Dogfish Head's first "packaging line" could handle two bottles at a time. Labels went on with rubber cement and sweat. Three guys and eight hours later, 100 cases were ready to go out the door.
From the get-go, we've been believers in dating our beers, but an ink-jet printer wasn't exactly in the budget back then. We did have a hacksaw, though.
"When we started packaging 12-ounce bottles, we had labels printed with numbers representing the months of the year," says Dogfish Head Founder and President Sam Calagione. "We'd take a whole handful and use a hacksaw to notch the month we were bottling on. It was a pretty analog process, but we wanted Dogfish supporters to know what they were getting."
When we finally did get that ink-jetter, we started date-coding the shoulder of every bottle and case box. These days, our seasonals and 750s are marked with the year and a letter representing the batch number (2013A = first batch of 2013), and the rest of our 12-ounce bottles are marked to the minute: month/day/year, time of day.
With the date stamped on every bottle, Dogfish Head retailers and regional sales managers can keep an eye on stocks to make sure they're up to date.
"Fresh is best for our hop-forward beers under 10% ABV," says Dogfish Head Quality Control Manager Rebecca Newman. "We want Dogfish supporters to taste the same flavors with the same intensities that we taste when the beer is released. With fresh beer, those hop notes are brighter, the malt melds well, and the carbonation has a snap to it that older beer doesn't have."
Each of our beers is different, so we keep a library to test not just the fresh versions of each style, but each style at 3 months old, 9 months, a year old and on and on. With the date stamp, those cellaring our ageable ales can keep tabs on their collection, too.
"We have some beers that will be great for just a few months, and we have other beers that could be great for many, many years," Sam says. "We realize it's kind of an inconvenience to not have one shelf life for every beer, but that's how seriously we take this. And we know our customers do, too."