Monday, September 29, 2008

Awesome Beer of the Week: the Dogfish Head IPAs

This week's Awesome Beer of the Week is, in fact, at least three separate beers: The Dogfish Head IPAs (India Pale Ales).

They may seem like obvious choices, given the growth of Dogfish Head over the last few years and the popularity of their 60 Minute IPA in particular, but there's a lot to be said for both the beer and the company that brews it. Founded in 1995 by Sam Calagione after a stint in New York beer bars while supposedly getting a Masters in English from Columbia, Dogfish has become universally recognized and usually revered among East Coast beer drinkers for an experimental style that tends to produce masterpieces and undrinkables by turns. Yet despite this popularity – and an expansion into liquor production and the restaurant business – their brewery has remained relatively small: in addition to being just the 25th largest Craft Brewing company (and not even on the list of larger beer companies), a friend who visited their brewery over the summer informs me that they fulfill considerably less than half of their keg orders.

With the Raison D'Etre and Midas Touch Golden Elixer holding down the extreme side of the continual releases, the IPAs are Dogfish Head's bread and butter. The 60 Minute IPA serves as their flagship beer, while being one of their more accessible brews (along with the Indian Brown, Shelter Pale and Lawnmower Light). Depending on how you look at it, there are at least three, probably four, and possibly way more Dogfish IPAs. It breaks down like this:

•The 60 Minute, weighing in at 6% alcohol with a noticeable hoppy bitterness, is a solid and drinkable IPA. Nothing to complain about, and always cool to see in a store or bar that doesn't cater to beer drinkers.
•The 90 Minute is a slightly stronger 9% with an additional sweet flavor, both of which serve to balance the hops. My favorite of the three, the 90 Minute hits a balance between sweet, bitter and alcohol that makes the beer a complex enough pleasure that it's considerably more than just a better version of the 60 Minute.
•The 120 Minute takes things to an entirely different level, reaching an alcohol content of 18-21%, with a strong sweet character and thicker body. Honestly, it's both too strong and too sweet for me to love (in contrast to most users of Beer Advocate, I tend to prefer lower alcohol beers), and has little of the taste or feel of a normal IPA. But it is an extraordinary beer: though one of the most alcoholic in the world, I was under the impression that it was 12% when I first drank it and was not violently disabused of the notion by its taste. Probably not worth the price more than once or twice, but if you're curious then it's worth every penny.

Above all, however, is the Burton Baton. Last released in limited quantity in February, it can be difficult to find and pricey when you do. But as a mix of the 90 Minute IPA and an English Strong Ale, aged in French Oak for several months, it hits a spot the other three can only dream about. I haven't had enough of it to answer the question for sure, but this is without question one of my favorite beers, and possibly my favorite ever. I can only pray that they'll bring it out again next year.

It's also worth noting that you can send any of these beers (though usually the 60 or 90) through Randal The Enamel Animal, an "Organoleptic Hops Transducer" invented by the folks at Dogfish to add an extra Hops flavor to the beer on-site. Which is to say, they pump the beer through a several-foot cylinder filled with hops right before giving it to you, which adds both a hops flavor and a certain extra crackle to the feel of the drink. Nor does the additive have to be just hops, of course: my favorite beer bar hosted a Randall event over the summer with six separate Randalls, all with different flavors. My favorite by far was the mint – but the mix of mint and hops was pretty fantastic as well.

I'm also probably obligated to mention that Dogfish Head's place in my heart is partly due to its proximity to Lewes, DE, home of my childhood summers – in fact, their website currently features a photo of the Lewes Harbor. As such, it's been pretty cool to see them grow in popularity over the years.


  1. dude, your enthusiasm for beer is inspiring! we are definitely gonna have to get up and check out that bar. aside from the IPA, i think the only other Dogfish Head i've had is the Raison d'etre, which is very strong but equally as delicious. there are few beers i enjoy more from the tap than Dogfish though & its inclusion behind any bar i go to is always met with relief and joy

  2. Word. I'm considering trying to get a job at the Blind Tiger come January, particularly if the economy keeps tanking (alcohol distribution being one of the more recession-proof trades).

    I've gone back and forth on the Raison D'Etre because of the strength and intensity of its sorta unusual flavor, but it's really grown on me. I think the bottom line is, if you're not in the mood for it then it can easily be too much, but if you're looking for something strong and interesting then it seriously hits the spot.