I attended my first beer festival in 1998 with my two best friends. At the time, the mere concept of a beer festival was mind boggling - so many breweries; so many choices.

That changed when one friend said, "Dude, there's a booth with a couple of guys wearing tuques. They're serving beer made with beets - and I swear they threw in a set of Michelins, too." One of those guys was Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewing.

Calagione discovered homebrewing fresh out of college. He became obsessed with the hobby and opened a brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, the home of his wife, Mariah. Sam named the brewery Dogfish Head after an island in Maine where he vacationed as a child.

He couldn't afford a large brewing system. Most brewpubs make about 10 barrels (310 gallons) at a time. Calagione's system could only make 10-gallon batches, so he brewed constantly, six days a week. He never realized that this was an insane way to make beer, which, of course, was why his plan worked.

To combat the monotony of brewing around the clock, Calagione experimented with unusual ingredients - maple syrup, saffron, apricots or raisins. These unusual ingredients, often from exotic locales, became a trademark of Dogfish Head (DFH), giving rise to their motto of "off-centered ales for off-centered people," craft brews that defy description or categorization. As an aside, my friends and I discovered that beets are used to make candi sugar, a fermentable in Belgian beers. (We have yet to find any Michelins.)

In 2002, Dogfish Head opened a production brewery in nearby Milton. For craft beer lovers vacationing in the Rehoboth area, the brewpub and brewery are must-see destinations. But be sure to reserve your brewery tour early online. Sometimes they're booked weeks in advance. Enjoy the selections. Cheers!

Chicory Stout: This is a coffee stout that also contains chicory, St. John's wort and licorice. It pours jet black with a tan head, and has aromas of malt laced with notes of Mexican coffee. The body is light with some chocolate flavor, but coffee predominates. At only 5.2 percent alcohol, it's an excellent session beer.

Aprihop: Available March through May, this India Pale Ale (IPA) with apricots - fruit beer for hopheads - is DFH's most popular seasonal offering. Citrusy Cascade and Amarillo hops combine in symbiotic harmony with apricot juice that plays a supporting role. It's delightfully dry with only 7 percent alcohol and pairs nicely with barbeque or Mexican dishes.

90 Minute IPA: Esquire magazine called 90 Minute "perhaps the best IPA in America." The name derives from a continuous hopping technique used throughout its 90-minute boil. Originally, this was done using a vibrating electric football game as a conveyer belt. Continuous hopping, which is also used for other DFH brews, and additional dry hopping after fermentation provides an astounding complexity of fruit flavors and aromas, such as mango and grapefruit. This IPA is smooth and dangerously drinkable, belying a 9 percent alcohol content. For maximum enjoyment, use a snifter to concentrate the hop aromas.

Theobroma: This is an ancient New World ale. The name translates to "food of the gods." Theobroma was reverse engineered from Honduran pottery shards dating back to 1200 B.C. It's the first known use of cocoa in an alcoholic beverage. Strangely, though, it pours orange with a thick foamy head. Chocolate flavors from Aztec cocoa powder and Honduran cocoa nibs blend with honey for a sweetness that's subtlety offset by chilies at the finish. Crank up your flux capacitor to 88 mph, travel back in time, and savor this one.

Noble Rot: With a name like that, it has to be good. Noble Rot is a Saison - a Belgian farmhouse ale. Viognier grape must (juice) that's been intentionally contaminated with a benevolent fungus known as Noble Rot is added to the base beer. The fungus magnifies the juice's sweetness and complexity. This phenomena is also responsible for some of the world's most exquisite white wines. The flavor is dry, refreshing, and white wine-like - with peppery hints from the Belgian yeast. It remarkably complemented a dinner of clams and linguine - and the 22-ounce bottle was the perfect size for sharing.

(The Brew Dude is published every other Wednesday on the Food and Drink page. For comments, suggestions, or questions, email Mark Pasquinelli at thebrewdude@newsitem.com.)