“Beer is proof the God loves us and wants us to be happy” — Benjamin Franklin
Part II — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, or, the exceptionally long blog to make up for the lack of beer blogs for about eight months
Well, Spring, Summer, and Fall came and went, and I’m only now getting to Part II, so my idea of a seasonal beer blog is shot to hell. The best laid plans can be easily ruined for me by the tempting calls of the outdoors in the decent months. Perhaps I need a laptop, so I can multitask and blab about beer while I sit by the campfire at night after a long bike ride. Anywho, I figured I’d change it up a bit and dedicate this blog to one of the top craft breweries out there, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, based in Milton, Delaware. During the course of this year, I found myself blazing through their lineup of beers, and I must say that they have blown me away with their creativity and their willingness to create beer that is not necessarily made for the masses. “Off centered ales for off centered people” is their motto, which pretty much sums it all up. The owner, Sam Calagione, takes pride in his brewery for making more styles of beer and more volume of beer over 9% ABV than any other brewery in America. This makes them a leader in the “Extreme Beer” movement.
From beers that hit a whopping 18% ABV, to ales that are created by analyzing centuries-old pottery fragments, to elixirs that blur the line between beer and wine, to brews aged with ingredients from around the world, Dogfish has it all. So let’s head to the packie (for those of you non New Englanders out there, a liquor store), and see what Dogfish Head has to offer.
60 Minute (6%), 90 Minute (9%), and 120 Minute IPA (18%)
Hops, the magical flower that makes beer so wonderful. In all three of Dogfish’s IPAs, you’ll find plenty of hops. They are so named because these beers are continually hopped for said amount of time during the boil of the brew. Interestingly, it is the 60 Minute IPA, not the 120, that is the hoppiest of the bunch, as is explained in the “Sip Clip” on the 120 Minute IPA page on the DFH website. This is because there are a lot more unfermentable sugars left over in a much bigger beer like the 120, and therefore the beer ends up with a more maltier taste. If you are looking for a classic IPA, 60 Minute is the choice. 90 Minute will give you less hop bitterness, but the difference in flavor is well worth going out to buy a four pack if you want something with a little more bite to it. 120 Minute is one of those “save for a special occasion” type beers. Available as an “occasional rarity” brew, expect to pay about $9 for a single 12 ounce bottle. At 18% ABV, however, it’s well worth the price. This beer ages very well, so buy two, one to enjoy now, and one to cellar for a while. Interesting side note: an eBay auction I was watching just ended recently, and a 750ml bottle of the original 2003 release of 120 Minute IPA sold for over $92! Too much for me, so I just went out and bought my own 12 ouncer to cellar for a decade or so.
Squall IPA (9%), and 75 Minute IPA (?%) (aka Johnny Cask)
Squall IPA is a souped up version of 90 Minute IPA, first released in the Spring of 2009. Available in 750ml champagne style bottles, it is bottle conditioned and is dry hopped with six different varieties of hops. According to Sam C., it is the hoppiest beer to date that Dogfish Head makes.
75 Minute IPA (aka Johnny Cask) is a cask conditioned blend of the 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs, which is dry hopped with whole leaf Cascade hops, and then fermented again in a firkin with the addition of maple syrup. If you haven’t tried cask conditioned ales, be warned that they are served at cellar temperature, so in other words relatively warm, which can take some getting used to for some people (myself included).
The standards (or commonly found DFH brews):
Shelter Pale Ale (5%), Indian Brown Ale (7%), Raison D’Etre (8%), and Palo Santo Marron (12%)
Shelter Pale Ale is probably the least extreme beer of DFH’s lineup. That does not mean, however, that it is not worthy of consumption. It is a well balanced Pale Ale that just about any beer drinker can appreciate. Available year round in six packs, it is a great beer for when you don’t want something overly alcoholic, strong, or bitter.
Indian Brown Ale is somewhat hoppy for a brown ale, and has a nice smooth finish, with a slight warmth provided by the 7% ABV. This one is brewed with brown sugar, and is available year round in six packs.
Raison D’Etre is a malty, dark colored ale, brewed with beet sugar, green raisins, and Belgian-style yeast. I was hesitant to try this one at first, as some beers are overly fruit or vegetable flavored. Don’t be afraid of this one, though. It may have raisins, but it is not overdone. It is nice and smooth, and it has a very interesting and unique taste that is definitely worth enjoying every once in a while. Available year round in a six pack. DFH has also made a more potent version called Raison D’Extra, which has a huge 18% ABV. I have not yet had the fortune to try this one, and it appears to currently be an “On Hiatus” brew. If you are feeling rich, you can usually find it on eBay for exorbitant prices.
Palo Santo Marron is a very strong, flavorful brown ale, and is one of my favorites by DFH. It is brewed in a 10,000 gallon wooden tank made of Palo Santo wood, which they imported from Paraguay. This is the largest wooden brewing vessel made in America since before Prohibition. If you search for Palo Santo Marron on YouTube, you will find a couple very interesting clips which document the way this tank and the beer was created. There is a great part where a South American guide shows the crew how dense the Palo Santo tree is by shooting it with a .38 revolver, and the bullet just bounces off the tree. This beer is available in four packs, and you may think it is a little on the expensive side, until you watch the video and taste the beer, and then you will see just how much effort and quality is put into this beer (which goes for the rest of their beers as well, I might add).
“Blurring the line between beer and wine” brews:
Midas Touch (9%), Black and Blue (10%), Fort (18%), Pangaea (7%), and Red and White (10%)
Midas Touch is inspired by the recipe for the oldest known alcoholic beverage in the world, which was discovered by analyzing the drinking vessels in the 2700 year old tomb of King Midas. A great sipping beer to enjoy with a big dinner. Available year round in four packs.
Black and Blue fooled me the first time I drank it. I thought it was a blend of a Stout and a Blueberry Ale, which is commonly referred to as a “Black and Blue.” When my server put my DFH Black and Blue (which was on tap) in from of me, I could tell something didn’t jive. It was very light in color, not at all like a stout. So I took a sip, and discovered it to be very fruity. What I did not know until later that night, was that it is actually a Belgian Style Golden Ale brewed with real blackberries and blueberries. Also somewhat wine-like, this beer is super easily drinkable, and great on a warm Spring or Summer night. Available in 750ml bottles in the early Spring. This is one that cellars well.
Fort is a big beer, clocking in at 18% ABV, which is due to the fact that it is fermented with lots and lots of real raspberries. It has a very nice fruit smell, and yet is not too overly raspberry flavored. This is one of those beers you need be in the mood to enjoy, and it could be a good idea to have someone to share your 750ml bottle with. Available in early Winter, this one also cellars very well.
Pangaea is aptly named because it uses ingredients from all seven continents! It features crystallized ginger from Australia, water from Antarctica, basmati rice from Asia, muscavado sugar from Africa, South American quinoa, European yeast, and North American maize. Another great dinner beer, this one comes out around early Fall, just in time to enjoy with your Thanksgiving feast. Available in 750ml bottle, this is yet another that ages well.
Red and White is a Belgian Style Wit beer, which has a portion that is aged in Oregon Pinot Noir barrels, and another portion aged on oak staves, and is then ultimately blended together. Part Belgian Style White Ale, part red wine. All together, one hell of a tasty beer to enjoy with a big dinner.
Beers brewed by recreating ancient methods and recipes:
Sah’tea (9%), Theobroma (9%), and Chateau Jiahu (8%)
Sah’tea is special to me, because it is inspired by the traditional Finnish style of the 9th Century “Sahti” beer, and being a Finn, I am loaded with a ridiculous amount of Finnish pride. This beer is brewed by heating stones over a wood fire, and then dropping the boiling hot rocks in a tank to boil the wort (unfermented beer). The rocks give the beer a bit of an earthy taste, while a tea concoction is added that gives it a slight spiciness. A very unique and tasty beer that is available in 750ml bottles in June. Check out the videos on the DFH Sah’tea page that show how this beer is made. Very cool.
Theobroma is another “Liquid Time Capsule,” which is a recreation of an ancient beer that was discovered by analyzing pottery fragments found in Honduras. This discovery is considered the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink, dating back to 1200 BC. It is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, honey, chilies, and annatto (fragrant tree seeds). It is not a dark beer, as one might expect for a chocolate beer. It has a slight chocolate flavor, followed by a spiciness from the chilies. Good as a dessert beer, although as it is not a super chocolaty ale, it could easily be enjoyed with dinner as well. Available in 750ml bottles in mid Summer.
Chateau Jiahu is another ale that is a recreation of an ancient alcoholic beverage discovered by analyzing pottery fragments found in Northern China, which date to over 9000 years ago. This beer is brewed with pre-gelatinized rice flakes, wildflower honey, muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit, and Chrysanthemum flowers, and is fermented using Sake yeast. Another interesting combination of ingredients, this beer has a very sweet taste from the honey and grapes, and is available in 750ml bottles in the early Summer.
The other heavy hitters:
Burton Baton (10%), Immort ale (11%), Olde School Barleywine (15%), and World Wide Stout (18%)
Burton Baton is another of my favorites by DFH. It is an oak aged Imperial IPA. This is an intensely flavored IPA, with great citrusy hop taste and smell, and that signature oak aged taste as well. A full flavored beer that is unlike any other IPA out there. Available in four packs and released a few times during the year, so keep your eyes peeled!
Immort ale is currently my favorite release by DFH. It is another oak aged brew made with juniper berries, vanilla & maple syrup. Take a long sniff of this one, because it smells fantastic, and, it tastes just like it smells! … Delicious! (Ode to Dave Chappelle) The maple and vanilla combine to make one sweet, delectable drink. Available in four packs in the Spring.
Olde School Barleywine is a beer that cannot be trusted. I say this because it is devilishly smooth at 15% ABV. Brewed with dates and figs, this unfiltered barleywine will age well for years and years. Check out the Olde School page on the DFH site for an explanation of the Woody Guthrie character on the label pouring yeast into a bottle of beer. Available in the late Fall.
World Wide Stout is a heavy hitter Imperial Stout that weighs in at 18% ABV. This is a meal in a 12 ounce bottle. It has a slight alcohol burn on the way down, but not bad. Nice and roasty flavored. This is not your average bottle of Guinness. Available in the early Winter.
All four of these suckers age very well, so buy a four pack, enjoy three of them (or for WWS buy one extra bottle), and hide the remaining bottle away in your cellar for as long as you can to see what happens as it changes over the years.
The four seasons:
Aprihop (7%), Festina Peche (4.5%), Punkin (7%), and Chicory Stout (5%)
Aprihop is a very interesting seasonal offering by DFH. It is a somewhat fruity IPA, brewed with real apricots. It is very refreshing, and not overly bitter or fruit flavored. I often enjoy one of these after a Spring time bike ride. I would consider this one more of a before and/or after dinner beer. Available in four packs in the early Spring.
Festina Peche is a very light, but very flavorful, wheat ale brewed with real peaches. It has a very sweet flavor from the peaches that are added during fermentation. This is one I, personally, would not seek out very often as it is very fruit flavored, but, it is definitely a great session beer that you can enjoy several of over the course of a hot summer evening by the campfire. Available in four packs in the early Summer.
Punkin has been the DFH fall seasonal since their inception in 1995. It is actually a brew that Sam C. made as a homebrew before the brewery was in existence. It is a brown ale brewed with pumpkin meat, cinnamon, and allspice, which gives it a very rich taste. This pumpkin ale is not over the top spiced-up like a lot of other pumpkin beers out there. Available in four packs in the early Fall.
Chicory Stout is a bold, roasty stout brewed with chicory, organic Mexican coffee, licorice root, and St. John’s Wort. Sam C. jokingly refers to the latter as making this beer the worlds only anti-depressant depressant, so you can drink as much as you want because the alcohol and the St. John’s Wort cancel each other out. A nice beer to drink by the stove or curled up on the couch on a cold winter night. Try one with a chocolaty dessert sometime. Available in six packs in the early Winter.
The big collaboration of the year:
Sierra Nevada / Dogfish Head “Life and Limb” (10%) and “Limb and Life” (5%)
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company from California and Dogfish Head teamed up this year to create a wonderful beer together called Life and Limb. This was a highly anticipated beer for many craft brew fans, and a very limited amount was made, of which an even more limited amount came to the east coast. This Strong Ale is brewed with maple syrup from Sam C.’s family farm in Massachusetts, and is naturally carbonated with birch tree syrup from Alaska. It definitely has a syrupy taste, with a very slight alcohol burn on the way down. All in all a wonderful, full flavored beer. If you happen to see one in a store still, get it, because it will soon be gone. This one will cellar well for years, if you can hold on to it, that is. Available in 24 ounce bottles. If you can’t find one at the local store, you can find them on eBay for about 3 to 4 times as much as they cost originally.
Limb and Life is a secondary byproduct of sorts of the original Life and Limb. As it was explained to me, it is sort of like using a tea bag that has already been steeped once, to make another cup of tea. A smaller beer than it’s original counterpart, this brew can be considered more of a session beer. It is not as full flavored, so you can pound down a few of em and not worry about what will become of you the next morning. This one is only available on draft, and is most likely long since tapped out just about everywhere.
It is great to see two excellent craft breweries come together to make such a fantastic beer together. The community of craft brewers is not one of competition, unlike the big boys that make all that awful fizzy yellow stuff. Instead, they are peers who are all in it together for the same common goal: to make great tasting beer. They don’t compromise their standards to appeal to a mass audience, they don’t worry about having a huge ad campaign, or having commercials during the Superbowl. They use quality ingredients, often from local sources and independent companies, and spend the time to make something that is actually worth your hard earned dollar. Craft beers are made in smaller batches, and have a human element to them, unlike the mass produced swill that is churned out day after day. Have you ever seen the Simpsons episode where they show the Duff Beer factory, and Duff, Duff Light, and Duff Ice come from three separate pipes that all ultimately connect to one pipe for bottling? Nuff said.
Well, I could babble and blather about this stuff all day, but I suppose this has been long enough. Although I’d really like to push this to a 3000 word essay. I just don’t have much more to say, except “GO GET SOME DOGFISH HEAD!” As DFH says, “Seek it out… and hoard it from the non-believers.”
There… 3000 words suckas. Oooooh yeah.