Sam Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head, a Milton, Delaware-based brewery whose slogan is "Off-centered ales for off-centered people." On a recent morning, he described scrapple to me. "Without getting religious, it's this trinity of awesome," he said, "a cross between bacon, a sausage patty, and a corn muffin."
Calagione is known for brewing with unusual ingredients—gesho root, beet sugar, saffron, and blue-green algae are just a few—and for finding inspiration in the culinary, art, and music worlds, as well as in ancient and obscure beer traditions. In the winter of 2014, he decided to make a stout incorporating scrapple. A traditional breakfast meat of the mid-Atlantic states, it's essentially a mush of cooked pork scraps, cornmeal, and spices that is molded into a loaf, cut into thick slabs, and pan-fried. Calagione added nearly a dozen other breakfast-inspired ingredients to the recipe as well, including cold-brewed coffee, maple syrup, and applewood-smoked barley. He named it Beer for Breakfast, after a song by The Replacements.
Until this week, Beer for Breakfast has been made sporadically and exclusive to Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, the original brewpub opened by Calagione in 1995 in Reheboth Beach, on Delaware's southern shore. Now that it's being shipped nationally in 12-ounce bottles and on draft, I spoke with Calagione about its genesis.
MUNCHIES: When was the first time you tasted scrapple? Sam Calagione: I was courting my now-wife and business partner Mariah. We started dating in high school and I was visiting coastal Delaware, where's she from, for the first time. Delaware is known as the scrapple capital and it was love at first bite. The scrapple, I mean. And, of course, Mariah!
Do you eat a lot of scrapple? I try to eat it at least once a week, usually on the weekends and always for breakfast. But for the foreseeable future I'll be getting my recommended weekly allowance in liquid form.
What inspired you to use it in a beer? Was there a specific "scrapple moment"? The simple answer is that the brewery is in the heart of the Scrapple Belt, which runs from New Jersey down to Virginia. And also: because it tastes awesome. But when we started brewing our first breakfast stout, Chicory Stout, in 1995, Dogfish was the smallest brewery in America. I would fire up my brew kettle and boombox early in the morning and crank the song "Beer for Breakfast" by The Replacements to start the day. So the "scrapple seeds" were planted pretty early on, you could say.
You're a big fan of The Replacements, and you actually donated a portion from the beer's sales upon its debut in 2014 to Songs For Slim, a charity for a former member. If we were to take Beer for Breakfast's ingredients and make them members of a band, what would be who? [Laughs.] OK, let's do this. So the Guatemalan Antigua cold-pressed coffee is the lead singer and contributes the most flavour and aroma, while the applewood-smoked barley is steady on the roasty bass. The maple syrup is like the slightly sweet lead guitar, giving the body and power from its fermentable sugar, and the scrapple is standing on the corner of the stage, joyously hitting that cowbell in a too-tight T-shirt.
So when you were brewing this, Christopher Walken was at the brewery saying, "Guys, I gotta have more scrapple"? Right. [Laughs.] For me, the key to brewing a really complex, memorable, and enjoyable beer is the same as the key to living a complex, memorable, and enjoyable life: balance. So like work and play and family and friends, the ingredients in a great beer need to be in harmony.
We weren't trying to blow you out of the water with scrapple. When you taste this beer, you'll notice it gives a subtle earthy, smoky character and you want those types of notes in the background of a beer, not the foreground.
This isn't Dogfish Head's first breakfast-themed beer; that's Chicory Stout, which debuted more than 20 years ago. Both recipes employ roasted chicory, as well as coffee. Are their respective coffees used in the same way? We use cold-brewed coffee [in Beer for Breakfast] which makes it less bitter and acidic when added late in the brewing process. And by adding it after the vigorous fermentation it allows the toasty aromatic notes to stay present and pleasant in the beer. Comparatively, the coffee for Chicory [Stout] is added on the hot side earlier in the brew; it adds more coffee taste and less coffee aroma.
Beer for Breakfast started as a draft-only brewpub exclusive in the winter of 2014. Can you talk about the beer's development over the course of those two years, and what you did to reach the final product? There's been a few tweaks to it since it debuted; the alcohol percent is dialed back a bit. But essentially we ate and drank a lot of scrapple and went with what worked on the whole. You have to do a lot of testing of individual culinary ingredients before you combine them to understand their intensity and if they play well with others. That's where our small brewing system at our Rehoboth brewpub comes in, where we test and tweak recipes and concepts. This beer is a labor of love and crazy expensive to make—I remember saying our brewmaster at the production brewery would punch me in the kidneys if I tried to do 200-barrel batches of it at Milton. But here we are, and we're very proud of the results.
You sourced the scrapple from Rapa Scrapple, which is just a few miles from your brewery in Milton. What do you particularly like about the company's scrapple? Everything. [Laughs.] Rapa is amazing and local, right near us, so of course we'd go to them. For the beer, we worked with them to bake a specifically low-in-fat version. Fatty oils kill head retention and we wanted Beer for Breakfast to have a foamy, bone-white head.
Last question: What breakfast foods would you pair with the beer? I'd say a Bloody Mary made with an irresponsible volume of horseradish, garlic, and our Analog Vodka. Bloody Mary is one of the main food groups, right?
Thanks for speaking with me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.