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Meeting Sam Calagione

My wife is attending a local university as she pursues her PhD and as part of that undertaking, she is required to attend a certain number of seminars. These seminars do not need to be major based, but just attended. I guess it is the high level version of “Gen Eds.” Anyway, she spotted that the business department was having a seminar given by none other than Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. I quickly decided that I needed to attend some high education and joined her in this seminar.

We entered a small auditium to find it half filled with a bunch of business majors wearing suits. I quickly removed my Phillies hat and placed it over top of my knee as I sat down in a halfhearted attempt to hide it. We received a few funny glances from the professors and made sure that we were in the right spot. Soon enough Sam walked in and was formally introduced.

Being a business seminar he talked a lot about the entrepreneurial side of things, many of which are highlighted in his book Brewing Up a Business. A few things struck me when he answered questions during the Q&A session. On student asked, “Why Dogfish Head for a name?” I knew the origins of the name (an island close to where Sam grew up) but never really related it to the business side of things. Sam’s answer was simple and made a lot of sense. He said that he did not want to name the company after something local to Delaware, since the name carries a location with it. He wanted something that meant something to him, but also couldn’t be tied down to any one location. He went on to say that people would be less out to buy beer from “The Delaware Brewing Company” than what they would be from “Dogfish Head,” even if they sell the same product. Interesting.

He also went on to tell the importance of being a story teller for your company and making sure that everyone who works at the company is on board with the story. Again simple, but makes a lot of sense. There were a few other questions about general beer knowledge including one on how beer was made. It was interesting to see how Sam conveyed the information, making it accessible and also detailed. I think my favorite question was asking where someone asked for his biggest piece of advice to an entrepreneur. Sam said to not go into anything under-financed. Have enough cash to not just start a business, but maintain on for a significant period of time.

The most exciting part came after the talk had officially ended and student had the chance to come up and ask Sam personal questions. I saw one student hand over a bottle of beer (great idea) to Sam and a few others had some general financing questions. I stood at the back of the line as I 1. was not a student of the university, and 2. wanted to talk about beer, not business. My turn finally came and Sam introduced himself warmly and I thanked him for distributing beer to Texas. I explained how they have almost no beer culture in Lubbock and that Dogfish and Victory were my only real tastes of home while I was out there.  I didn’t want to beer geek out on him so I thanked him again and walked away.

I was really glad that I took the opportunity to go to the meeting and actually meet Sam. It is something that this beer geek is going to remember for some time. Sadly, my camera did forget my meeting rather quickly as everything came out very blurred thanks to the terrible lighting and my distaste for using a flash while people are talking.

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

As I have said several times we recently moved from Texas back to the east coast. When we got to Texas, a year ago, I started reading Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione, the owner of Dogfish Head. About two weeks after I got into the book I lost it. I thought I lost it at work and the lost and found was empty so I counted the book in the MIA column. When we were moving I pulled out the dresser, and my book showed up. Awesome.

I just finished the book up this week and I thought I would share my review with you. First off, let me say that I really liked the book. The book tells the tale of how Sam started his brewery from brewpub, to the wonderful “power house” that it is now. I am interested in starting my own brewpub, so I found several parts of the book particularly interesting.

Another thing to know about this book, it isn’t really about beer. I love Dogfish Head as much as the next guy, but this book is more business oriented, which the title should tell you. Sam tells you about this business, why he did things the way he did, problems that they encountered, about the personality of the company, about about being an effective leader.

My favorite two parts of this entire book were when Sam talked about the creation of the moto for Dogfish Head and the leadership aspect of owning a business. Dogfish Head does what it does because they have a focused mission; Off-centered beers for off-centered people. They know that they are not hitting all of the market, and that is OK. Sam takes responsibility for mistakes that were made and offers solutions for business owners so that they do not do the same.

There are parts of the book that gets repetitive, but they are in there for a reason. Sam is showing how important that aspect is to his business. The most important thing to take away from this book is that Sam believes in his idea. As an entrepreneur you need to be willing to take risks and believe in what you are doing 100%. Sam shows that he did and still does in this book. It is an interesting read if you are thinking about starting you own company or want to see how a unique craft brewing came to being.

Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery

This is the first book review we have had on this site. There are sure to be many to follow as I have done a lot of reading on the subject of beer, but this was my most recent accomplishment, so let me share a little bit. First off, this isn’t a new book, it has been out for a few years. I actually found it in my local Borders back in PA. I was a bit surprised becasue beer books at Borders tend be be geared to beginning homebrew or one of those Idiot’s Guide things. They generally seem to have more cocktail and wine books than anything.

The manger of the store is actually a beer nut, and she wanted to see how the book would sell since she loved it so much. During checkout she talked to me for awhile about beer and what I drank and asked if I homebrewed. She also asked for any other beer book suggestions and I shared a few that I thought would be good. Brewing Up a Business (still haven’t read it) seemed like the one that would be most like Beer School (didn’t read it at the time), but I digress.

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Beer School is written by founders of the Brooklyn Brewery, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. Both were English majors in college and came together to found a very successful brewery. The book hits on a lot of levels, if you are into brewing, starting a brewery, or business in general you should enjoy this book. They take you through their trails and success and are quick to point out where they were just plain lucky. I find that a lot of entrepreneur type books do not give enough credit to people who have helped them or where they have gotten lucky, Tom and Steve acknowledge both.

The beginning of the book covers their pasts and their foundation for starting the company. They then move into the founding of the business and the ground rules they went in under. They highlight the areas where they felt that special attention needed to be paid, like their logo. They also go into their distribution problems and cash flow. I’m not going to tell everything that happened because I want you to read it for yourself. The book is just downright readable. I wasn’t able to put the book down.

Not too many business books go into problems faced by a stolen forklift battery charger, or getting robbed at gunpoint, or dealing with the mob (yeah the mob!). I would of loved to have worked for these guys at the time. They required their sales people to read Micheal Jackson books and held tasting sessions. Perhaps the part I most enjoyed is that they wanted to give back to their community and let their employees shine. They tell a good story and you will not be disappointed by the read. You can get the book on Amazon for about 12 bucks new. Don’t worry I don’t make a dime on the sales (nor do I on any product I mention on this blog) I just really enjoyed the book and think it is a worthy read for anyone.