DuClaw: Craft Be Cherished – Rules Be Damned

By Rick Hemphill

Beer drinking should be an emotional experience and brewing beer may have been the spark that created the need for civilization. Craft beers are exposing the palate to the wonders of flavor combinations that would have been considered magical by King Midas or any of our ancestors.

Sweet Baby Jesus, Dirty Little Freak, Colossus, Brimstone and Neon Gypsy are just the first of the wonderfully balanced craft beers from DuClaw Brewing Company in Baltimore, MD., that will now grace the shelves of West Virginia establishments. “We like names that evoke emotion and paint a good imagery,” Says David Benfield, the President and founder of Duclaw Brewing Company.


“Or names that really say something or subtly say something that you can discover yourself.” “We are very intense about our craft but at the same time we don’t say you can’t do that.” “Our signature beer is Sweet Baby Jesus which is a chocolate peanut butter porter and is our biggest selling beer.” “Here is chocolate peanut butter flavor in a beer but there are no peanuts in the beer.” “We had to come up with things that taste like peanuts but without the peanuts.” “People drink it and wow and that is how we live.”

All of their beers use mainly ale yeasts in their recipes. “Our style of brewing is vary varied,” David explains. “We have 24 seasonally released beers per year and they can have many styles.” “Dirty Little Freak is a coconut, caramel chocolate brown ale.” “In short it is a Samoa Cookie.” “You get the coconut, then the sweet caramel in the middle, and the dark chocolate comes in kind of roasty.” “It has a little bit of bite to it so the sweetness you get at the beginning is balanced out so it is a very drinkable beer.”

“We have always believed that we want you to make your own individual connection to the beer,” David continues. “When we brew, we really get into it and that is where the names come from.” “I am a big time comic bookie and you will see comic book names.” “Dirty Little Freak is modeled after the Girl Scout cookie and we tossed around ideas about girl scouts and alcohol so dirty little freak was born.”

The names give the drinker an emotional tie but it is the flavors that keep the customers. “It is the additions into the beer and extracting the nuanced flavors out of the brew that is the challenge,” David says passionately about his craft. “It is the experimentation.” “If craft beer started out being very different than the macro beers that are out there then it just continues to get that way.” Flavors are changing and there are some crazy and faddish ones.”

“We just launched Funk flavored with blueberry, citrus and wheat as well as our blonde ale Morgasm that we zest with grapefruit and it is a really great summertime beer.”

David has been asked why he doesn’t just make beer flavored beer. “There are many people who do not like the taste of beer and nuance is what we are about,” David says. “When we started we had a pale ale called venom which was an American style aggressively hopped pale ale.” “The taste and perceptions have changed so much that pales are difficult to market as our pale ales range from magic hat #. 9 which had apricots in it to venom which is extremely hoppy so people will not buy it because they don’t know what it is or it is not what they expected.”

Hops are such a critical ingredient in DuClaws products that they have placed along side their stainless steel fermenters what resembles a 1930’s serial movie style spaceship awaiting takeoff. This hop gun will further enhance the infusion of additional hops into the beer. “We do a decent bit of hoppy beers with our hop gun,” David says noting that they will use locally grown hops to enhance a brew but there are not enough locally to fulfill his brewing needs. “We use palletized hops and in a single batch we will use 90 lbs of hops just for dry hopping which does not count what goes into the boil.” “200 lbs will not cover one of our batches.”

David’s batches started small when he was a junior in college and got hooked on brewing beer at college for half the price of store bought brew.

“My roommate bought a home brew kit because it cost about $10.00 to brew two cases of beer and our drink of the time was $10.00 a case.” “By my senior year at Loyola College I was on the first floor handing out six packs and on a nice spring day.” “I thought it would be cool if we could open a restaurant where we could brew our own beer and that was in 1992,” “By 1996 we opened our first pub in Belair from then on we opened a few more and by 2010 we started selling in bottles.” “In 2011 we launched some 12 oz packaging and we quickly realized that the10,000 square ft brew space we had was too small and in April 2013 we opened here.”

“Right now we are on track to finish 35,000 barrels this year,” David relates. “A barrel is 31 gallons or 2 kegs and we have always been at capacity since we started.” “We just added 4 new tanks and our growth has been pretty extreme.” “We are in eight states and surprisingly the desire for craft beer in West Virginia is crazy.” “We sell more beer in WV than we do in Delaware especially when you consider the population numbers.”

As far as the naming the brewery there at least a dozen stories concerning DuClaw. “Craft beer is very personal and intimate and there are so many varieties and we wanted a word that had a coolness to it,” David remembers. “It has to have something to due with history and class but the name should also mean nothing so that when you come in and experience it for the first time it is your personal relationship with it.”

“Claw is cool to a 26 year old, and DU sounds like Dubois which is French and so that was cool.” “However, we get that question a lot and sometimes we relate that it is an old English word that means “craft be cherished – rules be damned”.” “On our website the story will change each time you load the page.” “We have also indicated that DUCLAW was my great grandfather’s middle name and he couldn’t make in the gold rush so he turned to brewing thus starting the tradition.”

The sense of tradition along with the irreverence for rules create amazing beers. “Our beers have to have intensity and it has to be well made and the technical things have to be there,” David insists. “There is no can’t or rules or we won’t.” “We just launched a saiswon cantaloupe beer and we are working on a barbecue or dry rub flavor beer to see if we can make it work.” “Ideas come from every brewer and the only requirement we ask is why are we doing this and why should this beer exist.” “No matter what beer we put out it must be balanced.”

“You have to be an adventurous beer drinker,” David says with enthusiasm. “We want to try the new thing.” “What is it and why do the experience?” “You don’t know you like it until you try it.”

DuClaw Brewing Company, 8901 Yellow Brick Road, Baltimore, MD. Visit www.duclawbeer.com.

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