Joe Sixpack | At Dogfish Head, new device flings in the hops

SAM CALAGIONE should hire himself a patent lawyer. The Dogfish Head Brewing president has himself another invention.

This time it's Sofa King Hoppy, a giant, computer-controlled pneumatic cannon that shoots hops into the boil kettle. This is the kind of wonky contraption that makes craft brewing fun.

In Calagione's words, "It's pretty badass."

The idea behind the invention is the role of hops in the flavor of beer. Hops are small, vine-grown buds that provide the bitterness to balance the sweetness of malt.

Your basic yellow lager uses very few hops. Coors Light, for example, registers under 10 International Bitterness Units, the scale used to measure the bitterness of beer. A standard India Pale Ale come in about 40 to 60 IBUs.

Hops are mainly added in bulk at the beginning of a standard one-hour brew, then a little bit more in the final minutes to enhance the aroma.

But in brewing its IPAs, Dogfish Head continuously adds hops throughout the entire brew, thus the name of its brands: 60 Minute, 90 Minute and 120 Minute IPA.

Of course, continuously adding hops means you have to hire some poor schmuck to stand over a steaming kettle and mindlessly toss in handfuls every minute for an hour or so.

Or you invent something to do the job automatically.

The first time he brewed 60 Minute IPA, Calagione used one of those vibrating tabletop football games - the kind where little plastic men shake and spin their way down the field. It worked perfectly, distributing hops into the kettle - until it got soaked.

So Calagione designed a mechanical hopper to do the job, called Sir Hops A Lot.

With Dogfish Head growing, it's time to replace that machine. Sofa King Hoppy is the answer, its cannon shooting out a handful of hops every 10 seconds or so.

In addition to the brewery's IPAs, it'll be used to hop up Dogfish Head's Golden Era (the new, less bawdy name for its Golden Showers imperial pilsner).

Another Calagione invention, Randall the Enamel Animal (an "organoleptic hop transducer module"), adds even more hops aroma. It's a 3-foot-long plastic cylinder stuffed with a half-pound of whole hops that's attached to a keg's serving line. A number of bars in the area deploy it for a last-second dose of hops to their ale.

The thing I like about these inventions is they're all about the flavor - the absolute hallmark of craft beer.

And just to make that point, I direct your attention to another marvelous invention: U.S. Patent No. 4180589, awarded in 1979 to Miller Brewing. Its title: "Preparation of a bland beer."

Wow. I'm surprised Miller actually won a patent for it, considering the earlier groundbreaking efforts in the field of blandology by able researchers practicing in St. Louis.

Bud Lite, if I'm not mistaken, was the world's first successful recipient of a complete flavorectomy.

Miller's inventors said "bland beer" was intended for "a substantial number of persons who presently do not drink beer because they dislike its characteristic taste." By "characteristic," I presume, they meant the distinctive industrial backwash that's produced when you make beer with corn syrup, modified hop extracts and a raft of chemicals, enzymes and stabilizers.

You can almost hear them in the laboratory: We could make a better-tasting beer if we used all-natural ingredients . . . Nah, let's just remove any trace of flavor - problem solved!

(Hey, it worked when Miller disemboweled Lowenbrau back in the '70s.)

The truth is, "bland beer" is even worse than it sounds. It's a lager designed as a neutral base for artificially-flavored malt beverages, like sickly sweetened Skyy Blue.

Ah, the wonders of modern science.

On second thought, Calagione probably doesn't need a patent lawyer for Sofa King Hoppy. Somehow I doubt he needs to worry about industrial spies stealing the blueprints.


"The Breweries of Kensington, Frankford and Bridesburg" with historian Rich Wagner, Yards Brewing (2439 Amber St., Kensington). 2 p.m. tomorrow, free, 215-634-2600.

Belgian beer lunch, High Street Grill (64 High St., Mt. Holly, N.J.). Noon tomorrow, $45, 609-265-9199.

Russian River beer dinner, Monk's Café (264 S. 16th St., Center City), 7 p.m. Tuesday, $65, 215-545-7005. *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit Send e-mail to