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!

Advertisements

Craft Beer’s Mt. Rushmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

President’s Day is a time for honoring all of our past Presidents but somehow the guys that managed to get themselves chiseled into that mountain seem to be the only ones that actually get honored.  Not sure what Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, or Warren Harding did to miss the cut up there but perhaps there was a remarkable likeness of their faces molded into the mud beneath the pines after a storm one Thursday afternoon.  Or not.

In any event, images of Mt. Rushmore got me thinking about which craft beer pioneers I would want to see carved into a mountain.  Who belongs on craft beer’s Mt. Hopmore?  I started with a list of 7 or 8 names (ok, exactly 8).  Naturally, my target number was 4.  After all, the real thing has 4 and it looks really good under those fireworks at night.  Coming up with exactly 4 craft beer luminaries for Mt. Hopmore was; however, almost impossible.  Then it hit me – it’s my concept.  My mountain – my rules.  That was easy.  So my Mt. Hopmore has 5 giants of craft beer.  In all honesty, the first 3 seem to me absolute givens.  The last 2 were just too hard to differentiate between one another.  Both clearly worthy and both identical in one important respect.  Anyway, here they are:

Fritz Maytag - Anchor Brewing

Fritz Maytag – Anchor Brewing

First of all, doesn’t this guy look the part? Swap him out today for Teddy Roosevelt and almost nobody would notice the difference.  Hard to argue against including the guy who took over a failing second-rate brewery and turned it into, arguably, the flagship craft brewery that lead the way for all the others to follow.  A true craft beer icon.

Ken Grossman - Sierra Nevada

Ken Grossman – Sierra Nevada

It’s often said that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the one – the Neo of craft beer.  OK, I just said it and I’ll repeat it a bunch of times (though not here – there’s a limit to how much I really want to torture you) so it’ll eventually be often said.  Ken Grossman opened minds and palates to hoppy, flavorful ales and even though Sierra Nevada Pale pales in comparison to today’s hop bombs, many of them would never have been brewed if not for his vision and determination.

Jim Koch - Boston Beer

Jim Koch – Boston Beer

How can you ignore the guy who brought Samual Adams, an American patriot, to the masses by brewing it to them?  Too many good reasons to carve him into a mountain even if Boston Beer is, well, very large (and advertises – a rarity in the craft beer industry).  He’s been a huge supporter of small, independent craft brewers.

Sam Calgione - Dogfish Head

Sam Calgione – Dogfish Head

You knew he had to show up.  As outspoken as anyone in the industry today and a formidable foe to Big Beer.  The Godfather of extreme brewing, he’s come up some outrageous brews.  Love him or hate him, if you’re a craft beer fan you have a strong opinion one way or the other.  He’s elevated the debate surrounding beer vs. wine as a companion to fine food and he gets extra credit for pissing off Big Beer with his short-lived Brewmasters series.

Greg Koch - Stone Brewing

Greg Koch – Stone Brewing

Full disclose: I have a Stone Brewing addiction.  If my wife would have allowed it, our first child might have been named Arrogance.  That said, he founded Stone and the mountain is made of the stuff,  Aside from that, he’s turned craft brewing up to 11, pioneers sustainable industry and pokes a hoppy finger in the eye of Big Beer with every Ruination poured.  Oh, another thing: he’s made gargoyles very, very cool.

So that’s my Mt. Hopmore.  Agree? Disagree?  Take the poll and vote!

The Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Oak Creek Brewpub in Sedona, AZ

Ask me almost anything about beer and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll know the answer.  “What’s the difference between dry hopping and continuous hopping?”  I know that. “Does chocolate malt really contain chocolate?”  I know that too, and – no, it doesn’t.  “What’s Fritz Maytag’s claim to brewing fame?”  Yeah, I know that and it doesn’t have anything to do with inventing a combination Maytag dishwasher/brew kettle.   “Who brews Pliny the Elder Ale and what styles of beer pair well with Thai food or Texas BBQ?  Yes, I can tackle those as well.  The list goes on and has gone on at beer tastings and other events for a while now.  I’ve been a proud bearer of the beer geek tag for a good 8 years.  I’ve hosted countless beer tastings, reviewed hundreds of beers, sampled hundreds more, brewed my own beer, given purchasing advice to a handful of owners, buyers and beer managers at local liquor stores and designed flights for some local craft beer bars but one question has evaded even a poor answer despite many attempts:  “when did you become a beer geek (or beer nut as the question is usually posed)?”  For far too long, the best and most honest answer I could come up with has been, “I don’t really know.”  Absurd, how could I not even know enough to take a weak stab at such a basic and obvious question?  Well, never one to be comfortable with not knowing the answer (especially to something so seemingly simple), I sat down with a contemplative pint or two of Great Divide Yeti Oak Aged Imperial Stout and determined to come up with something better than “I don’t really know.”

When it came to beer in the first place I was late to the tap handle, not having my first one until midway through my second semester of sophomore year at Syracuse University.  A self-imposed goodie two shoes I can honestly say that I never had a drink at a high school party and I didn’t even thought about sneaking a little something from my parents bar.  Throughout Freshman Year I never uncapped one of the Haffenreffer’s my future roommate, John Chawner, and his future wife, Cathy, were so quizzically partial to.  When I did start to accompany my college buddies to the bars adjacent to campus I tended to stay away from beer completely – just hated the taste of it and couldn’t understand why anyone would drink it.  Embarrassingly, I would usually be caught with a vodka Collins in those days but that’s another story.

Continue reading