Last week, Sam Calagione — founder and CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del. — was going about his business. He was driving through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan to film an episode of his online Complex/Fuse program That’s Odd, Let’s Drink It! with the rapper N.O.R.E. After that, he packed a suitcase for a trip to Oklahoma to film with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne.
On Saturday, Calagione and Coyne will release something special for Record Store Day: a vinyl single, “Pouring Beer in Your Ear (The Beer Song)”/”The Story of YumYum and Dragon,” whose outer ring is filled with Dogfish’s Dragons & YumYums pale ale. The Flaming Lips single will be available only at select Record Store Day stores (the glory of Record Store Day is that no store knows what it’s getting until opening its boxes that morning), but the beer will be available widely for the time being.
“Sam’s a very creative guy, a perfect match for us in that we both wish to uplift the outrageous,” Coyne says from his home studio.
Neither Coyne nor Calagione would discuss the proprietary process that allows beer to be shot directly into the record platter (“We’ve done it before with human blood,” says the Lips’ leader). But Calagione and Coyne are eager to discuss how the beer’s ingredients inspired the sound of the song.
“Sam gave me a list of its most colorful elements and continued to send me stuff in the mail,” says Coyne. “How could dragonfruit and yumberry not be equated with something that tasted and sounded whimsical?”
“That’s what great collaboration is — coming to someone with a tapestry of potentials and the two of you combining them into something fresh,” Calagione says. “I always want to do that, no matter who the musician and what the new Dogfish Head brew is.”
After Record Store Day, Calagione and his Dogfish Head brain trust will turn their attention to their refreshed Firefly Ale, dedicated to the Firefly Music Festival, which runs June 14-17 in Dover, Del., and which will feature Eminem, recent Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar, the Killers, and more.
This iteration of the brew will make its debut at the festival and will also be widely available. “It’s been a pale ale from the start,” Calagione says of the remixed brew. “We decided to crowdsource a new recipe to evolve the partnership, threw it open to Firefly’s fans for one week, and now we have a new Firefly brew with guava puree and coconut flower nectar for something crisp and citrusy for an early summer’s day.”
These partnerships are very much a part of the fabric of Dogfish Head.
“Music is automatic and ever-present for me,” says Calagione. “It has influence over everything I do.”
He mentions the “dubious distinction” of being half of the “beer-geek-hip-hop-band” the Pain Relievas, along with Dogfisher Bryan Selders, and the new single they’ll debut at Firefly before the Dogfish Head Brewery tent-stage. “We haven’t named the song yet but it’s sexy.”
The Pain Relievas already have their own Dogfish brew — an imperial porter. So does Miles Davis. The late trumpeter’s family approved a Dogfish 40th-anniversary wood-aged fusion of African honey beer (tej) and imperial stout with brown sugar as homage to Bitches Brew that Calagione claims mirrors Davis’ innovative mix of jazz, rock, and funk. The Grateful Dead inspired American Beauty, an imperial pale ale, which Dead members Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann worked on. The same goes for Deltron 3030 and Positive Contact, a hybrid (or “remix,” Calagione says, laughing) of beer and cider based on hip-hop producer/3030 boss Dan the Automator’s favored ingredients.
Brewing, Calagione contends, is as much an art form as punk rock and hip-hop. “When I wrote my biz plan 23 years ago, my references were less IBM and Chevrolet, more Afrika Bambaataa and Television,” he says. “Like rap and punk, we moved into the mainstream based solely on customer demand, not corporate initiative.”
Calagione recalls his musical roots (KRS-One, Patti Smith) and the brewery that he and his wife, Mariah, opened in 1995. “We were the smallest brewer in America then. We still have a version of that 12-gallon system available for coworkers who have ideas and wish to brew a batch of beer.” That level of collaboration is one of Dogfish Head’s mantras. “We believe more in good karma and the positivity of collaboration than we do the negative energy that comes with competition.”
Red Frog Events, the crew behind the annual Firefly showcase, has been a must for Dogfish Head, the festival’s official craft beer sponsor, since its start in 2012. “We’ve had a cool and fruitful relationship based on the fact that we’re both into unique programming,” says Scott Howard, Red Frog vice president of sales and marketing.
Howard was as excited as Calagione to freshen up the existing Dogfish Head/Firefly signature brew. “Without sounding too ‘markety,’ every sports and entertainment property’s dream is to have a brand believe in you so much they create singular ideas that put your brand in front of eyeballs it might not have otherwise. We’re fortunate to have Dogfish on board. They’re part of Firefly’s fabric. Plus, they’re right down the street from us, neighbors.”