Dogfish Head turns beer to gold with Midas Touch Elixir

When you’re one of the most recognized and acclaimed breweries and restaurants in the state, you’re bound to turn some heads. When your beer is awarded high honors among nearly 3,000 others hailing from 646 breweries that span 58 countries, you’ve got a gift.

Coastal Point • Jesse Pryor: Dofish Head owner Sam Calagione with lead brewer Bryan Selders and Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania. McGovern discovered vessels in the burial chamber of King Midas in Gordion, Turkey, filled with ruminants of ale, which the three usCoastal Point • Jesse Pryor
Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione with lead brewer Bryan Selders and Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania. McGovern discovered vessels in the burial chamber of King Midas in Gordion, Turkey, filled with ruminants of ale, which the three us

Near the end of April, Dogfish Head Brewery proved itself a cut above the rest as it returned with a remarkable and noteworthy showing at the largest judged competition of beer in the world. Their Midas Touch Golden Elixir took home the bronze medal in the Brewer’s Association 2008 World Beer Cup in San Diego, Calif., in the Specialty Honey Ale/Lager category, making it the winningest beverage the Rehoboth brewery has to offer.

Midas Touch was also one of only six beers to be served at the World Beer Cup dinner at the event. Since the beverage sensation was derived by the brewery six years ago, it has picked up reputation from several other events, including a silver-medal showing at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival and several previous showings at the World Beer Cup, which is held every two years.

“These awards are definitely a nice feather in our caps, and they bring the brewery international recognition,” said Dogfish Head founder and President Sam Calagione. “They build a worldwide awareness of our beer.

“The brewery is enjoying record growth, anyway, but these awards shine a brighter light on the work that we’ve been doing,” he noted. “It’s also nice because the exotic, non-traditional beers are what we’re known for doing. Midas is a great example of one of these, and it’s nice to be recognized for what we specialize in.”

Midas has earned its spot at the top of the list, becoming the fifth best-selling beer at Dogfish, aside from being one of the latest additions. Its distinguished flavor, Calagione said, makes it a perfect accompaniment to grilled and spicy foods, especially Pan-Asian cuisines, curries and chicken.

The concoction is based closely on a discovery made in an archaeological find in a 1957 excavation. A University of Pennsylvania expedition found a burial chamber and remains in Gordion, Turkey, believed to possibly have been those of the legendary King Midas, whose greed and self-indulgence virtually cost him his life when he was bestowed the “golden touch,” according to myth. Inside the chamber, dating back to 700 B.C., were vessels containing ruminants of ale, made from a combination of barley beer, mead, or fermented honey, and Muscat grapes.

“We came to the realization that it was not just a beer,” said Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Molecular Archaeology, “but was a mixture of beer, wine and mead. When we first discovered this, it was amazing. We hadn’t really heard of mixing these ingredients into one product. From there, we thought it would be interesting to try and re-create this beverage.”

McGovern and Calagione got together to recreate the brew, which happens to be the oldest-known fermented beverage in the world.

“We discovered a yellowish residue in these vessels that suggested there was some other kind of bittering agent,” McGovern added. “They couldn’t have used hops, since they only date back somewhere around 1,000 A.D. in northern Europe.”

In attempt to recreate the essence of the elixir, saffron — a common ingredient from the era in that location — was used.

“We intended to brew it one time,” noted Calagione, “but it proved to be really popular.”

The story behind Midas Touch Golden Elixir snowballed into an obsession, netting the brewery worldwide recognition with stories in notable sources, such as People magazine and the New York Times. McGovern and Calagione even filmed a documentary about the discovery and brewing with the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC).

“It’s an incredible beverage that really bridges together the world of wine and the world of beer,” Calagione added “Wine receives a lot more respect and accolades in the beverage industry, but this proves that beer can and does hold its own with wine in terms of body, complexity and compatibility.”

Putting the award-winning taste into words is no easy task.

“It’s an incredible flavor,” he said. “I’d describe it as a mix between a world-class chardonnay and a Belgian ale, with a tinge of floral expression.”

Bryan Selders has held the position of lead brewer four of the six years he’s worked at Dogfish, and he is a fundamental contributor for each beer that makes its way to the bottle and tap. Originally a home brewer, he joined Calagione to help create the beverages from which the Delaware-founded brewery has drawn its fame.

“I make it happen,” Selders said. “They will bring me the idea, and I am responsible for turning it into a palatable beverage. They’ll come with ingredients, and I’ll play around with ratios to see what I can come up with.”

Being a substantial element in the production of Midas Touch has given Selders great honors.

“It feels wonderful to be part of something so big,” he said. “We are excited to see Midas Touch, such a unique and excellent beer, be recognized by our peers.”

The crew at Dogfish, with facilitating guidance from McGovern, has been continuing their ancient brewing techniques, unearthing a 9,000 year-old recipe from northern China: Chateau Jiahu. The beverage, which debuted in 2005, confirmed that rice fruit and honey were also mixed to create fermented beverages.

This past week, they returned to the drawing board to revive the oldest-known chocolate-based beer, which they have dubbed “Theobroma,” loosely translated to “food of the gods.”

“Long before people were eating chocolate,” said Calagione, “they were drinking it. This is really the first form of chocolate that people ingested.”

Theobroma is expected to make the move to the pints of Dogfish customers later this year.

With the reputation of his brewery swelling under the recognition of more and more of its brews, Calagione continues his success at the business that started it all. The Rehoboth pub and restaurant, which opened in 1995, was the original brewing site. Today, it is where the new recipes are hatched and the first batches made, but daily brewing continues at the company’s Milton brewery, which started operating seven years ago.

For more information about the Dogfish Head brewery and its products, or to grab a bite or a pint, stop in at Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats at 320 Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth Beach. The business is open every day at noon, with on-site brewery tours available on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. They can also be reached by calling (302) 226-2739 or online at, which offers extensive information on the business and its offerings.

For information on the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, call (302) 684-1000. The brewery offers tours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3 p.m., with summer-season tours also offered on Saturdays at 3 p.m. The tour includes sampling (for those of legal drinking age), a guided tour and the opportunity to purchase Dogfish Head merchandise at the on-site gift shop.