Positive Contact: Dan the Automator Meets Dogfish Head Ale
Beer and music have gone together since those ancient Mesopotamians first learned that consuming fermented sugars tended to cause them to burst into song. Though the traditional pub song has mostly lost its place among American watering holes, one brewery is doing what it can to reconnect those two wonderful gifts.
“I’m as big a music geek as I am a beer geek,” says Sam Caligione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales. The Delaware-based brewery releases its own boxset of sorts today, packaging Positive Contact—a beer co-created with Dan the Automator—along with the producer’s remix of Deltron 3030 on thick, white vinyl.
The idea for the project originated with the Automator, born Daniel Nakamura. A huge Miles Davis fan, he’d seen what Dogfish Head had done with Bitches’ Brew, a beer commemorating the jazz great. He contacted Caligione, who told him he was only interested if Nakamura was willing to get deeply involved in the beer making process.
“I spent $300 on shipping and $400 on beer sending him 35 or 40 different Dogfish Beers,” Caligione recalls. “He sent me diary entries of what he liked about which beers and a stream-of-consciousness list of culinary ingredients he liked.”
They finally met on the roof of Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian grocery store and tasting room on New York’s Madison Square Park. They tasted various ingredient combinations and settled on an ale brewed with Fuji apple cider, slow-roasted farro, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
Caligione was as excited about the music as the beer. “My early love was hip hop and punk rock,” says Caligione. “When that Deltron 3030 album came out, I fell in love with it. It’s cinematic music with Dan’s super elaborate rhythms—really distinct.”
In addition to dub remixes, the album and beer come with recipes from chef friends of both Caligione and the Automator, like Batali’s Frittelle Di Zucchini and Ricotta, James Syhabout’s Grilled Oysters with Charred Onions in Brown Butter and Pink Peppercorns, and David Chang’s Momofuku Fried Chicken. Sean Paxton’s Positive Contact Trifle even calls for two-and-a-half cups of the ale.
The whole process was a labor of love for Caligione, who doesn’t expect to make any money off it. But it won’t be the last beer in Dogfish Head’s music series; he sees it as a perfect fit for the beer company and already has another un-announced artist collaboration in the works for February or March of 2013.
“We’re analog beer for the digital age,” he says. “Artists we work with tend to have an affinity for analog—whether in the studio or by releasing the music on vinyl.”
To that end, the Dogfish Head will host Analog-A-Go-Go, a cask-beer festival and vinyl-record-swap at the Milton, Del., brewery on June 23, where all four of the music series beers—Bitches’ Brew, Hellhound on My Ale (for Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday), Faithfull Ale (for Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary) and Positive Contact—will be on tap. The Fleshtones, Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, and Bonnie Prince Billy will be performing at the nearby brewpub at Rehoboth Beach.
“Top 40 music is like light lager,” Caligione offers, comparing mass-marketed pop artists to the big American beer companies. “We’ll find like-minded artists marginalized by super-slick music or beer. We take it as a challenge to get our peanut butter in their chocolate and expand awareness for both.”