Before Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, turned the brewing industry on its head with oddball ingredients and methods, he wanted to be a creative writer.

“I learned that I wasn’t good enough to ever write the great American novel,” he says. “But I knew I could apply that storytelling to writing creative recipes.”

Since he opened Dogfish in Milton, Delaware, in 1995, he’s been on a mission to eschew pedestrian tastes in favor of “off-center” ales—genre-defying stuff like Raison D’Etre, brewed with beet sugar and raisins; Theobroma, featuring Aztec cocoa powder and annatto; and Pangaea, which contains ingredients gathered from all seven continents.

These ludicrously creative new creations keep on coming, while flagship beers such as 60 Minute IPA have become foundational standard-bearers of the American craft-beer movement.

Here, Calagione takes us from his family basement, where it all began, to New York City, Delaware, Italy, and beyond.

This interview has been condensed and edited.