Craft drinkers often lament, “I wish we could get that here.”
The realities of beer distribution dictate that every brand must be registered in a state before it can be sold in that locale. Retailers can’t simply pick up any beer and put it on the shelf without risking their license to sell alcohol.
And so it is that beer from in-demand breweries simply isn’t available in certain regions. Breweries with reputations for especially good or provocatively interesting beer can develop almost cult followings. The inaccessibility of these beers makes fans yearn for change.
Dogfish Head Brewery from Milton, Del., is one such ardently followed brewery that recently entered the Twin Cities market. Dogfish Head opened in 1995 as a small brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Brewing on a tiny 12-gallon system, the brewery quickly gained a reputation for using culinary ingredients — such as fruit, tea and even spirulina algae — to craft what it calls “off-centered beers for off-centered people.”
Dogfish Head’s reputation grew along with the size of the brewery. By 2002 Dogfish Head had expanded twice, vastly increasing its production volume and distribution range. A small still was installed at the brewpub for the creation of off-centered spirits.
The experiments grew bolder to include the re-creation of ancient ales from the chemical analysis of archaeological pot scrapings and the application of their signature culinary ingredients to traditional brews such as Finnish sahti and Ethiopian tej. They even brewed a lobster stout, incorporating whole lobsters as a call-out to founder Sam Calagione’s Maine roots.
Dogfish Head’s reputation is due in no small part to Calagione’s celebrity status. The affable and energetic brewer has emerged as a spokesman of sorts for the craft beer movement. He has authored or contributed to six books on subjects ranging from food pairings to small-business development and leadership. He hosted the seven-episode “Brew Masters” series for the Discovery Channel and has given countless talks around the country on beer and the beer industry.
Dogfish Head beers appeared in our metro area two weeks ago. The brewery hit the ground running, launching in the market with its full 2017 catalog, a rarity as most newcomers start with a limited selection and gradually expand. Currently available beers range from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
One of the less experimental beers is Namaste, a Belgian-style witbier brewed with lemongrass, peppercorns and orange flesh in addition to the orange peel and coriander typical of the style. Coriander is strong in this one — perhaps a bit too strong. But it’s balanced somewhat by juicy orange overtones and soft, bready wheat. The finish is exceptionally dry with a spicy bite, making this a refreshing quencher.
A step up on the culinary scale is Saison du Buff, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale incorporating parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. It sounds gimmicky, but the result is anything but. Herbs are the focus here, but it’s still a true saison beneath. Minty and piney flavors combine seamlessly with the citrus and peppery spice that characterize the style. This is a great food beer that would make a nice complement to roasted poultry, sausages or lamb.
The 9-percent-alcohol 90 Minute IPA is perhaps the brewery’s flagship beer. Dogfish Head developed a method for continuously delivering hops to the beer over the entire duration of a 90-minute boil. The result is huge burst of juicy, hop-derived citrus fruits like orange, tangerine and grapefruit. The bitterness is toned down, more than balanced by an almost excessive sweetness. Subtle notes of golden raisin give it some darker fruit character to offset the brightness of the hops.
Midas Touch was Dogfish Head’s first exploration of ancient ale. Reconstructed from residue found in 2,700-year-old vessels from the tomb of King Midas, it provides a glimpse into the distant past of fermented beverages. Made from barley, honey, white muscat grapes and saffron, this complex brew would be right at home in a chardonnay glass. Honey and lightly toasted grain are the drivers, with vinous notes that carry throughout, but which come on especially strong in the finish. Low acidity cuts the rich, honey sweetness. Saffron gives a subtle floral background.
Strong beers are the norm for Dogfish Head. Fourteen of the 19 beers in the catalog are above 7 percent alcohol. Palo Santo Marron is a 12 percent imperial brown ale that is aged in tanks made of Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. There is a lot going on in this boozy sipper. Chocolate, coffee, caramel and brown sugar combine nicely with underlying tones of raisins and dried dark cherries. The Palo Santo imparts notes of vanilla and cinnamon-like spice. The alcohol is a bit too much for my taste. But for those seeking an in-your-face beer experience, this would be a Dogfish Head go-to.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.