Dogfish Esteem

Like most men in their late twenties, I’m a pretty big fan of craft beer. I also brew my own beer, which only exacerbates my subtle beer snobbery. Sam Calagione founded Dogfish Head brewery in 1995, making it one of the oldest craft breweries in operation, which is quite the feather to have in your cap in such a saturated market. I’m a pretty avid fan of Sam’s stuff, and the marketing for their 90 Minute IPA lives up to the hype – it really is one of the best IPA’s in America.

But we aren’t here just to talk about the beer.

The reason I want to talk about Calagione and Dogfish Head has very little to do with the tasty ales they produce, and everything to do with the kind of self-esteem Sam possesses that has aided him in the founding and continued operation of his brewery. If I were Albert Ellis, I would say that Sam is free of the burden of self-esteem, and instead is operating from a place of authentic self-acceptance. If I happened to be Nathaniel Branden, I would suggest that he has genuine self-esteem instead of the pseudo self-esteem that has become the norm in our society. Even though these men would have probably argued about the particulars, they would be saying essentially the same thing – Sam Calagione was not looking for external measures of his self-worth. His feelings of self-esteem were stable because he was able to internally validate himself.

There were many challenges along the way for Sam and Dogfish Head. After discovering his love of brewing and winning a local competition with a batch of his homebrew, Sam decided to pursue brewing as a career. He found a space, ordered his equipment, and was ready to open up shop when a pretty significant obstacle presented itself – operating a brewery in his home state of Delaware was illegal. Had Sam been assessing his self-worth through external factors, he might have very well returned his freshly unboxed equipment and given up on his dream. Fortunately for everyone who loves good beer, he didn’t do that. He put on his suit and plead his case in front of the Delaware General Assembly to overturn the law and allow him to open his brewery.

Now that the brewery was legal and operational, the next difficulty loomed ahead. Brewing beer on a small scale with specialty ingredients is significantly more expensive than cranking out thousands of gallons of pilsners per day like the big American breweries. In order to remain a viable business, this increased cost must be passed along to the consumer. Keep in mind that this was years before most of us caught on to craft beer and why we might be willing to pay the premium associated with it. Sam received his share of criticism about pricing and was told (more than once, I’m sure) that he would not be successful because people would not pay the cost of his ales. He ignored the critics and those who did not yet understand what he was doing. Year after year, he built momentum and gained market share, and now Dogfish Head is one of the most successful and recognizable craft breweries in the country. Because Sam refused to let the opinion of others change his feelings of self-esteem, he was able to persevere and realize his dreams. Not only that, but he was able to influence the development of the craft beer market by providing a beacon of hope to those who would come later.

Once all that pesky business of overcoming doubt and self-esteem was done and Dogfish Head was a cornerstone of the craft beer market, Sam did not rest on his laurels. He began researching ales from ancient cultures and brewing them for limited releases. Now he is influencing not only beer, but archaeology and anthropology. Innovation like this only comes from those who are able to generate stable, positive feelings of self-worth without regard to external factors. We have been conditioned to look outside of ourselves for validation and happiness. Assessing ourselves in this way makes taking chances of any kind a risky proposition, since failure is not often accompanies by the praise of others.

I raise my glass to Sam, and to all of the men and women who make up the staff at Dogfish Head, both past and present. He and the people who believed in him were not concerned with the opinion of others. They were not looking outward to validate their dreams. They were not afraid to fail, which is ultimately why they succeeded. The outstanding quality of their product probably helped, too. Without people like these to push the envelope and alter our cultural development, the world would be a boring place, indeed.


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