For Delaware’s second largest brewery, a flurry of activity has led to a renewed, independent outlook
“We believe in the people that we deal with and we believe in the liquids that we make.”
Those are the words of Joe Yacone, a man who comes across as earnest and focused, but also one who exudes the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store. Yacone is the new Delaware Market manager at Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co., which has been making bold moves of late.
Starting at the tail end of 2018, Fordham & Dominion ended its 12-year partnership with Anheuser-Busch, InBev, and became independent again. Around the same time, the brewery essentially merged its two portfolios, consolidating the popular Fordham beers and the longtime Dominion favorites under the Fordham & Dominion umbrella. This change came with a fresh look to its packaging: simple, bold lettering atop subtle and refined background designs.
Next, in February, a new canning system came online–a first for the brewery that started in 1995. Then, just recently, the remodeled tasting room reopened after being dormant for five months.
Yacone may be new, but he’s very familiar with the tasting room, even with its new look. He ran this part of the business for a little more than a year. Then in 2015, Yacone left to work sales at 16 Miles Brewing in Georgetown. When that company closed doors earlier this year, he got the call from FoDo (as he sometimes calls it).
The call came from FoDo Head Brewer Dan Louder, who’s been with the company for more than a decade. Louder has an interesting story as well, working his way up from a call-in fix-it guy, to part-time maintenance technician, to full-time assistant brewer, to head brewer.
Perhaps most interesting about his story is that Louder didn’t like craft beer when he started 10 years ago as a fix-it guy. But then he realized that making beer combined two of his primary skills. The first is fixing things. Knowing the machinery has helped keep the jobs on schedule and has saved the brewery from needlessly dumping wasted product.
The second thing he is good at is baking, which isn’t something you would ever guess from a guy who has just spent minutes vividly describing the intricacies of brewing machinery. Turns out the baking skills have been vital.
“I really love baking, and I’m really good at homemade icings and all that,” Louder says. “Brewing beer is just like baking. Time, temperature, and measurement are key. It’s got to be precise to have repetition and the same consistent product coming out.”
In the still relatively new FoDo tasting room, the three of us talk while sipping on classics like their Gypsy Lager as well as more recent offerings like Black Magic, a tart 3.8 percent ABV sour made from raspberries, and Sweet Heat IPA, which, as the name implies, has a sweet fruit flavor followed by a mellow habanero resolve.
O&A: Joe, to start, let’s talk about one of the biggest changes—the split with AB. What was the reason behind that decision?
Yacone: When we first started with AB, it allowed us to expand our distribution beyond our own means. Before that, we weren’t able to acquire distribution as we were with Anheuser-Busch.
But when I ran the tasting room here back in 2015, because of that contract, we weren’t able to sell beer out of it. Being the second largest brewery in Delaware, that was always tough. You’d have patrons come in and say, “What do you mean you can’t sell beer?” [laughs]
So I think that was part of the thinking [for leaving AB]. We wanted the emphasis on being a really strong regional brand: putting a focus on quality above quantity. We are currently brewing about 25,000 barrels a year.
O&A: And is that where you see yourselves wanting to stay?
Yacone: Yes. Obviously, we’ve had aspirations to grow, but not grow [to the point] of taking away the quality of the liquids we’re putting out there.
We’ve seen it many times where brewers get this hint of success, so they start wanting to grow and push out. And in some cases, either they’ve forgotten to take care of their backyard or have inventory issues because they were so excited to push out, and they forget about HQ. They forget about home base. ?
O&A: Speaking of keeping it local, you have Cheesetoberfest coming up on Oct. 19 right here at the brewery. What is it about cheese that makes it so perfect to pair with beer?
Yacone: We’d always talked about doing some sort of Octoberfest event. We thought to ourselves: “What kind of food could we introduce that everybody loves?”
That’s when we started tossing out ideas. We’ve all eaten a grilled-cheese sandwich at one point or another. Someone suggested mac & cheese. And we couldn’t decide which idea was better, so we decided to do them both.
This year will be our seventh annual Cheesetoberfest on Oct. 19th, and we’ve already got 25 confirmed restaurants across the state. So from every county we’ve got restaurants coming to showcase their versions of grilled cheese and mac & cheese. Let me tell you: There’s no plain Janes out there. These restaurants come to win, and they come to showcase their ability to create great food.
We’re going to have traditional Octoberfest games. We’re going to have a stein hoist. We’ll probably have a keg toss. We’re going to have our German brass band from Philly come down again.
This year we’re going to be introducing two local bands to the mix. That’s something we’ve never done in the past. That’s one thing about Delaware: There is always a local draw – whether it’s food, whether it’s music, whether it’s beverage. It’s something that this state and this community really pushes: Drink local and eat local. So we want to make sure that’s a big part of it.
O&A: As you look ahead, what are you most excited about?
Yacone: When I first came back, it wasn’t just because I knew we had a solid team. We’ve always had a solid team. It was because I could physically see the owners investing in the future of this company—building the new tap room, introducing the new marketing, getting the can line up and running.
I’m also excited to see what our brewers come up with. I’m just the sales guy. When Danny and our guys come up with the phenomenal liquids that they do, that gets me excited because that makes my job that much easier—when I can go out and my sales reflect upon the team’s work.
That’s something that is super important to us. We’re a tight-knit team. We all work well together. We all communicate with each other to make each other’s job as easy as possible. We’re all eager to get out there and excite our fans. FoDo is a big brand. We’re the second largest brewery in the state to Dogfish. That means something. We didn’t get [here] because we were putting out bad stuff. We got this way because we put out phenomenal liquid and we’ve got people who continue to work with the community.
O&A: Dan, how do you feel about what Joe just said?
Louder: It makes me feel good that he feels that way. And I would agree with almost everything he says as far as it’s a tight-knit group. On a daily basis, we’ve got 10 people in here working. So everybody depends on everybody. I use the analogy of a clock: You need every gear in order for it to move.
And I get just as excited when I’m able to make new stuff as well. There’s been a lot of momentum with the new tasting room. We’ve probably put out four or five new beers in the tasting room since it reopened this year. People aren’t used to seeing us do that. Most of it [in the past] had been just the main-staple brands.
O&A: So having the tasting room open again has allowed you do some R&D work right here.
Louder: Exactly! We did have the tasting room in the past and we put a couple things out. But the big [difference] now is being able to sell beer out of here. In terms of research and development, we can put something on draft here or put it in cans and sell it out of here—or just in Delaware itself. And then, if it does well this year and the year after that, maybe we expand.
The canner helps us be a lot more efficient. It’s not nearly as fast as our bottling line, but for a small batch it’s more efficient and less expensive to can it. It’s easier [for us] to get it to the customer… So that’s the push now: to start canning some of these one-offs that I’m doing.
O&A: So what are you most excited about? What’s a new beer where you feel like, “Yeah, I really hit the nail on the head with that one”?
Louder: Oooh… My two most recent. The Black Magic Sour. I really love that one. And then the Sweet Heat IPA.
O&A: Yeah, I really like that one, too. The Sweet Heat. I can imagine you could have Thai food with that, and it would be really good.
Louder: I was really happy with that one because I’ve had beers with spice before. We’ve made some spicy beers here before. And with some of them, the heat’s too much. I love spicy food. But I don’t want a beer that’s going to turn my mouth on fire.
With the Sweet Heat, I aimed more towards the flavor of the habanero rather than just the sheer heat of it. So I wanted it to be sweet up front with the fruit flavor and the tangerine coming through, followed by the flavor and a little bit of the warmth of the habanero.
I had a couple people say it wasn’t spicy enough. And I was like, “I could agree, but I don’t want it to be that spicy. I don’t want it to be like hot wings, where I’m going to be sweating.”
I want this to be—like you said—something you could pair with a spicy meal. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it would pair well with Korean BBQ. It’s a beer that will complement something that already has a spice to it.