Dogfish Head Sonic Archeology, Distilling It Down
I would love to have been alive during prohibition. According to the new Dogfish Head Distillery Tour, they had so much fun back then. In the speakeasy days, there were backroom bars, and special boating parties where you went out to the 12-mile limit, to international waters, where booze was legal again—very much like a lot of gambling boats do today.
So how did I learn all this? I took the tour, in downtown Rehoboth, at the new distillery behind Chesapeake & Maine and the Dogfish Brew Pub on Rehoboth Avenue. It’s a Distology Experience, meaning the art of cocktail innovation as a means of influencing distillation. Dogfish Head powers that be admit they made the word up. But whether you are a science geek, somebody fascinated by ingenuity, a Dogfish brew fan, or just a fan of really excellent cocktails, the tour is a delight.
We started at the bar at Chesapeake & Maine on a rainy Saturday, hearing about (and sampling) the new Sonic Archeology bottled beverage—officially called a prohibition inspired cocktail. It’s a blend of whiskey, rum, and apple brandy, plus honey, lemon, and pomegranate juice. It looks a little like punch and packs a big one.
Lead Mixologist Rob Bagley then took us on a fascinating tour of the complex distillery process, explaining how alcohol is stripped from beer-making liquid into raw alcohol that will become vodka, whiskey, gin, etc. There is sparkling new machinery for this distilling process at the small research and development distillery installation downtown. The science behind the process is as interesting as the eventual result—brews and liquors pumped directly into taps at the downtown brew pub.
It takes a combination of distilling and culinary science to get these bottled cocktails to market. Knowing the complexity of the process, these beverages are made for slow sipping—so you can think about their amazing journey.
I learned that vodka is all about purity. It’s 90 percent alcohol, whereas rum and other spirits are 75 percent alcohol, with flavors and color added. Looking at the bottles of liquid, you can understand how difficult it is to make the purest, clear vodka and mix the flavors for the other spirits.
One cool facet of the backstage tour was the Bride of Frankenstein Still. Yes, that’s what it is, just like moonshine from the old days. The original Frankenstein Still was Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione’s cobbled together first try at distilling liquor. From that came this new copper wonder, with a process so multifaceted it’s hard to believe that Bonnie’s great grandpa was able to do it deep in the woods, away from Grannie’s watchful eyes.
But seriously, this machine and the description of how it works is a mesmerizing part of the tour.
But by far, my favorite part of this Saturday experience was the hands-on, do-it-yourself mixing of a 750 ml bottle of the Sonic Archeology cocktail. Each of us in the group got to be a mixologist, starting with the embossed Dogfish Head bottle, adding whiskey, rum, brandy, and then the juices to make our own cocktail in a bottle. We got to label it and add our name as mixologist; the bottle, along with an embossed Dogfish Head snifter, was one hefty and welcome souvenir of the whole distillery experience.
Check out this tour and all the other off-centered tours offered by this brewery and distillery team. Let’s face it: Dogfish Head is now a national and international brewing and marketing phenomenon. And its roots are here in Rehoboth. We are so lucky to have this cool company in our midst.
So get the details at Dogfish.com. But be warned, they make you give your birthdate before they let you into the web site. I was so exhausted from scrolling to my birth year, I would have welcomed some Sonic Archeology when I was done.▼