Book Review: Off-Centered Leadership

So, there I am, standing in line with hundreds of Dogfish minions waiting for the WOCAAW gates to open.  And then here comes Sam, grinning with his characteristic huge smile, greeting his peeps as he goes, offering high fives all around. I hold out my book and ask him to sign it for me, and...


Dogfish Head Brewing Weekend Of Compelling Ales and Whatnot

I never have enough time to read all the books, magazines and articles I want regardless of the format — print, digital, audio, purchased or loaned — but I still do read a lot. My favorite themes are trees and forests, history, technology, typography and beer and other spirits (of course).  Leading up to one my favorite annual events, the Dogfish Head Weekend of Compelling Ales and Whatnot (WOCAAW), was the release of Off-Centered Leadership, the latest book by Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, DE.  Now, this was back in 2016, so I'm a bit behind in my review but the book and the review are still very relevant. My copy arrived in time for me to take it to WOCAAW for Sam to sign it.  

The Skinny

While reading the book and even after turning the last page, I'm not certain who the intended audience was for this book — I suppose there probably was more than one. Portions were obviously aimed at a business owner striving to begin or grow a business, any business — brewery or otherwise. Other chapters would clearly be of interest to the craft beer enthusiast. But if you are just in the beginning stages of a brewing venture, then this book would be right in your sweet spot.

Beginnings, Growing, Learning

Some of the most interesting were the sections on beer culture. Sam has never made it a secret about his feelings of big beer's purchase of craft beer ventures such as Goose Island, Devils Backbone and the others. His warning is that the message is being intentionally blurred between true, independent craft brewers and those now owned and produced by mega-brewers such as AB-Inbev. This became very apparent during his 2013 interview with CBS This Morning. And then again, when it came to light that AB Inbev had gained a financial interest in Ratebeer, one of two highly popular beer rating platforms — Beer Advocate being the other. Well he could not stand silent and requested that all of Dogfish reviews be pulled from that service. “It is our opinion that this initiative and others are ethically dubious and that the lack of transparency is troubling." To date, his request has not been granted and DFH beers still show on the Rate Beer site.

So it was with great interest when the craft beer culture read that Dogfish had partnered with a private equity firm. What would this mean to DFH down the road? Was Sam selling out and this was the first step. In this book and elsewhere, Sam has been quite adamant that he wants to keep the business in the family. He vehemently opposes the craft beer buyouts by AB Inbev and others. His warning to craft beer drinkers is to beware of "crafty" not craft. It's as if he is standing akimbo on a platform warning big beer not to cross this line and shouting to the good beer minions not to fall for their tricks and devious behaviors.  

Dogfish Head, the country’s 13th largest craft brewery, today announced it has sold a 15 percent stake to LNK Partners, a New York-based private equity firm that has previously invested in companies like Niman Ranch, Performance Bicycle, Beachbody and Au Bon Pain, among others.

To our fellow independently-owned brewers, we encourage you to join us in this effort to ensure consumers continue to get the best and most accurate information about their beers. For everyone else, we encourage you to shift the sharing of your beer opinions and reviews to another platform that remains loyal to the principles of journalistic integrity. America’s Independence Day is just around the corner. Support the indie craft brewing movement!
— Sam Calagione — June 05, 2017

Final Thoughts

So is this a book I would recommend to a craft beer enthusiasts? I guess that depends on what you have on your reading list (if its too long, you could pass), your interest in craft beer (still many good books to catch up on, like many of Michael Jackson's books). Small businesses, entrepreneurs, brewing businesses in particular would find these lessons useful. Too, there are many books I begin and never complete. This one I did finish.

So, there I am, standing in line with hundreds of the Dogfish minions waiting for the WOCAAW gates to open.  And then here comes Sam, grinning with his characteristic huge smile, greeting his peeps as he goes, offering high fives all around. I hold out my book and ask him to sign it for me... and he just keeps on walking by. Ah, man! Sam, it's me!

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