WTF Dogfish Head?

Alcohol Tourism Dogfish Head SculptureThere wasn’t much on the path from Connecticut to Delaware.  We specifically went out of our way to hit Dogfish Head Brewery.  Two tolls over $13 each, crazy beach traffic on Memorial Day weekend, and interstate the whole way challenged us, but we persevered.  Susan loves the idea of Dogfish Head, and especially loves one of their beers, Namaste.  I have a hard time with Dogfish Head because, like Ben and Jerry’s, I don’t do well with individualistic descriptions in lieu of styles.  Their beers are very much hit and miss for me.

The brewery is tucked away behind a large new residential development, right across the street from some duplexes.  A terrific wrought iron treehouse sculpture highlighted the front area.  Numerous 20-somethings populated the front lawn, playing cornhole and bocce.  A free tour and up to four tastings was a great deal.

Dogfish Head takes great pride in their motto, “Off-centered ales for off-centered people.”  They use compostable cups and seem keen in sustainability.  They clearly seem oriented towards the hippies of the world.  Or, maybe, the hipsters.

We bellied up to the bar.  We obviously appreciate beer people talking beer with each other, but we do feel that should take back seat to actually serving beer.  The bar was busy, but we still waited a long time, due largely to the bartender talking beer with patrons who’d already been served.

As Susan was ordering our first flight, I went to check out the food situation at the food truck.  The website seems to imply there is a restaurant at the brewery, but the website is referring to their brewpub, not the production brewery.

I discovered the food truck serves bratwurst, and clam chowder with pork.  Oh, and pickles.  So, essentially, nothing a vegetarian could eat.  At a cool, edgy brewery apparently geared towards the fringe elements.  This was also at 2pm, with both of us looking forward to lunch.  No food for vegetarians or pescetarians at Dogfish Head.  WTF, Dogfish Head?


More Breweries, Less Wineries

Alcohol Tourism Waterfall

Our first ever alcohol tour focused on waterfalls and wineries in Tasmania, Australia.  We love wineries- they’re usually set in beautiful countryside, they’re locally owned, and they often produced great booze.  Our three trips within the US, however, have all focused on breweries.  We hit wineries, distilleries, meaderies, and cideries when possible, but there are three basic reasons why breweries are our preferred method of alcohol touring.

1) Breweries are everywhere

Sure, put “winery” or “brewery” into Google Maps and the former will light the US up like a Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, most of those wineries are not open Mon-Thurs, or not open to the public at all.

Alcohol Tourism Menu2) Breweries serve food

Many breweries are also brewpubs, serving food and beer.  This makes them excellent lunch and dinner destinations- good waypoints for the mid day and end of the day.  Some wineries do serve food, but in our experience they are overpriced, fancy affairs more suited to high-maintenance guests than people who just want a decent plate of food.  Also, considering one person has to drive, the driver can sit down at the brewpub and have a taste without having to immediately hit the road.  Winery visits without food tend to prohibit the driver from experiencing enough of the wine to get a full appreciation for the flavour.

3) Reasonably priced tastings

We’ve observed before the problem of charging for tastings.  At a brewery, a $5 charge usually gets you more beer than in a pint.  At a winery, a $4 – $8 charge usually gets you barely enough wine to experience the flavours.  Some family-run wineries still do free tastings, but they are harder to find and widely dispersed.  Entering a brewery, you know there will be a charge, but you’ll get a decent amount of beer with it.

Breweries are much more ‘our speed’.  Local, chill, independent, anti-establishment, and focused on the product.  Wineries tend to be more fancy and targeting a higher socioeconomic status.  We aim for breweries and, if a good winery presents itself, we’ll check it out.  But we focus on the breweries.

Alcohol Tourism Relaxed

The Cost of Free

For those unfamiliar with behavioral economics, it is based on the premise that people don’t always make rational decisions when it comes to their finances.  This is critical to alcohol tourism, since the companies selling the alcohol make financial decisions which affect us, the consumer and traveller.  Unfortunately, we have found that some businesses haven’t thought things through ve well.

In a perfectly rational economic model, businesses should charge for a tasting.  They are offering a service for a fee.  Your decision to make a purchase should be, in a rational mind, independent of the fee for tasting.  If you like the wine, you buy the wine, independent of the fact that you paid for a tasting fee.  This would also discourage people from ‘mooching’- taking a free tasting and not making a purchase.  As mentioned, though, people aren’t perfectly rational.  There are two ways businesses can take advantage of this: using the sunk cost fallacy and reciprocity.  Mooching is also a fallacy when it comes to free offerings.

The sunk cost fallacy is often paraphrased as “in for a penny, in for a pound.”  Alcohol destinations can use this to their advantage, and everyone ends up happy.  Those establishments which charge for a tasting fee which is waived if you make a purchase use the sunk cost fallacy.  You do the tasting, which normally costs $5.  If you buy a bottle of wine, the fee is waived.  You’re already in for $5, but if you buy the bottle, it’s like you got $5 off the cost of the bottle.  You’re happy because you got a discount and the winery is happy because they got you to buy their wine.

Reciprocity is the idea that people return favors.  When Hare Krishna would give people a flower in airports, people would often give them a donation, even though they almost immediately discardeBold Rock Ciderd the flower.  The flower therefore had no value to them, so why did they make a contribution?  It’s because of reciprocity.  On this trip, Bold Rock Cider and the Vermont Spirits Distilling Company used this to happy effect- they give a free tasting, creating a condition of reciprocity.  We feel indebted to them, so make a purchase.  We win by getting a free tasting, and they win by selling their liquor.

Why doesn’t every alcohol business do this?  We have encountered more wineries in recent years that charge a fee for tastings whether you buy their wine or not.  This leads us to ask, are they in the wine tasting business or the wine selling business?  If they want to sell wine, using sunk cost and reciprocity would work to their advantage.  Maybe they are trying to fend off moochers.  These are alcohol tourists who just hit free tastings and don’t make a purchase.  While such people must exist, experiments show they are rare.  When students are allowed to take any amount of free candy they like, they always moderate their consumption.  It is perceived as a shared resource, so they don’t take all of the candy.

In short, wineries, breweries, and distilleries of the world: offer free tastings (best) or waive the tasting fee with a purchase (good).  You will have happier customers and you will sell more stuff.  And we will say nice things about you on our blog.

Alcohol Tourists

The Growler Fill Line

Our plan was simple.  At each brewery or brewpub we liked, we would get a growler fill, which wouldGrowler Fill Line sustain us until we got to more delicious beer.  Repeat for the duration of the trip.  Some days we knew we wouldn’t like any beer, so we would have reserves in the form of the growlers.  The plan worked perfectly through North Carolina, into Virginia, and even for our first step in Vermont.  After that, it all went wrong.

The Vermont Pub is Vermont’s oldest craft brewery.  Founded by beer legend Greg Noonan in 1989, the Pub is right in the middle of downtown Burlington.  Their lineup featured over 10 beers, most of them amazing.  The Pub earned one of our very few 5/5 scores for beer.  We asked about growler fills and they confirmed they do them.  We were excited to get some of their great beer for the road.  The next morning, we showed up to fill our growlers, and they claimed they only filled their own growlers.  We were shocked and dismayed.  What could possibly be the reason for this?  They just missed out on selling beer!

As we came to discover, New Hampshire and Maine both have laws which prohibit breweries and brewpubs from filling growlers that do not have their name on it.  The Maine law reads, in part, “Malt liquor must be dispensed in bottles provided by and with labels unique to the brewery…”  You would think they could just print a label and stick it on the growler.  Rock Art in Vermont- another fabulous Rock Art Flightbeer find- did just that.  Vermont obviously had no laws about this- since we got two locales to fill our existing growlers in the state (Madison Brewing and Rock Art Brewing)- so we couldn’t figure out why so many of the breweries rejected our existing growlers.  It may be spillover from the other New England states.  I’d hate to think it’s an attempt to get more money out of people.  If so, that attempt backfired badly with us.  Not only did we not buy their growler, but we didn’t buy their beer, which is ostensibly the product they are selling.

The growler fill rules in New England are disappointing.  We visited a few tiny mom-and-pop type operations where we just couldn’t take their beer away because they only did kegs and filled their own growlers.  After that, we were looking forward to getting out of New England, just so we could start getting our growlers filled for the journey home!

Stumbling Downtown Portland ME

Downtown Portland

We parked behind Shipyard Brewing at 1:20pm.  When we checked in with Shipyard, they only do tastings on the hour.  I’ve never had a Shipyard beer I liked, so we pressed on to Sebago Brewing.  Sebago was in the fancy brand of craft beer we have encountered in New England, with several brewpubs around the area.  Their doppelbock was extraordinary- a little fruitiness up front, nice malt character, and a clean finish.

Gritty McDuff’s claims to be Maine’s oldest brewpub, serving a lineup of primarily English style ales.  They also have several establishments in the area, and the downtown location had a bourbon barrel aged IPA on draft which was delightful.  Their cask bitter and house-made cider were well done to style and delicious.  Novare Res is not a brewery, but a bier garten similar to Thirsty Monk’s in Asheville.  They had an all-Belgian lineup, comfortable leather couches around a fire, and a quiet, chill atmosphere on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon.  The ambiance was unbeatable, and revived us for the other half of our stumble.

Novare ResRising Tide and Bunker Beer can be spoken of in the same breath.  They are both warehouse breweries with a hop-dominated lineup and a cool, open friendly atmosphere.  The beer was really not to our liking, and it was hard to decide if they were even to style.  Not our beer scene- there was nowhere to sit or quietly enjoy your beer- but apparently quite popular with the locals.

Our last boozy stop was Maine Mead Works which was simply amazing.  A free tasting of nearly a dozen meads.  Most remarkably, their mead didn’t have that typical honey flavour- it was much more smooth and blended.  They say this is due to their process of continuous fermentation, whereby some honey is added to an existing fermentation.  The large number of yeast rapidly and more thoroughly metabolize the honey, making the flavour more smooth.  We bought four bottles and wish we could have bought Maine Mead Worksmore.  The tea mead was one of the most interesting and delicious things we have ever tasted.

At the end of our stumble, we went to Dobra Tea to have a nice wind down and sober up.  Dobra is a staple of ours when we visit Asheville, and this is the second location we encountered in this trip.  They have quiet, elevated areas where you can have hushed conversation over a perfectly brewed cup of tea- excellent for alcohol metabolism.  Portland Maine had some nice hits and a few misses, but the ability to experience so many different producers in a short walkable area was great fun for us and we would recommend you visit.