Brewing Rhythm: Dogfish Head Brewery and the Marriage of Beats and Beer

“I am pretty sure we were the first brewery to incorporate vinyl records into a beer release…”

Beer and music—they pair together like peanut butter and jelly. And as diverse as bands and artists come, small independent breweries have jumped into the mix by creating unique and exciting flavors for their brews. One of the leaders and forefathers of the craft beer movement is Milton, Delaware’s Sam Calagione and his Dogfish Head Brewery. Over the years, Calagione and company have taken their love of music and found new ways to infuse them within their brewed beverages.

Earlier this year, ethereal songstress Julianna Barwick and Dogfish Head Brewery teamed up for a special collaboration. The two came together to create a new wasabi and red rice infused beer dubbed Rosabi. Along with this initial collaboration, Barwick released a four track album entitled “Roasbi EP.” The EP is available digitally as well as physically as a limited vinyl pressing. There are just 1,000 copies of “Roasbi EP” available and they are only available with sealed six packs of Dogfish Head’s Rosabi.

We grabbed a beer with Calagione to chat about his joint efforts with Barwick, the story behind it, and Dogfish Head’s history of pairing music with beer—and vinyl. It’s a closer relationship than you might imagine with a lengthy history, and with Calagione himself getting in on the action.

When did Dogfish Head’s Music Series line of beers first begin?

We began working with Jon Langford about 13 years ago on beer label designs and events. Jon is in the Waco Brothers and a founding member of the Mekons. Their album Fear and Whiskey was and is a seminal album for me. Jon also does the artwork for “Analog A Go Go” every year—it’s our annual vinyl, music, and cask beer festival.

How many different beer releases have there been so far?

Let’s see… with Jon Langford we do 75 Minute IPA, with Miles Davis it’s Bitches Brew, with Robert Johnson we do Hellhound, with The Grateful Dead we do American Beauty, with Bonnie “Prince” Billy we do Sixty-One, with Deltron 3030 we do Positive Contact, and with Julianna Barwick we do Rosabi. Oh—and we did a one off called Faithful with Pearl Jam. As you can probably tell, our beer drinking and beer making tastes are just as broad as our taste in music.

How did the collaboration with Julianna Barwick come about?

I am a big fan of her music. To me it’s the aural equivalent of how we have built Dogfish Head—art before commerce. Distinct, not derivative, and starting small and building layer upon layer. So, I reached out to Julianna and it turns out she was already a big IPA fan and frequent imbiber of Dogfish Head. She is also a great person and has become a true friend in the process of working together. She and I co-hosted an open air beer dinner and concert at Birreria, the Rooftop brewpub in New York City in late June.

Can you explain the process behind recording the sounds of Dogfish Head’s new physical addition to the brewery? How were you able to get the sounds incorporated into Julianna’s songs?

I came up with this idea to get our brewery into the songs the same way Julianna is certainly present in the beer. She suggested wasabi root for the beer. It has red rice from her home state of Louisiana, and she and I painted the Rosabi root and hop leaf (respectively) on the label.

Trey is our IT guru here at Dogfish. I will let him share a few sentences about the process of capturing and incorporating the brewery’s sounds for the songs.

“So, our storyteller Justin Williams and I went around the whole facility to record all types of sounds, but especially the key pieces of equipment that we wanted to incorporate into the songs. The collaboration with Julianna was a celebration of our new expansion, so we wanted to make sure that we captured all of the new equipment…from the grain handling, to the brewhouse, fermenters, and finally the new Krones bottling line. I bought a hydrophone so that we could record the underwater sounds of the blowoff from the new fermenters. It was a cool experience to listen to the different rhythms of the bubbling water depending on how much yeast activity was occurring.

Of course those sounds might only happen at certain times, so coordination with both the brewing and packaging teams was crucial for the best recordings. We both had a blast with the project…helping bring the sounds of our brewery to the masses in musical form.”

Taste-wise, what should we expect out of Rosabi?

Tastes like tongue kissing Mother Nature for sure. Deep herbal nose upfront, some nice sweetness from the red rice in the middle, then ends with a pleasant and bracing bitterness from hops and spice and a bit of dry-heat from the wasabi root. Makes you want to take the next sip—and it pairs beautifully with sushi and grilled fish.

When did the idea of pressing Dogfish Head’s own records come about?

I am pretty sure we were the first brewery to incorporate vinyl records into a beer release with our Deltron Release in 2012. We also did a release with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and this one with Julianna. And, oh yeah—we did a vinyl release in 2011 for the Pain Relievaz, the beer geek, hip hop band I was in with brewer Bryan Selders.

As both the music and craft beer industries continue to change and overlap, how do you see the relationship between the two evolving?

They are artful mediums that can be combined in ways that create an exponential factor for their enjoyment together. Great music, like great beer, makes us feel closer to the gods and closer to our friends and loved ones. They are meant to be shared and sharing them in tandem magnifies the goodness in each of them. The further exploration of creative ways they can work together are only limited by our imaginations, and at Dogfish we have pretty wild imaginations. So, we will continue to explore the relationship between great music and great beer.

Do you see any opportunity to further expand Dogfish Head’s record releases? Are there any plans to release records separate from new beer releases or maybe even a record label?

Not a full on autonomous record label at this point. But we will be releasing more records. At least one more this year for sure.

Do you personally collect records? If so, what are some of your prized pieces?

Yup. I don’t collect a ton of vintage and expensive early pressings, so my favorites are more what I play a lot of. Outside of the bands we have collaborated with I have lately been playing Sun Kill Moon (their whole catalog), Guided By Voices (same thing), Avery Island by Neutral Milk Hotel, an album of Donna Summer remixes has been on heavy rotation for “music to wash dishes to” (that sounds like the name of an Eno album), Future Islands’ most recent release, old R.E.M., Galaxy 500, VU, the Replacements, and Prince albums are always in the mix.

What’s on the horizon for Dogfish Head and its Music Series?

Something great will be announced later this Summer and something great will be announced in the Fall, both involving important anniversaries for the respective bands.

Will we ever see a return of the Pain Relievaz?

Lord help us …maybe.

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