21 October 2009

Dogfish Head Trio

There's the strict German beer law, the Reinheitsgebot, which only allows the use of water, barley, and hops for beer production. There are many other brewing traditions around the world that will incorporate various locally grown ingredients.

And then there's Dogfish Head.

Based in Delaware, this brewery is named after a place on the coast of Maine, and a dogfish is a small shark. They make some of the most unusual and creative beers in the country, and are willing to experiment with practically anything. Some are winners, some are failures, but they're always trying something new and interesting. The brewers are willing to chew corn kernels and spit them into the pot prior to fermentation. (Only for that one beer, don't worry. You're not drinking Delaware spit if you try the beers reviewed below, or anything other than the Chicha.)

Recently we got together for a guys' night and tried three Dogfish Head beers along with steaks, creamed spinach, and roasted potatoes. Despite the obscure nature of some of these bottles, they are quite easy to find around the country. I picked these up from Joe's Wines & Liquor here in Memphis, where I got to shoot the breeze with Michael for a bit. (In Tennessee, these higher alcohol "big beers" are only available at liquor stores. Joe's has an excellent selection.)

While I've tried several more mainstream Dogfish Head beers, the inner anthropologist in me is particularly interested in their Ancient Ales series using recipes that are, to quote my father, "older than dirt". First up was the Dogfish Head Midas Touch. $4 per 12 oz. bottle, 9% abv. Based off archaeological evidence from the 2,700-year-old tomb of King Midas in Turkey, this falls somewhere between beer, wine, and mead. It's made from barley, Muscat grapes, and honey, and flavored with saffron. While not overly sweet, this would make a great dessert beer, or go well with a series of blue-veined cheeses. It's more like a wonderfully complex Muscat wine rather than a beer.

The second Ancient Ale is inspired by South America: Dogfish Head Theobroma. $13 per 750 mL bottle, 9% abv. This 3,200-year old recipe involves cocoa nibs, honey, and chiles. Unlike some chocolate stouts or other chocolate-flavored beers, there's nothing sweet or creamy about this. It's a tangy, bitter, and spicy beer. Not a great match for this dinner, but alongside roasted pork with a mole sauce this would be incredible. I loved the slightly hot finish--not hot as in alcohol, but that delightful chile burn.

Back to the marriage of beer and wine, here's the Dogfish Head Red & White. $13 per 750 mL bottle, 10% abv. While this was actually the second beer we tried, I had to save the best for last. This is a Belgian wheat (wit) beer, but with a twist. Part of the batch is aged in used Oregon Pinot Noir barrels, and the rest is aged using bare oak staves. Truly one of the most smooth and refined beers I've ever had, one that could stand up to the best of Belgium. It has a rosy color, light wine aromas, a sparkling wine mouthfeel, and a wheat beer finish. While this may sound confusing, it's really a great drinking experience if you love both wine and beer. Like a dry rosé, this would pair with practically anything, but a bottle like this deserves a meal that's a step up from Buffalo wings and nachos. I'd serve this with lobster, a truffled risotto, or roast veal. Hell, maybe all three at once. If you've got a snobbish wine friend that claims to hate beer, serve him this. It will blow his mind.

9 comments:

Jeff said...

You missed the most interesting Dogfish beer...the 120 minute IPA. Probably not something to drink a whole lot of (in excess of 20% ABV), and it's pricey (around 20$ a bottle at Whole Foods), but you've got to give that one a try. Maybe you can't get that one due to the alcohol content and liquor laws in Tennessee? Like the Midas Touch it's an interesting beer... Dogfish Raison D'Etre is also quite nice and worth checking out.

Benito said...

Jeff,

I reviewed the 120 minute back in 2007 and it was amazing. I've also tried the 60 and 90 minute IPAs and enjoyed them as well.

At some point I'll make it up to Delaware and try some of the beers straight from the source.

Cheers,
Benito

Jeff said...

Haha, boy don't I look like a dumb-ass. Glad that you've had a chance to drink the 120 minute. I think it intimidates people, and it' sort of one of those love it or hate it things because it's so intense. But it's pretty great, and very unique.

Benito said...

Jeff,

Hell, sometimes I forget about wines and other stuff that I wrote about. Nearly five years, 700 posts... I Google the name of some "new" wine I've found and discover my own writeup is the first search result. :)

It takes a while to build up to truly appreciating hops, both in terms of long-term experience as well as in the course of a tasting. If somebody is open to bitter flavors, serve the 60 minute. That goes OK, move on to the 90 minute, then the 120 minute and plan to devote a good hour to enjoying it.

Cheers,
Benito

fredric koeppel said...

Fascinating account. I love it when people go to the trouble to research ancient recipes and try to duplicate them, in this case, it sounds like successfully. many cheers for individuality. Something similar is that winemaker in northeastern Italy who ages his white wines in clay amphorae buried in the earth. I bought a bottle in NYC a few years ago; it was an otherworldly experience. (sorry, I'm obviously drawing a blank on the name at 6:23 a.m.)

Michael Hughes said...

Ben-

Thanks for the shout out my friend! I'm glad you enjoyed the brews. I would KILL for some of the chicha but I won't hold my breath that it will make its way here. There is another interesting "ancient recipe" brew that should hopefully be in the market soon from Dogfish. Its called Chateau Jiahu here's the link: http://www.dogfish.com/brews-spirits/the-brews/occassional-rarities/chateau-jiahu.htm

Benito said...

Fredric,

I think you'd enjoy these beers. Interesting on so many levels. They also make a couple of rums, vodkas, and something called Jin: "a gin distilled with pineapple mint, juniper berry, green peppercorn and rosemary botanicals".

Michael,

Let me know if you get the Jiahu, I'd love to try it. I've probably tried a dozen Dogfish beers over the years at The Flying Saucer, but it's those crazy ones in the 750 mL bottles that I truly love.

Cheers,
Benito

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