The Hop-Pickle debuted at last year’s Fancy Food Show in Washington. The Huffington Post dubbed it one of the exhibition’s top 15 “best bites” and called it “the most hipster thing you’ve ever seen.”
The versatile 60 Minute IPA is used to marinate the pickles. Calagione ships it to New York in 200-gallon stainless-steel containers; the beer is first “denatured” (rendered unfit to drink) by being laced with salt so that Dogfish Head isn’t liable for alcoholic beverage taxes. Brooklyn Brine, a purveyor of pickled vegetables, adds the IPA to a brine made from apple cider vinegar, tossing in some habanero peppers and caramelized onions. The brine is boiled for an hour and a half before the pickles are immersed in it, according to Shamus Jones, owner of Brooklyn Brine. That evaporates the alcohol, rendering the pickles safe for underage snackers and pregnant women with a craving.
It’s “the earthy bitterness” that grabs you, says Calagione. The pickles are available in 16-ounce jars of chunky slices that retail for $8 via the Dogfish Web site. They’re also available through specialty food chains from New York down through Virginia.
Dogfish Head might be ahead of the curve, but other regional breweries are branching into beer cuisine. St. George Brewing in Hampton, Va., area is known for its English-style ales and for the Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale it brews under contract. But the brewery’s bestseller is a malty red ale that you won’t see in six-packs. It’s diluted to an alcohol content of 0.3 or 0.4 percent, then shipped to Newport News, where High Liner Foods processes it into a beer batter for its Icelandic Seafood line.
Elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay area, Parfections, a Cockeysville, Md.-based confectioner, teams with brewer Heavy Seas in Halethorpe, Md., to market a line of beer-infused truffles. Parfections’ Web site lists seven varieties, including the Loose Cannon Ale Truffle, which matches the beer’s citrusy hop content with dark chocolate and orange zest, and the Peg Leg Truffle, made with imperial stout and garnished with crushed coffee beans.
Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson says he’s happy with the collaboration but has no plans for additional beer comestibles. “I’d like to go down that path, but there aren’t enough hours in the day,” he sighs.
Calagione, whose operation is in the midst of an expansion that will boost capacity to more than a half-million barrels, can understand how the pressure to pump out liquid overwhelms all else. His first foray into packaged food, in 1999, was pints of ice cream flavored with Raison d’Etre. “But we didn’t have the space to continue it. That’s why we’ve decided to partner with other food companies.”
Project Bunyan is also a philosophical statement on how small businesses can compete in an economy dominated by mega-corporations. A brewery press release reads: “If Dogfish Head is to have lasting meaning and lasting distinction in an increasingly challenging beer industry, where foreign companies continue to gobble up marketshare, we need to focus more on local, on human scale, on resources that come from the mid-Atlantic region and on things that haven’t been done before.”
Although his hands are full at the moment, the entrepreneurial Calagione sees almost limitless possibilities in broadening his offerings: “Our lineup of 34 beers is like a giant liquid spice rack,” he says.
Kitsock is the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.