Beer tasting is a serious business. Most don’t have the fortitude for it. Every day I endure the strain of knowing my judgements could initiate a cascade of events capable of toppling the entire industry. Once I mistakenly referred to the mouthfeel of a Belgian dubbel as “silky” when it was demonstrably velvety, only to shame an entire Trappist monastery to mass suicide.
Luckily there is a beer company I can always turn to when I’ve got a bunch of dead holy men cluttering up my conscience. Their freewheeling antics never fail to put a smile on my face and mild bruising on my liver. I’m referring, of course, to the professional nutjobs at Dogfish Head.
When I last mentioned these guys I waxed poetic about how they used molecular archaeology to inspire recipes, but I’ve since realized that doesn’t illustrate how delightfully batshit they are. To really understand Dogfish Head you have to listen to Sam Calagione plumb the technical depths of how to get the appropriate amount of spit into his corn beer.
The preparation of chicha, the Peruvian malt beverage Sam was modeling, requires the purple maize to be milled and have its starches converted to sugars by chewing it up and spitting it out. Sure, you could do this by malting it and then mechanically grinding the corn, but then you wouldn’t get to know what her mouth tastes like:
I tease, but I have deep appreciation for the childlike exuberance that Dogfish Head brings to their brewing. That’s why for the remainder of this review I’m rejecting the constraints of traditional grades in favor of a more Montessori approach to evaluation.
Red & White (10% ABV)
Oh, look. Another Dogfish Head beer that defies conventions and will probably foment a new era of creativity in craft brewing. Can’t you people just follow a standard recipe for once? If my lips spend any more time applied to your posterior in this review we might as well stunt-double for Human Centipede 2. (Note: if you didn’t find that funny, read it again and then click this.
The Red & White is an ale brewed with coriander, orange peel and juice from Pinot noir grapes. 11% of the batch was aged in Pinot noir barrels and blended with the 88.95% aged on oak barrel staves. The remainder was aged in Sam’s cheek for about a week. He pretty much puts spit in everything these days…if you’re lucky:
This pours a tall, frothy mound of ivory head atop a blood-orange red ale. The aroma is very perfumy, with a mix of flowers, orange, soap and alcohol.
The first thing I notice is that it is prickly and spicy in the mouth, like a vespiary has taken root above your tongue. If you’re not familiar with the term “vespiary,” it’s probably because your father doesn’t insist on quizzing your S.A.T. vocabulary terms 20 years post-test. I’d say something to him, but without a sense of purpose he’d likely die. I can’t have that on my conscience, especially not when his retirement portfolio is under-performing and the payout would be so paltry. But I digress.
There’s an abundance of orange juice and ginger in the flavor, but the finish grounds the experience a bit. It resolves with pine, eucalyptus, floral bitterness and a slightly abrasive alcohol note.
So how does one grade a beer whose classification is unknown? I recommend following my trademarked Ian Knows Best method. The first thing you do is assign it a letter arbitrarily. Don’t let any “knowledge” or “scruples” influence the act as they’ll only confuse the matter. Next defiantly stake all your imagined credibility on that grade, no matter who disagrees with it. This will exude a sense of authority and confidence. Finally, assault all naysayers with a foppish slap from your velveteen glove. Easy!
Aprihop (7% ABV)
Dogfish Head has married their IPAs with several unlikely flavors over the years, but apricot was unusual even by their standards. “Our goal was to create an IPA with such bright, crisp flavors that you would completely ignore the waves of shame crashing over you for drinking a beer with apricots in it.”*
The Aprihop is a coppery amber brew with a small tan, beady head. It has some nice floral notes and some apricot, but nothing you’d mistake for the smells hovering above a fruit salad.
The IPA and fruit notes in this do an interesting dance. The floral and piney hops make an early introduction, but start to recede behind a tart apricot flavor that seems somewhat “extract-y.” There’s some malt backbone to it all, but it tastes a bit grainy and doesn’t build the mouthfeel much. In short, I’m beginning to wish this beer was produced in a Footloosian town circa 1984 that would regard all dancing as a corrupting, sinful act.
A beer like this is certainly unafraid to test your palate, but in this instance the risk doesn’t seem to be working. The combination of pine and apricots isn’t tuned to my tastes, but I can see how this would be a great spring beer for someone. For someone I wouldn’t like. Choke on it, someone.
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