Rare beer raffle hopes to find buyers in a post-pandemic world

April 21, 2021, 6:00 PM UTC
Brewed with lots of barley, World Wide Stout is dark, rich, roasty, and complex, with an ABV range between 15% and 20%.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Beer lovers have never hesitated to pay a little extra for a good beer. And they don’t mind paying a premium for a rare one. A children’s charity, though, is now counting on the enthusiasm of that community to help it raise thousands of dollars to combat brain tumors in children.

It’s doing so, though, in a world where a pandemic ravaged many people’s finances. And it could be a litmus test for philanthropy in the post-COVID world.

The centerpiece of the raffle are a few bottles of World Wide Stout from 1999, the first year Dogfish Head brewed the iconic beer. While the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation (CBTF), which is overseeing the sale, had hoped to host this sale last spring, the pandemic squashed those plans.

Organizers hope that the horror and isolation of the past year, though, will make people more willing to help those in need.

“I think COVID reminded people of how precious life is and causes like this let you celebrate how precious life is by providing resources and making sure the lives of those going through challenging physical moment are celebrated,” says Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewing. “It gave a lot of people an opportunity to reassess their priorities.”

Potential bidders can buy a single raffle ticket for $25 or five for $100 on the CBTF Website at cbtfgive.org/dogfishhead. There are three tiers of prizes. All winners will get a bottle of the 1999 World Wide Stout. In addition, the grand prize winner will receive a bottle of 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias and a signed copy of Calagione’s book Brewing Up a Business. Second place will also get a bottle of Utopia’s barrel-aged World Wide Stout from last year, along with two Dogfish Head coasters and glasses. And third place will get two Dogfish Head caps in addition to the rare beer.

The winners will be drawn on May 23. (May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month.)

“These are literally the last bottles from the original batch,” says Calagione. “And this is a cause we believe in and a group of partners we really believe in. The people with these challenges, they’re very real and in the moment, regardless of our country going through a pandemic. It would have been nice to do this as a live event, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”

A hidden beer treasure

The raffle would never have happened without Louis Dolgoff.

Like a lot of people, Dolgoff got into the beer industry by accident. Two days after Sam Calagione opened Dogfish Head in Delaware, Dolgoff and his wife Laurie wandered in and struck up a conversation with the founder. Calagione might be a brewing icon these days, but on that afternoon, speaking with Dolgoff, he admitted he really didn’t know what he was doing. The two became fast friends and Dolgoff soon found himself serving as the company’s first sales person.

Money was tight at the brewery then, so his salary came in the form of beers. One “paycheck” was two cases of an experimental stout that was designed to turn heads with what, at the time, was the highest ABV of any beer: World Wide Stout.

One case he consumed over the years. The other he stored away.

“Even Sam doesn’t have any of this,” says Dolgoff. “He hasn’t seen it in years.”

In August 2009, 11 years after Dolgoff started with Dogfish, Laurie died of a brain tumor. And while he couldn’t do anything to help her, he felt the need to assist others battling the disease. He stayed with the brewer another year, then left to launch the Beer for Brains Foundation, a charity that hosts beer events at bars and rare beer festivals to raise funds for research. The biggest of those is Epicuriad, a competition that gathers 15 to 20 world class chefs and challenges them to pair foods with both a beer and wine. Attendees vote for the winners.

In 2020, the foundation merged with the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1988 by parents, physicians and friends with the goal of finding a cure for pediatric brain tumors. Beer for Brains now exists as a subsidiary.

“We were always trying to get wine drinkers to enjoy craft beer,” says Dolgoff. “They understood the complexity and that quality costs a bit more. Now we’re able to expand that.”

Dolgoff is part of the old guard of craft beer, meaning he’s known many of the nation’s most popular brewers for years and they’re willing to dig deep into their private reserves to help Beer for Brains raise funds.

“When I was learning the beer business, there weren’t a lot of brewers, but we all knew each other,” he says. “So, I built up these relationships starting in 1996 and they’re still here.”

Those relationships have helped him build a reputation as a go-to source for rare beers. Dustin Hoffman once called him, hoping to find a World Wide Stout, he says. And an auction of a single bottle of Dogfish Head 120 that was bottled, but couldn’t be sold at retail because its ABV was too high, once fetched $500.

The hopes for the World Wide Stout sale are much higher. Dolgoff hopes to sell at least 1,000 raffle tickets on the bottles, raising $25,000. And there are more bottles in the case which will be raffled and auctioned off in the months, and perhaps years, to come.

“I think we can raise more than $75,000 over the whole case of that beer,” he says.

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