Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dogfish Head - Theobroma

The title of this column could have went one of two ways: the way I chose, simply the name of the beer I will be reviewing, or the way I felt.  In that case, this column should be entitled, "I Am Extremely Jealous and May Never Forgive Them As Long As I Live."  Initially, that may sound a little harsh, but trust me you will empathize by the end of this post.

OK, so perhaps I kid a little about never forgiving.  To give a little backstory, there is a bar where I used to live in Tampa, FL called World of Beer.  I have posted about it before, but if you have not checked it out already, here is their website.  Believe me when I say that you want one to be franchised in your area.  Ridiculous selection of bottles and taps, great rewards programs, fantastic bartenders, nice look... you get the idea.  It's pretty much my bar utopia-shangri-la-nirvana-cloud-9.  Tonight is their "Dogfish Head Night."  Yes, it's just as good as it sounds.  I think I'll let the pictures do the talking.

This is the tap menu.  Are you kidding me?!

Caution: Extended viewing of this picture will cause physical arousal.

For those of you not familiar with what is going on in the last photo (like myself) that is the much talked-about "Randal the Enamel Animal."  This is what DFH invented (no, seriously) to infuse their beer with other flavors.  Put hops in Randal and run DFH 60 Minute through it and now its hoppier (or shows different hop profiles).  You get the idea.  What does World of Beer have whipped up for Randal tonight?  I quote them and say, "Theobroma running through a Chocolate and strawberry infusion and chili peppers Randal!"  I think I would not sound out of line to say that I would give a small appendage to attend this event.  15 taps, Randals, bottles of 120 Min., and a "mystery keg."  What else could you want?  OK, ok... one more pic.

That is a lot of DFH and their ABVs.
However, all this amazingness condensed into one spot does not help my wanting to be there.  That said, the closest I am going to get is by cracking open my own bottle (or two) and having my own DFH night.  Besides, I started and ended last month with DFH reviews and it was really well received.  If it aint broke, don't fix it.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 11/12
As the head settles, the smell of bready malt is very clear.  Later, comes notes of honey, light warmth, the sweet spice of ancho chilis, and a distinct citrus note which shows up fashionably late.  There is virtually no cocoa apparent in the early aroma, despite its virtual double listing (cocoa nibs & cocoa powder) on the label.   Thankfully, when the beers warms a bit the ancho/honey collaboration becomes readily apparent and is quite the knockout combination.  Either aroma profile is amazing and I found it difficult to tear my nose away from the glass.  It begs to be sampled.

Appearance 2/3
It pours the color of Aztec gold with bright orange and peach highlites.  It is gorgeous in the glass.  The head is small and remains as a collar through most of the tasting.  Though, this is understandable with the chili oils involved.  I must confess a bit of shock as to how light this beer is with all the talk of its cocoa ingredients.  I poured it and exclaimed, "What?!"

Picture is my own.
Flavor 18/20
The first taste is surprisingly sweet, as a sweet cream would be, but transitions rapidly into a hullabaloo of its other ingredients.  The backbone has other flavors constantly bouncing around into one another.  These are coming in waves, but appearing and disappearing quickly.  It is a bit quirky, but very enjoyable.  Honey is first, or maybe it just seems that way from the beginning sweetness, but it quickly is takes a backseat to the earthy notes from the chilies and annatto (which I am told is akin to nutmeg).  The ancho flavor and spice shows up at about the same time and is probably my favorite part of this brew.  The ancho, true to form, lends little to no heat, but a great flavor.  As the beer warms, the cocoa sweetness is allowed to peek out to compliment the honey which is, after holding the beer in the mouth, one of the dominant flavors of the beer.  The finish continues the profile without showing anything new: sweet, a little ancho flavor, and a bit earthy though it does show more of a light bitter.  The aftertaste is a warm tinge of alcohol (in a non-distracting way), and a bitter that I can only assume comes from the cocoa nibs.  Quite nice.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Biggest concern is that halfway through the glass the carbonation is all but gone.  Definitely a full-bodied beer which compliments nicely the large flavors it is carrying.  As mentioned before, the warmth of this 9.0% ABV beer is detectable, but not in any sort of way that is distracting from the beer.  In fact, it somehow compliments the flavor/spice of the anchos.  I cannot say I've seen that done in a beer of this style.  It is as if the alcohol is allowed to provide the warmth that the chilies do not.  The result is a similar sensation, but without the lingering, oily heat one often experiences with hot peppers.  Very interesting.

Overall Impression 8/10
I'm sure that cocoa played a large part in the brewing process and history behind this ale.  However, it does not play much of a part in its final product.  If the rest of the resultant beer were not so fantastic, there would be much lower scores involved.  While this beer does not deliver on its cocoa marketing, it does deliver on ancho chilies, honey, earthy goodness, and a high level of technical quality.

Total 43/50
Early on, I would have said the cocoa was imagined, but as the beer warmed it was allowed to show itself ever so slightly.  However, from the color to the aroma to the flavor, this beer seemed to peter out its promise of cocoa.  Fortunately, it matters little.  This beer is fantastic!  I am a little biased to ancho chilies as I use them in my own, personal "Sweet & Sassy Chili," but the flavor and earthiness they lend here brings a smile to my face.  It is that unique and delicious.  How many brewers could successfully add anchos to a beer and still stand tall?  Well, seemingly more and more all the time, but Dogfish Head did it and they did it well!  Those chilies combined with the sweet honey and the light bitter background truly are the trifecta of flavors that make up this beer and I am not complaining.  No single flavor is too loud, the warmth is just right to compensate for the peppers, and the brewing caliber is bar none.  Kudos again to Dogfish Head!  They're breaking molds every day.  

Some say this beer doesn't live up to its hype, but what other beer gets as much hype as the Ancient Ales series besides a select few (Dark Lord, Pliny, KBS, etc)?  Heck those other beers don't have (or didn't have) TV shows!  I would say that DFH captivates the public attention so well, that we in the craft beer world maybe expect the moon whenever we drink it, and that is hard to live up to.  However, if you were to drink this beer without all the hype and TV shows and magazine articles, I bet it would still be a premier beer in the craft brew world and not nit-picked the way it is currently.  Try to put the publicity aside and really taste this beer for what it is; whether that be to its detriment or benefit.



  1. So I checked the "Fish Finder" of www.dogfish.com and found nary a Dogfish Head beer can be found within 100 miles of my zip code. Very sad. I'm coping with a St. Rogue Red Ale.

  2. Same here, sir. I either have to go into the Chicago burbs or acquire them in trade. On the bright side, I can see one coming into your future.