Dogfish Head Makes Some Big & Badass IPA’s – And we Can’t get Enough!
I’ve heard several people say “Dogfish Head is overrated,” and honestly, I’m not exactly sure what people mean when they make that statement, or if they themselves even know what they mean. I guess I’ve always been kind of annoyed with that expression as a whole, because in my experience, the accuracy of the statement doesn’t have to do with the pure quality of the thing being scrutinized, but rather the popularity of said thing in relation to its quality. I’ve always been of the mindset that it doesn’t make a difference how “popular” something is, but simply how good it is, or perhaps how it measures up against its peers; and a lot of the time, that doesn’t matter either. Usually something gets popular because it’s good, and then hype starts to emerge; more and more people start getting into it, and then because of this popularity, it gets placed under unrealistic scrutiny. This goes for any industry; underground music junkies love saying that Radiohead is overrated, but I can guarantee that if they weren’t a household name, then these folks would think they are the bees knees.
I don’t for a second deny that I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon before, it’s really hard not to. That song that gets overplayed on the radio, that indie movie that won all the Oscars; as obsessive individuals, we need to be critical, and whatever happens to be in the limelight is the easiest target. However, I would propose that instead of tearing down the things that we love – the quality enterprises that started at the bottom and rose up – why not concentrate on tearing down the undeserving, heartless, purely fiscally motivated, bastardized versions of the things we love.I don’t think Dogfish Head is overrated, I think they are pretty fantastic, just like many other breweries out there.
For those who don’t know who Dogfish head is, they are a brewery located in Delaware. They started in 1995 as a small brewpub near the beach, and like a lot of big American craft breweries, they kept moving forward, expanding more and more, until they started bottling and selling to most of the United States. Whether or not you love Dogfish Head beer, there is certainly one thing that seems to separate them from the rest: innovation. That’s not to say that other breweries are not being innovative, there is a beer out there right now made with bull testicles – I’m not kidding. What differentiates Dogfish Head seems to be their leader, Sam Calagione. He is charismatic, driven, and always wanting to try new things. He and his team are constantly trying to come up with some new and interesting beer concoctions. Sam will fly to various locations around the world, seeking out ingredients – past and present – in order to make something new, or old for that matter. He works with legendary beer historians, or even simple locals from a particular area, in order to find that perfect idea.
In Quebec, we can’t get Dogfish Head. I don’t even think we can get them in Canada, period. I knew quite a lot about Dogfish Head before ever trying a single beer from them. A lot of that has to do with the big beer sites online, which for the most part, are American-centric. It doesn’t take long before you stumble on the big guys – like Dogfish, Stone, Sierra Nevada, etc… Mostly, I know Dogfish from their short-lived television series called Brew Masters. A great program, which follows Sam and his team as they brew, collaborate, expand, search for new ideas, and do what they do best, experiment. I highly recommend it, it’s tons of fun if you’re into beer – and even if you are not.
Armed with some knowledge, hype, and an insiders look into their operation, it was time I tried their damn beer already! My first experience was when my fellow Beerism writer T.J.’s girlfriend Jenn brought back a few bottles of their 90 Minute IPA. They were both kind enough to let me have one, I guess since I’m so very obsessed with beer and big IPA’s in general. I was expecting it to be good, but I was floored when I tried it. And not to take away from the beer, but you have to understand something about Quebec IPA’s: we are only now starting to scratch the surface in the IPA realm, so when I tried that big, beautiful, sex in a bottle, it was like trying creme brulee for the first time. I’ve since tried some other big IPA’s from the US – and Quebec for that matter – that have brought me to a similar head space, but there is certainly something to be said about that first one.
I’ve talked about IPA’s many many times in my articles, so I’m not going to address their history, again. However, I will say that Dogfish is a hop-forward brewery, whose beers love to showcase the lovely and bitter hop plant. All the beers I’m going to review today are big IPA’s. T.J. has been so kind to travel to the US and upon his return, bring me a lot of American beer, including the bottles listed below, which I was very excited to try. Below we will be talking about four beers: Burton Banton, 75 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, and the gigantic 120 Minute IPA. For those who often read my posts, I would presume you think I pretty much only drink IPA’s. Well, the problem is that they need to be consumed soon after purchase, so they always end up on the top of my list to write about.
Burton Baton pours a beautiful burnt orange color with a modest but frothy little head. The nose is filled with big, sweet, rich aromas. They flood my senses with some cocoa, earthy chocolate, and lots of floral hops. This beer is a blend of old and new IPA’s, one of which is barrel-aged; this produces some interesting wood funk aromas and general oak-aged smells – which are fantastic. There are also lots of fruity sweet smells, especially cherries.
On the taste front, I’m getting big, sweet and hoppy flavors, with some chocolatey earthy funk mixed in there as well. It finishes with a subtle bitterness that cuts some of the rich malty characteristics. It is quite rich, with vanilla, caramel, strawberries, aromatic hops, and a tangy bitter finish. This one is really interesting; super malty, with a thick and sweet body that is smoothed out from the barrel aging. There is a big hop presence, but it’s pretty subtle, adding a nice citrus fruitiness to the whole thing. There are similarities here to Chaman, an Imperial Pale Ale from Dieu du Ciel, which I quite enjoy.
75 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head classifies a number of their IPA’s with a numeric minute based system. This basically translates to the amount of time that the brewers continuously add hops to the boil during the beer’s creation. The longer they do this, the more hop flavors are added to the beer. What is interesting, and Sam actually points this out in his 120 Minute IPA video, is that although a beer may be very high on the hop scale, it’s the rest of the ingredients that work with – or against – the hops in order to make them more or less apparent. For instance, a huge, high ABV imperial IPA may have a higher IBU (international bittering units) then a regular IPA, but its hoppiness is less apparent because it’s balanced against the alcohol content, and general sweetness of the beer. The 75 Minute IPA is actually a blend of the 60 Minute IPA and 90 Minute IPA; they then add maple syrup and re-ferment it in the bottle. I sadly did not have a chance to taste this one, but T.J. provided me his notes so I could include this bad boy in the article:
“It poured out a honey color with a very cloudy looking body. The head settled down to a light foam with good lacing. The smell was at first sweet, with that characteristic lemon zest and grassy pine aromas you can get from strong IPAs. It smelled refreshing. The maple flavor is almost non-existent, however it seems to have dulled the bitterness and hop “bite.” What’s left is a smooth, creamy, and thick taste that is a fun alternative to the other IPAs in this range, especially for people that aren’t hop heads.”
90 Minute IPA
On the aroma, I got sweet and fragrant floral hops, mixed with what reminded me of freshly baked vanilla cake. There were some caramel essence in there as well, with a big citrus presence that started taking shape as I really got my nose in there. As I spun the glass to froth it up a bit, I got some subtle yeast aromas that were released through the head. It smelled like such a big and beautiful IPA.
On the taste front, I got lots of caramel, with a huge bitterness as expected – resulting from the hops of course. The carbonation was wonderful, and the mouthfeel didn’t portray itself like a nine percent beer at all. This one is really perfectly crafted; as you sip, you get subtle sweetness mixed with an exceptionally potent, but very well balanced hop presence, making for a sweet, bitter, caramel bombshell.
This is really what a double IPA should be. It hits all the notes. It is quite rich, yet the carbonation is perfect; not too much, but with just enough to let you know it’s there. It’s just frothy enough to help take away from the thick and sweet alcohol mouthfeel, which can often overpower the palate with big beers like this. The hops carry a citrus character, but also a strong piney and medicinal element that reminds me of Saaz hops, or maybe some other German variety (I could be wrong here). It is certainly in the West Coast style, but it doesn’t only carry the typical tropical qualities.
Overall, it has such an amazing balance of sweet and bitter. The bitter portion cuts down the fruity sweetness beautifully. It’s a big mixture of blood oranges, grapefruit, caramel, and lemon zest, all tantalizing your tongue at the same time, each hitting your palate at different points, and then finishes with a bitterness that lingers, until your next sip.
120 minute IPA
120 minute IPA – the big one. This beer is not only the strongest beer I’ve ever had, but also one of the strongest IPA’s in the world. It clocks in anywhere from 15-18% ABV. This one also breaks the aging rule when it comes to the India Pale Ale, as it apparently improves with time. Luckily I have another one in my cellar! I was extremely excited to see what kind of aromas were going to come off this massive beer. At first, I was hit with an enormously rich caramel bomb that smelled like cooked taffy. It was also earthy, with a certain musty aroma that I couldn’t put my finger on. Sweetness everywhere, some alcohol tickles my nose. I’m also getting a lot of fermented honey, and a bit of a boozy smell, however this makes sense given the extraordinarily high ABV. There are loads of floral hops, and some citrus zest floating around in there.
Let’s give it a taste. Oh wow, this is dangerously well-balanced. There is this sweet candy caramel flavor to start with – It’s like sipping a sherry or port. The hops are certainly there, but its not super bitter. It is incredibly fruity, with strawberries and lemon zest leading the pack. I’m getting darker fruits in there as well; black cherries and general red fruitiness. This beer has legs! A wine term that you can certainly use here. The liquid clings to the glass as I tilt the snifter. The booze works really well, it is certainly there and apparent, but it works incredibly well with the sweet caramel, and hoppy, piney, citrusy flavors; it makes for an all-around big experience. It gives off the most incredible warming feeling as you sip it. Some bigger beers have an alcohol bite that takes away from the other flavors; here, it really brings it all together. Carbonation is not very pronounced, and the mouthfeel is thick, however not as much as I expected it to be. This really did feel like I was drinking a glass of port. The aftertaste carries grapefruit bitterness and alcohol warmth; they both linger a very, very long time, while my whole body warmed as I sipped it. Staring at this thing of beauty, my girlfriend asked from across the room if I needed to be alone with my love nectar. I kind of wanted to say yes.
An Article by Noah Forrest