Q&A #2: Tim Hawn of Dogfish Head Brewery

We’re going to try something new here at Al Dente. Rather than just write about the beer I drink or food I eat, I want to learn more about the people that make, grow, and get the food and/or drinks to us. And, I want to share what they know with all of you. I’m working out the kinks, so if this is a little long, I apologize. I also don’t know what to call this yet, but all in due time.

Tim Hawn

Tim Hawn

Tim Hawn seems a little preoccupied during our visit. He’s on his first day back from a trip to Bonaire, where he, his wife and friends spent their annual deep-sea diving trip. Since returning to the office, he has been playing catch up with his brewing team and sitting in on job interviews. After our time together, he’s heading to a meeting with human resources to discuss tactics for employee retention and, at some point, he will get to sit down and start catching up on email.

Hawn is the brewmaster of Dogfish Head Brewery, the nation’s 19th largest brewer and 13th largest craft brewer according to cleverly named Brewers Association, and responsible for quality and integrity of the expansive range of beers produced at its Milton, Del. factory. Founded in 1995, Hawn joined Dogfish Head in 2011 with expansion in mind. The opening of a state-of-the-art packaging line and distribution center in 2013 allowed the brewery to double its square footage and increase brewing capacity. He’s not stopping there.

Tim Hawn gave me the nickel tour of Dogfish Head’s tour in mid-July and let me bother him with questions about where he’s been, what’s next for Dogfish Head, how you make a gluten free beer.

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AL DENTE VISITS DOGFISH HEAD: Read more about Al Dente’s visit to the landmark brewery.
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You came in from MillerCoors?

I started with Pabst, and Miller bought my plant and shut it down in 2003. I spent some time at different breweries. I did a lot of contract work for Boston Beer Company at the time, McKenzie’s, and Pete’s, I was always at very flexible breweries, we would do a lot of…Boston was great at going to people that had a lot of capacity and saying “Hey, brew our beer.” The joke when I got here was that, “You’re the person that’s been at the biggest brewery,” because my last stop was at a 9 million barrel brewery.

Hawn with Brewer Peter Hepp

Hawn with Brewer Peter Hepp

Your last stop was at the plant that made a lot of Blue Moon?

We brewed at one point in time, when they pulled in all of Canada, we brewed all of the Blue Moon seasonals and about 55 percent of Blue Moon itself. I was in North Carolina before I came here, but I’ve been in California and Washington before that. I’ve lived in Florida, lived in Idaho.

How for you is the balance between the the artistic and creative stuff and the beers that make the money? How do you balance that off?

Well, we have the pub for it. There’s always an evaluation for it. There’s room to be creative. The 60 (Minute IPA) and 90 (Minute IPA) pay our bills. With the distillery, we’re starting it up like we have no money, so we’re asking mom and dad for money, even though we have a great company that can help support things. So we’ll always find that balance of doing it but one of the big things that we run into, and I’ll use this example. Sam found this really cool honey and it tasted awesome. Well, to do 200 barrels, that was 2 1/2 years of the world’s supply. Now, I can do it for the pub, and we did and it was really cool. So, the bigger you get, and I think that’s one of the challenges for people and not just us, when you start getting to this size where, “I can’t even 200 barrel batches because it’s just not available on that kind of scale,” that’s kind of what our pub is for, to take that piece and do those kind of things where it’s not commercially available but we really want to see what it does.

You take a brand like Choc-Lobster with lobsters and everything else in it, that shit’s not cheap to make. And it’s a major pain in the ass with cleaning. Think about shellfish allergies. That was one of those things with the taste panel where I said everybody signs that they are not allergic to shellfish before you put it in front of them because we are not joking here. I don’t know if boiling kills that allergen or not. I’m not taking a chance.

Hawn and Dogfish Head Founder Sam Calagione

Hawn and Dogfish Head Founder Sam Calagione

Do you manage the brewery up at Eataly as well?

Eataly is a separate chain, so if they need help and friendly advice, I can give it to them. They pretty much do their own thing. Sam will go up and brew with them and I’ll send them the recipe for it and do a lot of that here. But in general they act independently. If they need something, they can send us samples and we can use the lab, but the whole Eataly concept itself is independent. We have trained them, brought them down here to teach them systems, quality and how things work.

What do you think the evolution of the IPA series is going to be? Sixty-One is relatively new and popular. Is there anything coming in that series? Another minute?

We’ll do some things, but we don’t have any plans to do anything in the next year. It’s an interesting category, I think, and I’ll just speak for us personally, we buy one variety of hops, and last year I bought 75 percent of the acreage of it. So, we have some self-imposted limitations based on raw materials. So, my personal preference, and I’m only going to speak for me, I love IPAs, I love the shit out of them. But I think there’s a whole lot of other beers that could be ip and coming. The question is which one is it.

So, how does the Tweason Ale work in with the brewing system given that it’s got to remain gluten free? I ask because I have a five-year-old that has Celiac disease. Not that we’re sitting down and feeding her Tweasons or anything.

Well, we do all of our cleaning up front, so we go down at the end of a week and completely clean front to back. All of the ingredients we use are run through clean systems. You can still make gluten free beers, you just can’t make them midweek. Everything is always done at the beginning of the week. The equipment for the gluten free stuff is cleaned before and cleaned after, and ran at the beginning of the week. We really only make a bit of it, but it’s purely about cleaning process that goes in and keeping the ingredients separate so that we don’t co-mingle. We use honey in it, sorghum syrups, strawberries, so nothing is co-mingled with the malts and stuff. We have in-house testing we can do that’s more of a sanity check to “Is this right?” Because if that tells us it’s wrong, we’re doing anything with it other than dumping it. But then it also goes out. We have an outside agency that verifies that each batch is gluten free, so we don’t just rely in that case on us because if people really have Celiac disease, we want them to enjoy this. But, that’s why we have that extra check because we’re not experts in that. We’re experts in making great beers. We understand the basis of the test but I’d really hate to rely on portable testing that is not as complex, so I would rather send it to somebody else.

Hawn pouring beers at Great American Beer Fest in Denver

Hawn pouring beers at Great American Beer Fest in Denver

I look at some of the other ones as to how they are managing their process. As a for instance, I take her for ice cream, most ice cream is gluten free but once the cone touches the tip of the soft serve machine, it’s contaminated.

We validate that. A lot of the folks that are doing them that are gluten reduced beers or gluten removed. The enzyme they use to do that is actually used by a lot of folks in their filtration. So, it’s kind of a stumble on, but there’s a lot of people using it that don’t advertise their beers that way.

So, with breweries like New Belgium and Lagunitas moving east, is DF going to move west?

Well, we ship west. There’s some model that says that’s the thing and we have to do it. Right now our goal is to expand. Lagunitas, it was my understanding that they were maxed out in their Petaluma facility. As a matter of fact, they just signed a contract to be in Azusa, which I suspect is the old Miller Brewing Company from back in the 1970s, because that’s where the old Miller Brewing used to be that’s now in Irwindale. They were capacity limited. If we were truly capacity limited, I would sit here and tell you that’s probably a more realistic decision, but we’re not yet. So our issue is more around managing freight cost across the country. If we can do that successfully, we probably have 5-7 years worth of growth here before we need that, but we always have that conversation. Because there’s a point where, and then if you follow anything about Southern California it’s about water. We are on our own wells and we don’t have water issues. So for us it’s probably not in the cards for the next 2 or 3 years, but I’ll never say never.

What I will say is this, and you’ll understand why I never say never. When I hired here in 2011 we were looking at a new 750ml bottle line with cork and cage. Within 3 months we saw what 750s were doing and thought that was not a smart investment. As our VP of sales at the time, Adam Lambert, and Nick Benz (then Dogfish Head’s COO, now its CEO) and Sam went up to some conference in New York and came back and said, “Hey, you’ve got 30 days to get a new brewhouse online.” We were never going to do it. We were going to sit and have a different strategy and wait. So that’s why I’m never going to say never because I look back on that day and say, “Are you kidding me? I have 30 days to design and work with companies to get something designed and under bid.”

Truth be told, it wasn’t 30, it took us a bit longer than that. I think that was to put the sense of urgency in and say, “Don’t dick around on this. This has got to get done now.” But something in the industry could happen because craft is on this massive expansion. Sierra Nevada was doing a really good job, but they were also getting capacity limited in Chico. So do they keep paying freighter bills or build a beautiful facility in North Carolina? Those guys are first class all the way. But we’re just not at that point where we say, “We have no room to grow and we can’t make anymore beer so let’s go ahead and expand.”

What is the ultimate goal, aside from world domination?

$1 million. I keep asking for it but no one will give it to me. When I say what the ultimate goal is, we took a design philosophy and said we want to do a half million barrels. This year, we should do 250 (thousand). We have more than in terms of goals but you have to pick something to design to. Versus a house if you’ve got a big Y you can say “In the future I want to add a big room and 20,000 square feet. Because brewing equipment is so big, you’re better to pick some number so when you put in your new brewhouse, it’s designed to get you there versus what do I need for the next two or three years because you then you really get this space issue.

Still though, I want the million.

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