Beer Review 0002: Dogfish Head Raison D’Être

Raison D’Être was introduced by Dogfish Head in 1996, where they began brewing the beer at their brewpub before taking it to the actual brewery in Milton, DE in 1998. (Most Dogfish Head beer begins life at the brewpub, which is a restaurant where the company can and often does brew smaller batches as sort of a test phase before making mass quantities.) Raison is a Belgian-style brown ale that is brewed with some unique ingredients including beet sugar and green raisins.

According to Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish, the inspiration for Raison D’Être was an attempt at making a beer that would perfectly compliment a wood-grilled steak. He compares the beer to wines produced out of the Bordeaux region in France. The beer took awhile to gain in popularity but the company now sells twenty times what it did in 1998, and Raison is a beer that Dogfish produces year-round.

I can say without hesitation that I love three things mentioned above: Belgian brown ale, steak, and Bordeaux wine, so I thought it only fitting to give this beer a shot this past December 21. I had a 12 oz. bottle which I poured into a frosted glass rather vigorously.

Raison pours a clear ruby brown color, which can best be described as dark copper pot. “Mahogany,” which is written on the bottle, is a pretty apt description. The head was average and creamy, sticking around for a few minutes before fading into just a thin cover. Visually, this is a nice looking beer with a unique color, but it’s not outstandingly impressive. For a brown ale, I give it above average marks for the head that doesn’t diminish quickly.

Aromatically, Raison presents caramel and toffee notes mixed with a dry, unspecific fruity hint. The raisins are quite prominent but not overpowering; as one would suspect with raisins, I detected a grape aroma, too. This smells like a very sweet beer with a slight alcohol twinge that borders on medicinal. Alcohol content here is higher than average at 8%.

Raison’s aromatics transfer to the flavors with a huge toffee and caramel blast, with the raisins kicking in on the finish. I can only describe the raisins one way, and it is a way few will probably understand. Here in North Carolina, where I live, we are a tobacco state. I happen to live close to a factory that produces cigarettes, and on crisp spring and autumn mornings, one can smell the fresh tobacco for miles away. It’s very raisin like, with some barnyard and straw or hay qualities. It’s quite pleasant, and if that smell could be captured in liquid, I’d imagine it to be something like Raison D’Être.

Note of clarification: I don’t smoke cigarettes and cigarette tobacco is not something you would find recommended or reviewed on this website.

As per most brown ales, this one is very sweet and creamy with a nip of bitterness on the finish which is long and flavorful.

I rated this light bodied beer an above-average 13 in the appearance category; a 12 in aroma, subtracting some points for a slightly unpleasant alcohol scent. Raison scored quite well in flavor and palate, earning 32 points. Overall drinkability and experience ranks a 30 with no off flavors noted.

This is a very easy drinking brown ale that has great flavors and distances itself from others in the style with a unique use of green raisins. The beet sugar doesn’t make this dramatically much sweeter, but it is more of a dessert beer than your average everyday drink. Watch your ABV’s with this one as it clocks in at 8%. Very good to excellent.

Dogfish Head Raison D’Être: 87 points. Price: $9.99 US for six pack.

About that Bordeaux comparison…

Mr. Calagione contends this beer is comparable with wines from the Bordeaux region of France. I would have to slightly disagree — my palate registers Bordeaux red as a big, bold, fruity flavor bomb, where as Raison is a bit understated in flavor. That’s not a bad thing — it’s actually quite nice — remember Mr. Calagione’s other insistence, that this be the perfect beer to serve with a steak? I can see Raison and steak being a great pairing, with the beer not overpowering the steak.


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