Monday, July 4, 2011

Dogfish Head - red & white

After interviewing Dogfish Head's founder and president, Sam Calagione, only days ago (yeah, I'm still pretty proud of that), what other brand of beer could I review than the one that hails from Milton, DE?  Not only are they an American brewery (during a weekend when  certain Belgian breweries still produce American lagers in  American flag colors), but they are also quite revolutionary; something I think we can all appreciate during this Fourth of July weekend.  Heck, today's review is even named "red & white."  That's 2/3 of America's colors and I think you could only get more patriotic if you named a beer "George Washington's Monster Truck-Corn Fed-Flag Waving-Commie Hating-Baseball Playing-Muscle Car Democratic Ale."  Keep in mind that a "Democratic Ale" would be a lot like an "Imperial Ale," but without a czar or other assorted monarchies.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 9/12
The aroma changes fairly dramatically as this beer warms.  As some have noticed/confirmed with DFH's "Festina Peche" the initial scents are quite tart, but in this beer they are almost like a strawberry.  That aroma quickly gives way to a darker aroma akin to black currants and even that aroma is eventually supplanted by a more earthy tone of dark, ripe berries - a certain nod to the pinot noir berries.  Though they are a bit sweeter and not as vinous as would be expected given their common use in wine.  Orange makes itself apparent as well, but in a darker form than one would find in a grocery store.

Appearance 3/3
If it were possible to rank this higher, it would receive that rank.  This is beer falls in beautiful shades of dark orange and copper, perhaps hinting that there may be more orange in this beer that the aroma may have told us.  The glass is also swirling with a pulp-like sediment and ascending bubbles, giving the illusion that the pint is in perpetual motion.  In only one other beer have I seen this kind of sediment, but the pulp was larger, stagnant, and a bit unappetizing.  The head was generous and long-lasting as a stiff foam on top of the glass.  This beer surpasses all expectations in appearance!

Picture is my own.
Flavor 18/20
A bold flavor is rife from the get go!  The first sip is a powerful dose of oak, vanilla, and dark orange flavors.  It quickly, but smoothly transitions to the main structure of the beer where we are introduced to alcoholic warmth, coriander, gobs of caramel and/or dark vanilla,  and an interesting marriage of berries and orange peel.  The orange flavor (and aroma, for that matter) are so dark, the nearest comparison to make would be to a drizzle of Gran Marnier.  A quick "wine taster's slurp" reintroduces the alcohol warmth in bold fashion.  The finish transitions the "berry" sweetness of the pinot noir into a bit more of a vinous bite (a very nice touch) as it slides over the back of the tongue.  It also gives a bit more of the warmth and dark orange flavors (again evoking a less potent orange liquor) and combines them with a spicy Belgian yeast.  Coriander?  Orange?  Belgian Yeast?  More and more this is coming to resemble an Imperial Witbier with the added touches of pinot noir and oak aging, though the esters that show are clearly orange-related and do not take any of the banana esters typically associated with Belgian yeasts.  The aftertaste is surprisingly clean for how warm and sweet this beer is.  It gives a light hop bitter, woody oak, and the spicy yeast.  Besides a light sour/tart left of the sides of the tongue, this beer leaves one ready for another sip.  Oddly, it is the only time besides the initial sips that the beer gets to show off any of the oak involved in its brewing process.  Though when present it is perfectly placed and replaces the customary citrus+hop combination to aid in cleansing the palate.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Only the unabashed warmth keeps this beer from earning its perfect score.  Body is medium-full and has very appropriate lower level of carbonation, not as easy task in a beer with such a high ABV (10%).

Overall Impression 8/10
This is one of Dogfish Head's big, complex beers and it delivers; huge flavors and lots of them.  The aroma is deceivingly mellow when considering the rest of this beer and the oak makes welcomed cameos, but never truly takes center stage.  The warmth may keep this from being a "anytime" beer and force it to be reserved for more select occasions, but its range of well blended yet distinct flavors perhaps make you want to save it for those special occasions anyway.

Total 42/50
A pretty impressive offering from DFH, no surprise there.  Technically superior, complimentary flavors, complex, robust, alcohol laden, American, and tasty as all get out... what more could one ask for?  Well, a few things, actually.  When DFH does crazy, interesting things with their beer I want to taste those things.  Pinot Noir juice in a beer?  Awesome.  Let's make sure that gets showcased and not lost.  Not that it was completely lost, but the dark orange citrus was definitely the star of the show.  If you take the time and effort, and therefore money, to ensure that this brew is "89% aged on oak barrel staves," I might like that to be a bit stronger.

Most suggestions I feel pretty confident in, but not for this beer.  For example, I feel like I was expecting more of a wine-like beer.  More dryness, more oak, etc.  There are some things I can say with certainty I would like to see in a beer.  I am not sure how more wine-like dryness or oak flavors would effect this beer.  Actually, the oak I'd still feel more than OK suggesting, but wine-like dryness in a beer?  It is an interesting concept (as many things are), but I cannot say that even I might like the results if such an end were achieved.  However, if there was a brewery out there with the skill and know-how to make it work, I think a number of us could agree that DFH would easily be a top, if not THE top, suggestion.

This result makes me feel that they could have just used dark berries and achieved a similar result.  The use of pinot noir juice allows me (and other drinkers, I'm sure) to assume that a more wine-like flavor profile will be present.  That said, it is a pretty nit-picky point on which to focus.  This is an extremely tasty beer that I shared (albeit sparingly) with all the in-laws here for the Fourth of July celebration.  Even though they are not deeply involved in the craft beer scene, they were glad that I did.  Cheers DFH!  Keep up the great work.

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