This is a big deal for Calagione, who had been nominated in the category for seven straight years, but had never won.
The only other brewer to ever win the award was Garrett Oliver, owner of the famous Brooklyn Brewery.
What distinguishes Calagione and Dogfish Head from many other brewers is the level of success they have had with highly experimental craft beers. Even their IPA’s are quite a contrast to the standard IPA fare. They practically invented the East Coast IPA, which is less bitter and more balanced than the West Coast IPA. This is especially true in their famous 90 Minute IPA, which is almost always on an any best IPA list.
They have experimented with some insane beers, including taking a Pennsylvania staple, scrapple, and aiming to make a breakfast stout with that as a base ingredient. That beer ended up being as Beer for Breakfast in 2014 and was actually released in bottles.
Needless to say it is not that surprising to see Calagione and Dogfish Head receive this recognition. Dogfish Head has clearly been a major player in the craft beer scene for a long time (22 years) and Calagione is a big character who brings a lot of personality and marketing sense to the company.
Nonetheless, the impact this has on craft beer cannot be overstated. Beer generally is treated as the low-culture style of alcoholic beverages. It is much more common for people to think that a beautifully crafted spirit or special wine is a far superior alcoholic drink than any beer out there.
There is also long been a viewpoint that beer should respect the European traditions and stick to very certain principles when making beer. Dogfish Head squashes that notion by winning such a prestigious award by making a name for themselves by not sticking to tradition.
I hope that this award allows more and more people to get inspired by good beer and realize that there is nothing wrong with appreciating good beer.
There are so many people who fancy themselves as wine experts or whiskey/tequila lovers and no one bats an eye. However, people who say they love craft beer are often sneered at or called a beer snob. This is something I speak of from experience, especially being a college student.
There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into brewing beer and breweries are often expected to offer a wide variety of styles. To be able to nail so many styles is something truly special and Dogfish Head has done that over the years.
If the judges for James Beard Awards can see and respect craft beer, so can the masses. Go on down to your local brewery and try some beers. You may be surprised at what you find.
Meanwhile, I am going to go pour myself a nice, cold 90 Minute IPA.