Off-centered marketing for off-centered stuff
It was lunchtime in midtown Manhattan. Always primed to nibble at the Big Apple, I ventured into Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain to peruse the menu (knowing full well I was going to get the lobster club sandwich). Suddenly something familiar caught my eye: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA! Our very own Milton brewmeister was on Broadway! Well, a half-block from Broadway, but still….
Of course the beer tastes great, but it takes more than that to catch the attention of TV Chef Flay and his army of restaurant mavens. Business is business, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Bobby’s empire of eateries or some guy named Sam at an upstart brewery in Delaware: It all comes down to marketing. Very few people here in Sussex County get more ink than the affable Sam Calagione, but that’s not going to sell beer in New York City or San Diego. What does sell beer is a gaggle of self-described off-centered marketers working elbow to elbow with the off-centered owner (and his wife). And the manager of this team is none other than the proudly off-centered Maria Grieshaber.
I believe that part of the success of the Dogfish Head brand is due to Calagione’s camaraderie with and respect for his collection of dedicated folks. In their Milton offices, Sam and his wife Mariah occupy the same size cubicles as the staff. “We’re all geared up to support each other,” Grieshaber says, “Our wins are as important as our losses.”
In addition to Sam’s wife (social media guru of note), six gifted staffers toil behind the scenes to get the Dogfish Head name out there. Graphics guy Tim Parrott is the undisputed Designosaurus Rex. Those striking labels on the bottles? Visuals on the website? Merchandise branding? Rex. Rex. And Rex. And who keeps track of all those cool logo goodies in the store kiosk and online? The Goddess of Gear herself, Lindsey Falkowski, of course.
Press releases, web content and videos are the domain of Dogfish Storyteller Justin Williams. Justin recently produced an infomercial for their latest gadget, an infuser called Randall Jr. Fill young Randall with peppercorns, mint leaves - whatever - and kick your brew up a bit. Recent college graduate and oracle Janelle Miley was such a good intern that she now oversees customer service full time. She uses her prophetic powers to untangle whatever problems might arise for customers, distributors and retailers alike.
Local Sussex boy Mark Carter has racked up a lot of years with Calagione’s enterprise, alternating between Events Czar and Donations Dude. The Dogfish Dash, the Beer & Benevolence program and even the Tuesday-through-Saturday brewery tours all come under Mark’s supervision. Maria supports these czars, gurus, oracles, goddesses, storytellers and rexes by keeping a close eye on the big picture.
One of their most recent projects was the debut of DNA - Delaware Native Ale. Everything, even the proprietary strain of yeast, was developed, pollinated, cultivated, milled and cooked right here in the First State. Like all their products, the brew was subjected to their rigorous “sensory program," a multi-tiered testing process that begins with 20 employees from all parts of the company. The seasoned sippers meet regularly to evaluate the flavor, mouth feel, color, aroma and overall appearance of the brewers’ latest creations. Palates are refreshed between nips with water and saltine crackers.
The second tier is even more of a hurdle for the fledgling product: The restaurant customers themselves. The new brews are cooked up on-premises, and bartenders ask their guests’ opinions. All this before the final potion is awarded the Designosaurus Rex-approved label.
Everybody at the brewery feels that beer can become the “new wine.” Not unlike a wine-pairing across town, Dogfish Head matches its beers to specific foods. Some varieties are even sold in larger bottles that look classier on a table than, say, a dented can of Pabst with the top popped.
Maria confided in me that her time with Dogfish Head has changed her life. Her pride in the organization is obvious. “I couldn’t stand behind it if it weren’t genuine.”