Last year Sam had a brainstorm: he’d do a 60 Minute IPA, which would receive a hop addition every minute during the hour-long boil. His brewers, however, complained about having to hover over the kettle for so long dropping in the hops. So Calagione decided to automate. He punched some holes in a bucket filled with hops and attached it to one of those vibrating electric football games that you might have played with when you were eight or nine. That contraption conked out when it got wet. Undaunted, Sam rigged a new device from a screw augur to release a steady stream of hop pellets into the brew. He also uses it for 60 Minute IPA’s big brother, 90 Minute IPA.
Calagione graduated from college in 1992 with a master’s in fine arts. “I liked brewing better than writing,” he says of his career choice. He named the brewpub (and the microbrewery that he opened in Lewes, DE, in 1997) after a narrow sliver of land on the Sheepscot River in Maine, where he idled away the summer as a boy.
Sam has made the national media on a number of occasions. His Midas Touch has been featured on “The Today Show” and in People magazine. At the time of our interview, he had just returned from a trip to Turkey, where he participated in a BBC documentary on King Midas’s tomb. Look for it to air on the Discovery Channel this winter.
Calagione also landed a gig as a male model three years ago after a Levi Strauss recruiter spotted his photo in the brewspaper, Ale Street News. A photo of Sam clad in Slates jeans (“they’re one line above Dockers”) appeared in 30 national magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone.
“I’d like to see us as a small company that sells a small amount of beer to a discerning few throughout the country,” says Calagione, who rolled out 5,000 barrels last year. As for now, “I have to turn down calls from Texas, Florida and other states because I can’t provide enough beer for our home market.”
Uli’s Unlikely Empire
Uli Bennewitz was a farm manager overseeing 40,000 acres of land in North Carolina when his brother offered to sell him a used brewery that, he promised, would “spit out beer and money.”
Bennewitz, who had visions of running a German-themed biergarten and resort, agreed. It wasn’t until the equipment was en route to America that he discovered brewpubs were illegal in that state. The chairman of the state Alcohol Beverage Control board suggested that he try to amend the law. So Uli—a German citizen with a visitor’s visa but no green card—convinced the legislators to allow restaurants to sell up to 62,000 gallons a year of house-brewed beer. Bennewitz likes to brag that he did so without hiring a single lawyer.
The Weeping Radish opened on July 4, 1986, in the town of Manteo on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The business takes its name from a German delicacy in which radishes, when sliced and salted, exude beads of moisture that resemble tears. In contrast to the idiosyncratic beers of the other breweries mentioned in this article, brew master Andy Duck sticks to traditional German brews. Corolla Gold is one of the East Coast’s best examples of the under-appreciated helles style. Weeping Radish also produces an amber lager called Fest and a dark lager called Black Radish, as well as a seasonal wheat beer. Twelve-ounce bottles are contract-brewed by Clipper City Brewing Co. in Baltimore, MD, and sold as far away as Ohio.
Manteo, like many southern communities, has its blue laws. Restaurants, for instance, aren’t allowed to sell spirits, although you can buy as much liquor as you want at the local state store. Bennewitz has occasionally run afoul of local prudes. In 1989, the town cut off water to the brewery for a year, claiming that the yeast-laden effluent was too much of a strain on its wastewater treatment plant. Fortunately, Uli at that time operated a second brewery in Durham, NC, and trucked in beer in 400-gallon tankers.
The locals have mellowed out, perhaps realizing what a good thing they have in their midst. “We’re truly family oriented,” says Bennewitz. “We’re probably the only brewery in the country that has a playground outside. We go through more crayons than beer.”
Bennewitz also operates two non-brewing pubs in Corolla and Kitty Hawk, NC, and may add a few more. But his main project at the moment is a 15-acre eco-farm in neighboring Currituck County, where he’ll raise crops and livestock in an environmentally friendly manner. The farm will include a 4,000-barrel-a-year brewery, the wastewater from which will be diverted to the fields. On 64 adjacent acres, Bennewitz will build a commercial village inhabited by bakers, potters, woodworkers and other craftsmen.
“We’re either going to make a fortune or go broke in style,” he predicts.