit to it at that moment, but the idea was firmly planted in my head from then on. It didn’t take long for Dogfish Head to work its way into the formal plan. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Delaware. But like Idaho or Iowa it is easy to dismiss Delaware as a place to visit because you feel you have something seemingly more important or interesting to do. Mea culpa. If you give a place – any place – a fair shake you’re sure to at least catch a glimpse of the good bits it has to offer.
Regardless, three months later Dani and I were standing on a sidewalk staring at this:
We hurried inside and began a tour of the most amazing brewing facility I’ve seen, and I’ve seen quite a few! As we walked by a room with wooden fermenters I slowed wondering if I could be eyeballing the famous palo santo tanks, but the tour guide – a delightful fellow named Tom – took us past them to talk about how they transferred wort from the brew house to the fermenters and how they pitched the yeast. My mind kept going back to the wooden vessels I saw behind the glass. When the tour continued we moved back to where my mind had been lingering. I could barely contain my excitement!
Tom confirmed two of the vessels were the 5,000 gallon palo santo tanks that my favorite beer was brewed in. Forgive the horrifically bad picture; I couldn’t tell how it looked at the time. One of the tanks of concern is the one on the right (the other was behind it):
Once we concluded the tour we wound up in the tasting room drinking many samples of marvelous beer. We tacked our AFT card to the “Off-Center Wall” (what makes you off-center?) and savored some more amazing beer. Dani appropriately wore her special Woodland Empire Brewing shirt as an homage to the great brewers (and friends!) we have in Boise.
While conversing with the tour guides (who were also bartenders and cooks, as needed) I mentioned this trip being a bit of a pilgrimage for me; especially considering my fondness of Palo Santo Marron. In a flash one of them whipped out a stave from behind the bar and handed it to me while I was still drinking a sample of that ambrosia. It was a stave of palo santo wood! Tom had already explained the unbelievable strength and hardness of the wood to us. The first foolhardy expedition to harvest the wood for the fermenters was apparently only armed with machetes. They might have well just used plastic picnic knives. Apparently one of the scouts got frustrated and blasted a palo santo tree with his .38 magnum only to have the bullets bounce off the trunk. And here I was holding a piece of it. Ironwood doesn’t have the heft this stuff has. Dani got a picture of me holding it while still drinking the ambrosia.
After sufficient ooing and ahing I returned the stave. Next they pulled something out to prove the tale of the frustrated harvest was not mere embellishment. Apparently one of the friends of the brewery was a gun aficionado and a ballistics nerd. He got a spare piece of the wood they made the fermenters from and “stress tested” it appropriately.
The stave was about two inches thick. The divot from the bullet gets about 0.3 inches deep and about one inch across.
We were gifted with a special Dogfish Head shield logo sticker featuring a stars and stripes motif; only given to those who physically tour the brewery. Given that our Dogfish Head adventure was just one part of our journey across America, it was a very fitting parting gift and Charley now proudly bears this emblem:
We finished our stay with a pint and a cup of mouth-watering chowder called “Hard Tack” (inspired by Melville and made with Palo Santo Marron, no less!). Then, sadly, it was time to hit the road. We bid adieu to the brewery after the two months, two weeks and the 6,767 miles that led us there in the first place. Off we headed to the nation’s capital. Somehow it seemed that would have a hard time competing.