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Dogfish Head sources local with new brew

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Blue Hen Pilsner sources Delmarva grains and celebrates Delaware’s revolutionary war roots. | DBT PHOTO COURTESY DOGFISH HEAD

Dogfish Head has released a true-blue Delaware pilsner beer that celebrates local history and uses Delmarva grains in one 16-ounce can, testing it out in the First State.

The Blue Hen Pilsner, a light beer that traditionally is a “gateway” into craft beer, was launched last month at the Dogfish Head’s Rehoboth Beach EmPOURium and details are currently under wraps as to whether the Delaware craft beer juggernaut plans for a wider release.

“We think it’s a great entryway for people just getting into craft beer because it’s so refreshing and balanced, but it does have some complexity,” Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione told the Delaware Business Times. “Because it’s so light, it’s a great medium for the aromas and flavors in the few ingredients you use. It has a nice presence without being overtly bitter.”

What sets Blue Hen Pilsner apart from past forays in the style is that the grains were locally sourced and malted at Proximity Malt in Laurel. Dogfish Head’s relationship with Proximity goes back to when it opened its second malthouse in Colorado around 2017, but by the time the company expanded to southern Delaware, Dogfish Head became among its top customers.

“It’s really central to the concept and Dogfish Head in general that the pilsner malts are grown and malted here on the Delmarva peninsula,” Calagione said. “About 25 years ago, we were taking local barley and crushing it with rolling pins and toasting it in our ovens. But that’s not sustainable when we really start to scale up.”

Proximity Malt launched as a Milwaukee-based startup, but with two malthouses in southern Delaware and Monte Vista, Colo., it has since grown to ship 25,000 tons of malted grain each year. Other local brewery customers include Mispillion, Fordham and Dominion, Tall Tales and Evolution in Salisbury, Md., but Proximity’s reach goes far on the Mid-Atlantic Coast.

“Where the craft breweries rose up, especially in this region, we saw a need to connect brewers with their grain and with farmers who had underutilized barley and malts,” said Proximity Malt Vice President of Sales and Marketing Amy Germershausen. “Before the craft beer industry really grew, we saw farmers use the crop for chicken feed. Over time, farmers started to see the switch and sell varieties at a premium.”

While Caglaione may have been hand-crushing and roasting barley in the mid-1990s, Proximity can ship Dogfish Head pallets of barley sacks for their production needs. The malthouse in Laurel works with an estimate of 20 farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Pilsner is perhaps the most iconic beer style today due to its easy-to-sip flavor, but its challenging for brewers to make well. While Dogfish Head’s brand was built off intense flavors, like ones found in its signature 90 Minute Indian Pale Ale and the Hazy-O IPA, this is not Calagione’s first time trying the pilsner style.

Back in 2003, Calagione brewed Golden Revolution Imperial Pilsner with beer journalist Michael Jackson in Prague. Later on Dogfish Head released Czech-style Piercing Pils, brewed with a white pear tea and pear juice.

“Our head brewer Bryan Selders is a fantastic brewer in the pilsner style, and we were up for the challenge,” Calagione said. “Our intention is to continue to grow with Proximity and source them for our malts when we can.”

Blue Hen Pilsner also can trace its name and design to Delaware roots. Not only is the Blue Hen the state bird and the University of Delaware mascot, the name harkens to the 1st Delaware Regiment in the Revolutionary War. The soldiers were known for raising gamecocks and their courage on the battlefield.

The release of Blue Hen Pilsner came with a collaboration between Dogfish Head and Kam Productions in Milford, makers of the ubiquitous 302 logo with the horseshoe crab. The collaboration resulted in handmade, screen-printed T-shirts with the Blue Hen Pilsner logo on the front and the 302 logo on the sleeve.

The Blue Hen Pilsner arrival comes at a time when Dogfish Head is amid great production growth. Earlier this week, the brewery opened its first out-of-state location in Miami through its partnership with Boston Beer Company. Last year, Dogfish Head also received state approval to increase production capacity to 400,000 barrels per year to meet the demand for its canned cocktail lines. Until March, Dogfish Head was only able to sell spirits in 750-milliliter bottles.

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