Beer Review – Dogfish Head 61 Pushes Boundaries by Bridging Them

We’re all busy. I get it.  Twitter, push notifications, and news scrolls have reprogrammed the way we go about getting information.  Soon enough, books may go the way of 8 track tapes or laser discs of the Director’s Cut of Young Einstein.  With that in mind and for those of you whose attention span becomes challenged over 144 characters (let alone 144 complete words) I’ll toss out a bold prediction right off the bat:

Bold Prediction for the Twitter Character Limit Attention Span People:

Sam Calgione will open a winery before the end of 2015

You could stop reading here and continue surfing for deals on plush giant microbes (the Ebola virus was a big hit with our kids) or soup tureens etched with Despicable Me Minions by the expert artisans at the Franklin Mint but you’d miss what could be an interesting review of Dogfish Head 61.  Remember how empty and out of touch you felt the day after Sharknado when you were the only one left out of the loop because you missed it? Don’t let that happen again.  Your Dunkin Donuts gift card is almost tapped out anyway and you don’t need the large Mocha Coolatta you’ll inevitably drown your sorrows in when you realize that you’ve been left out again because the rest of the world is all abuzz about this post.  By the way, it’ll only take 2 minutes to read.  I timed it.  Well, not yet because I don’t know what I’m actually going to write but I will.  Promise. (I kept my promise – it might take 3)

THIS JUST IN:  The editorial board reviewed the final draft and decided to move the review up in order to catch some readers who might already be suffering Google/Twitter Withdrawal DTs

photo-3

A picture says a thousand words but so does a number.  60, 75, 90, 120, 61.  One of those numbers is not like the others (OK, maybe two are but one is more not like the others – kind of like Hemmingway’s six-toed cats).  Knowing that Dogfish’s stock in trade is pushing boundaries and crafting unusual ales I figured I was in for something modestly challenging and potentially horrific, a.k.a., their ill-fated Au Courant.  I’m happy to report that my fears were the only things ill-fated.  61 is a really nice, complex, yet accessible craft beer.

Right off the bat you’ve got a crystal clear, effervescent ruby pour with small, quickly dissipating white head that throws off a bouquet of intrigue and inviting aromas

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yahtzee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dominated by sour cherry/grape, mild citrus and earthy yeast notes.  You know those beers that practically make you want to drop everything (except the glass) and belt out the Portuguese version of Strawberry Letter 23?  Well, this is one of those.  It’s also perfect for those times when you have visions of Christiane Amanpour battling Treat Williams in the Yahtzee Thunder Dome while she lip-synchs Pee Wee Hermann’s version of Surfin’ Bird.  I know what you’re thinking… not another one of those beers.  I began to think that way too as the syrah must in this brew worked its magic alongside modestly sweet summer cherries and tart nectarine.  No real malt backbone or serious hoppy punch.  Instead, the flavors are strands suspended between delicate, yet sturdy spiral rails of malt and hops.  A veritable DNA Double Helix of craft beer.

The texture is both silky and light with lots of prickly carbonation that harkens back to that Yahtzee death match but this time the Thunder Dome is ringed by a second level where Attila The Hun impersonators (I assume they’re merely impersonators) sit behind vintage manual crank deli meat slicers slowly carving Boar’s Head Honey Smoked Turkey like a precision drill team.  Yes, yes, plenty of those beers too, I know.  Believe me, this really is a very different brew despite the common images it evokes.  For instance, its bi-polar finish is a thing of brewing artistry.  Crisp, abrasive, and dry, but with thin ribbons of velvety sweetness enticing another sip.  You suddenly find yourself departing the party in a conga line lead by Willem Defoe while singing the chorus of Nights On Broadway AND Juice Newton’s Queen Of Hearts at the same time.  Yep, it’s that beer.

Hybrid anythings are always sketchy.  Look at killer bees.  For a spectacularly funny write-up of the trouble with hybrids take a look at this great post by Beerbeque.  One of the funniest things I’ve read all year.  Dogfish Head 61 is a brazen and unabashed beer/wine hybrid that pulls it off seamlessly yet begs the question:  Is Sam trying to tell us something?  Is he going to start making wine or will he be content to play yenta between the wine and craft beer families.

So let’s see if I have this straight:

1.  Sam Calgione founds Dogfish Head Brewing in 1995 to brew interesting, bold beers unlike the bland industrial pale lagers that dominated (still do but to a lesser extent) American brewing.  “Off-centered ales for off-centered people™” was and remains their motto.

2.  Over time, Dogfish Head turns out an impressive, growing, and unconventional lineup of brews, including their Ancient Ales and Music Themed series.

3.   More and more of their beers are sold in large format, corked, wine style bottles.

A hybrid of a different kind

A hybrid of a different kind

4.   Professor Calgione launches a well publicized and successful “beer vs. wine” food pairing campaign featuring tasting dinners pairing various beer and wine styles with each course to highlight the versatility of craft beer.  During those dinners, Sam champions craft beer while his guest nemesis for the evening takes up the cause for wine.  A veritable Matalin versus Carville battle royale.

5.   In spite of the widening adoption of canning within the craft beer industry, Sam Calgione steadfastly and without hesitation has proclaimed that Dogfish Head beers will not be distributed in cans because it runs counter to Dogfish’s efforts to elevate craft beer by presenting it in large format bottles.  Can you say “up-market” or “wineification?”

6.  Dogfish begins to brew beer with elements, processes, and ingredients borrowed from wine makers such as Red & White, Noble Rot, and finally….. Sixty-One.

Is he wavering in his commitment and passion to craft beer or merely pushing the brewing envelope yet again into uncharted territory? Blaspheming apostate or brilliant mad scientist.  Hell, in Medieval Europe brilliant scientists were often branded as apostates (just dust off the Ouija Board and ask Galileo) so the distinction may not be all that easily defined.

Regardless of his intentions, DH61 is an interesting, well-crafted, refreshing, and versatile craft beer that pushes boundaries by bridging them.

Cheers!

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Secret Swillionaires Summit Reveals Big Beer Plans

What with all the hubbub surrounding the NSA leaker Snowden and his impersonation of a refuse barge adrift at sea with no taker or safe harbor I thought it might be good time to publish some equally sensitive and potentially embarrassing information regarding a couple of Big Beer’s black bag projects.  I’ve known about them for a few months but been hesitant to reveal anything for fear of reprisals from the corporate goons of ABInBev and MillerCoors.  But before I expose their plans and enter the craft beer bloggers protection program I want to get back to this Snowden idiot for a second.  How screwed is this guy?  He’s being hunted by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies and even Putin, Chaves, and Kim Jong-un won’t grant him refuge.  Unless Jason Bourne is his BFF, he’s going to end up living out whatever days he has left hiding in some remote shack in the Andes hoping not to be eaten by descendants of the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed in 1972.

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

So, back to the Big Beer secret projects.  Not long ago, MillerCoors held their annual distributors convention in Orlando.  As you’d expect, lots of glitz, glamour, showmanship, charts, and puffery (i.e. lies) regarding how well the business is doing and confident predictions of a bright future.  Nothing salacious, exciting, or remotely interesting there.  Kind of like their beer.  Anyway, it seems the real action was taking place behind the curtain.  Late on the second day of the convention there were rumors of Carlos Brito sightings throughout Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  Odd.  Why would ABInBev’s CEO be anywhere near a major convention held by his chief rival?  The rumors had to be simple cases of mistaken identity.  After all, he does bear a striking resemblance to Maleficent, Disney’s reigning queen of evil deeds (in action, that is).  Well, the rumors turned out to be true.  Carlos Brito really was there and so was his CFO and a handful of other top ABInBev marketing and operations execs.  Something was up.

ABInBev's CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

ABInBev’s CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

A warren of interconnecting tunnels and underground facilities – practically an entire subterranean metropolis – underlies Disney World.  A perfect setting for alighting well concealed spies to discover all manner of planned and nefarious subterfuge.  Just a quick scan of the event schedule revealed an odd reservation.  A private Disney character breakfast had been reserved in the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace for 3:00 in the afternoon of the second day of the convention.  A late afternoon breakfast was strange enough but stranger still was the fact that the parties on the reservation were blocked.  The guest notation only revealed that 24 would attend.  Nothing else on the schedule looked out of the ordinary so it seemed as if something special, something unpublicized and unspoken might take place over late afternoon home fries, bacon, and pancakes with Cinderella and her princess clique.

What better way to infiltrate the breakfast and gather intelligence than to plant a listening device and what better listening device than something with huge ears that doesn’t stand out?  Something like this:

A Fish out of water at Disney

A Fish out of water at Disney

Not that! This:

NSA's Echelon has nothing on this listening device

NSA’s Echelon has nothing on this listening device

That’s it.  A hidden Mickey.  They appear in all sizes, textures, and colors down there and are far more ubiquitous than Abe Vigoda.  Micky Mouse himself might have done a fine job but the princesses tend to get a bit skittish around rodents, especially extremely large ones like these:

 Mickey and Minnie better take the day off or take cover if Cary Elwes ever walks through the gates of the Magic Kingdom.  Anyway, with a little help from Ariel, a listening device in the shape of a hidden Mickey was planted near the desert table in the Crystal Palace just before the group was

Now THAT's what I call an effective spy

Now THAT’s what I call an effective spy

scheduled to arrive. Soon enough, she relayed via text that the players were streaming in and it was, indeed, a cast of Big Beer characters rivaling the gown-festooned starlets clearing their plates and refilling their glasses.  A who’s who of global ABInBev & MillerCoors execs from the C Suites including marketing and R & D honchos.  Arch rivals breaking bread and tonging bacon? After an hour or so of small talk and one up-manship regarding the size of bribes one another handed out to secure prime spots at the front of every line in the park they got down to the business that brought them together for this secret summit.  Not surprisingly, craft beer was very much on all of their minds.  A full transcript of the meeting would be too lengthy to post here (anyway, Julian Asange might take exception to my doing that and I don’t want to risk his exposing my recipes for Unholy Hand Grenades or Schlomo Kameamea’s Sliders so I’m only going to publish an excerpt here.  If I pass under his radar I’ll post more excerpts later on).  Because Ariel and the rest of the princesses were asked to leave the room before they got to the serious stuff it’s impossible to always identify who’s talking so speakers are often only identified by company where possible.

Transcript of the Swillionaires Summit

Unidentified MillerCoors Exec (MC):  Good luck with that.  I saw you strike out with Aurora and Jasmin.  Your Adam Sandler schtick is priceless – and dateless.

Carlos Brito (Brito):  Alright. Enough of that.  We need to deal with this craft bullshit once and for all.  We like our Shock Top numbers and Black Crown is right there but I know they’re crap and I think we all see the same thing.  Your Third Shift and Batch 15 imposter (cut off)

MC: Batch Nineteen!

Brito: Whatever.  It’s crap – they’re all crap and we have to acknowledge that too many beer drinkers outside of this room know it too.  More and more every day.  We’re not fooling them anymore with the glitzy packaging, knock-off craft labels and nonsense commercials.

MC:  Agreed.  I guess we knew the party had to end.  We’ve crammed so much cheap shit into our top line beers that they might as well all be Natty Light.  We thought we’d regain some market share with our punch top can but the high school kids would rather jam a pen into a can of Keystone and get the same effect for less money.  Probably smarter than all of us because it tastes just as bad anyway.

Unidentified ABInBev Exec (AB):  Our bowtie can is iconic and masterful.  You guys went in the wrong direction with yours.

Brito:  Let’s not not go there.  We were way over budget with that fool’s errand and it’ll do little more than slow the obvious trend.  Look.  We’re losing.  The craft segment has gained steadily and impressively every year since at least ’02 and we have to change course or end up remembered as the brewing equivalents of Ratt or Winger.

MC:  Or Haircut 100

Unidentified: What’s wrong with them?

AB:  Seriously?

Brito:  We’ve tried everything.  Worked the Statehouses and DC, choked micro distribution and shelf space, bought into some of crafts, acquired Goose Island, and launched a more aggressive knock-off campaign

MC: The craft segment calls it “crafty”.  Kind of works

Brito:  Well it doesn’t f’n kind of work for our bottom line or your’s either!  You’ve seen the same numbers and focus data we have.  They want real flavor – good flavor.  They don’t want bland factory beer anymore.  We’ve lost the narrative and we’re going to lose more than that.  We’re here to brainstorm new, bold ideas so let’s hear them!

MC:  OK, we’ve had a small group in Promotions looking at potential co-sponsorship opportunities,  Strategic alliances between brands and external consumer goods and services.  Through relational database analysis we’ve identified a strong correlation between our bargain brand drinkers and arrests.  We think a potential value proposition for that customer would be to offer discount bail bond coupons with every volume format purchase like our 30 pack.  Perhaps a punch card which could be presented at checkout allowing buyers to accumulate points towards a bail coupon.  Something like the free latte customer cards at Starbucks.

AB:  (unintelligable)…. I can only imaging the legal and regulatory BS that kind of concept would entail.  The revenue limiting divisions … compliance and legal and governmental relations will have a field day.  We’re greasing the pols but not richly enough to make that kind of thing fly.

MC (possibly CEO Tom Long or high ranking exec):  We’re among friends…for now…so I’ll tell you what we’ve had in R&D for several months.  We’ve been trying to mimic them for years with our knock-off lines while we should be mimicking their model.

Brito:  We’re both much too big for that and you know it.

MC:  Yes but here’s where we use our size and resources to finally beat them at their own game.  They love to pal around with one another and do these ridiculous collaboration brews.  Seems they don’t understand the concept of competition.  If we combined forces we could brew a collaboration beer to end all beers.

AB:  (unintelligible murmurs)…. and that’s exactly what it might do to both of us.  What are you suggesting?  We brew something that combines the cheap beer factory flavors already leading to our huge losses? Insanity.

MC:  No. We mimic another of their pet brewing concepts and brew something that will revolutionize not just a beer style but will change the way consumers shop for beer in the retail stores while diverting their attention away from all of the craft competition.

Brito:  We thought we did that with Strawb-A-Rita.  Go on.

MC:  Even more elegant.  We brew a “tripel imperial light beer.”  The craft segment would bottle imperial water – a wetter version – if they could.  Why not take a page out of their pet project books and brew a beer so light…so massively light…that it actually floats?!

AB:  What the f… are you talking about? Do you have one of those on-line degree diplomas tacked to your cubicle particle board?

MC:  Hear me out.  We’ve done some preliminary due diligence and we’re moving along with a proof of concept.  It can be done.  The beer will be light enough to make the cans float to the ceilings of the retail outlets.  Imagine going to the local Costco or BevMo to shop for your beer with a long net or grappling hook?  The hell with those shelves of craft beer – nobody will be looking at them.  They’ll all be staring straight up.  The promotional opportunities are endless.

Unidentified:  Um…  outside events…picnics whatever….airplanes….mylar balloons get the Greenpeace PETA activists all worked up as it is.  Pretty sure stray six packs in the glide paths of a few planes won’t go unnoticed.

AB:  What about thick lead cans or even lead pellets?  We could set up Chinese factories to brew and can it.

MC:  That defeats the whole purpose!  Anyway, we’ve got the brewery angle covered too.  Even our (and your) best and biggest beer factories aren’t capable of creating something like this.  Only one facility in the world can do it.  The large  hadron super collider at Cern.  It’s off line for a couple years now anyhow so we offer to lease it. They need the money.  There’s no market for God particles these days anyway.  Straightforward process.  We load Miller light into one end and Bud Light into the other and flip the switch.  They collide at near light speed and Eureka! Higgs-Boson Light!!

Brito:  You’re right.  It’ll be a beer to end all beers….and everything else!

MC:  Wait…wait.  Think of the myriad of revenue opportunities aside from the beer itself.  That Cern place is HUGE!  We could fit out a section of it as a hotel – a Beer & Breakfast.  Multiple lounges and themed bars.  The Americans come to Germany in droves to see their Bimmers and Benzes being built and take delivery.  We can offer them the same thrilling experience!!

Brito:  Let’s break.  This is outrageous.  I need a beer right now.  Someone tell Cinderella to go off site and get me something.  There are no decent beers in Disney….

(transcript ends)

Not a silhouette.  These people actually look like this

Not a silhouette. These people actually look like this

Seems Big Beer has big plans for a very big brewery.  The next Bud branded floating thing you see up there might not be this thing:

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Cheers! (now I’m off to the Snowden Circuit)……

Senile Implant

There are no still ponds in memory's pool

No still ponds in memory’s pool

I’m absolutely certain that at least one of my buddies loves that title (and not because he’s a urologist, plastic surgeon, or collector of John Wayne Bobbitt memorabilia). In fact, I’ll predict that he texted me his approval of it before even reading to the end of this sentence.  It’s catchy, playfully annoying, and hard to pin down (no pun intended, really).  Problem is, I’m not so sure how relevant it will actually be to the content of the this post.  That’s primarily because I’m not entirely sure where this post is going to go or even how much craft beer content will wind its way in.

I do know this: I’m calling my next home brew Senile Implant and while the recipe isn’t close to the drawing board, it’ll amlost certainly be a big, high ABV imperial oatmeal stout.  Something dark and contemplative that promotes thoughtful recollection brewed with the usual suspects of deeply roasted barley and oats, layered with earthy hops, and fermented with a classic American Ale yeast.  The most important ingredients; however, won’t be in the brew kettle, primary, or secondary fermentor.  They won’t fit in a carboy and wouldn’t do well in boiling wort or fermenting beer. Mirrors, prisms, and the catalytic haze of people, places, and days gone by have to be added long after the brewing process is complete, usually after the third or fourth pour.

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

A glass of rear view clarity at Stone Rose, Scottsdale Princess

Ironically, the inspiration for this post didn’t develop during a craft beer research session (though I did enjoy a spectacularly fresh Four Peaks Hop Knot IPA at the brewpub just a few hours earlier that day.  More on that another time).  It was early March of 2012 – March 2nd to be exact – and I was on my ninth trip to Scottsdale, my safe “tree” from life’s game of tag.  I’d make a tenth visit just 6 weeks later.  More than simply a beautiful place to visit, Scottsdale had become a virtual time machine.  The sun had been down about an hour and I was just a few sips into a second Partida Reposado at the outside bar of Stone Rose at the Scottsdale Princess (recently re-branded the Plaza Bar) when I noticed two guys at the other side of the square bar involved in an animated and joyous conversation about their round at the TPC Stadium Course.  One reached the 15th’s island green in two while the other fell miserably short.  They looked to be about 30 and were obviously good friends – maybe best friends.  They were me…20 years ago.

Their gestures and laughter reminded me of my first drinks there (it was called Cazadores back then) with my best friend almost exactly 20 years before to the day.  We turned 30 one week apart and that trip was our pre-midlife crisis golf vacation.  Seemed like a good idea.  Travel to a gorgeous, warm, interesting place to play golf every day and have a few drinks every night.  This was still several years before I even knew I was loosely on the path to becoming a craft beer geek so the evening golf recaps were accompanied with Tanqueray & Tonics as opposed to Stone Ruinations or Firestone Walker Wookey Jacks.  The guys across the bar appeared to be drinking either vodka or gin & tonics and for all I knew they were Northeasterners on a golf trip – maybe their pre-midlife crisis vacation – just like my buddy and I were two decades before.

Then one of them made eye contact with me and to this day I have a frighteningly clear recollection of glancing away as if instinctively and reflexively pulling my hand from an open flame.  Retreating from some undefined danger.  Music and conversation at Stone Rose’s outside bar is never too loud and didn’t drown out the muted clink of ice against glass as I raised the tequila for another sip.  At that moment I wondered what they saw in me from the other side of the bar.  After all, they’re me so they had to notice the same parallels.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize that if they noticed me at all they surely didn’t see themselves in me.  They didn’t see a reasonably fit, carefree 30 year old prosecutor that first visited Scottsdale and they certainly didn’t see the very, VERY fit 40 year old version that came extremely close to being on the cast of Survivor II – Australian Outback (yep, I still have the video to prove it).  They didn’t see those versions because they only exist in that virtual time machine I mentioned earlier.  The version sitting at the bar that night was overweight, balding (I’m OK with that), and drinking alone (I’m OK with that too, sometimes).  If those guys had projected out 20 years into their futures and seen themselves in me, they’d have been the ones reflexively retreating from the open flame.  They saw what I couldn’t, not with my mirror obscured by the blinding memories being thrown off by that prism.

Their girlfriends joined them as I finished that second tequila.  Another few rounds of laughter and they all headed of to dinner and to their next 20 years.  I stayed for one more.  The time machine might have been temporarily tarnished but I still had plenty of great memories to drink with.  Though ironically, they’d probably best be forgotten.

As I finished I noticed an older gentleman had taken up a spot at one of the corners.  He was at least 15 years older than me, alone, and drinking a Coors Light from the bottle.  I only hoped that wasn’t a glimpse of my future.  If senility does overtake me, I pray my silver alert doesn’t include the silver bullet.

There.  I forced this thing back to some modest, if forced, relevance to that catchy title.