Beer Review 0006: Dogfish Head Midas Touch

Ever wondered how a beer from 2,700 years ago would have tasted? Well, this might be the closest you ever come.

Midas Touch, brewed in Milton, Delaware by Dogfish Head, is an ale whose recipe is based off a chemical analysis of residues found in clay vessels purportedly dating back to the eighth century. The vessels, discovered in King Midas’ burial ground in Turkey in 1957 by archaeologist Rodney Young, were left undisturbed for forty years until molecular scientist Dr. Patrick McGovern deciphered the residue code in 1997, determining all ingredients of the drink except for a spicing agent, which he guessed to be saffron because of its widespread regional availability.

It should be noted that Dogfish Head first produced this beer to the good Doctor’s analysis, which featured yellow Muscat grapes, barley malt, thyme honey and saffron, but have now modified the recipe. Today’s Midas Touch contains white Muscat grapes, barley, honey and saffron. Yeah, not much of a difference, but the alcohol by volume (ABV) went up from 7.5% in the original to 9% in today’s.

Midas Touch is brewed year round and is one of three beers in Dogfish’s “Ancient Ales” series (the other two being Chateau Jiahu, the recipe for which is estimated to be 9,000 years old, and Theobroma, a Honduran chocolate beer. Look for reviews of these two brews in the future.)

Enough with the ancient history. I poured a tall glass of Midas Touch on January 14, putting this golden elixir to my review.

This was a particularly hard beer to rate because of several unusual factors. First, one must consider that if this is a 2,700 year old recipe, do you drink the beer warm or cold? Common sense would tell you there wasn’t refrigeration back then, but did Dogfish make this so it would be at its tasty apex whilst cold? They haven’t said, so I tasted Midas Touch both very cold and at room temperature.

Secondly, this beer did some unusual things while I allowed it to warm up. As it got closer to room temperature, the aromas varied rather dramatically cold versus warm.

So, how to rate this? I just took notes from start to finish. Until Dogfish recommends a temperature to enjoy this beer at, I have to rate it both cool and warm.

I gave this beer an aggressive pour, which produced about a half finger of head that was creamy but quickly disappeared, leaving a crystal clear golden drink with no hints of any sediment. The lacing was very sparse and overall this was a good looking beer but nothing visually impressive.

The aromatics were as advertised. Sweet grapes were up front but not as prominent as you would have expected. There were herbal notes but my nose couldn’t place the saffron — but the biggest aroma present was that of sweet honey, making this a buttery, earthy smelling beer. As the liquid warmed up, the grape smell came more to the forefront, dominating over the honey and perfume. In all, aromatically a nice combination of scents leaving this to be more wine-like than beery. Quite unusual and quite unique — I couldn’t name another beer that comes close to this one and that fact fits the Dogfish credo.

Flavor wise, the grape is subdued while cool but spiked up when warm, with honey and herbal notes in the background. My palate, like my nose, did not detect saffron per se, just an herbal perfume on the back of the tongue. There was a spicy citrus kick on the finish, and the overall ending is dominated by sweet grapes. The mouthfeel was thin with no carbonation, making this a refreshing beverage. The thin texture is somewhat surprising considering liquids as sweet as Midas Touch are usually thick and creamy. Like quality wine, the flavors are complex and I found them pleasing to my tastebuds.

Ever had a piece of Bubblicious grape chewing gum? No, not Bubble Yum, but Bubblicious. They have a flavor called “Gonzo Grape” — the grape flavor in this beer is somewhat akin to that, although the sugar is toned way down. I know Bubblicious is probably considered in many circles to be a cheap and unpleasant flavor, but hey, I like Hardee’s cheeseburgers, too.

Does that sound strange considering the sugar and grape in the gum are likely artificial, while Dogfish Head prides itself on completely natural ingredients?

Midas Touch is definitely a mixed bag. The average beer drinker won’t like it and the connoisseur will have conflicting emotions, as I do. Is this really a beer? It doesn’t taste like beer, but it isn’t wine, either. What temperature do you serve it? Can you even drink this with food? Is this a dessert only beer because of its sweetness? Ahh, many questions, and I can only tell you what I thought, hence your mileage may vary. I enjoyed Midas Touch. The flavors were nice and complex, it was refreshing and enjoyable. It was not something I would drink every day and if I really wanted a beer, I would not reach for it. But on that rare day when I’m sick of beer but still want to pledge my allegiance to the stein, this would be perfect.

In the appearance category, I awarded 11 points, 13 points for the aromatics, 29 for the flavor and palate, leading to 30 points in the overall experience slot.

I think Midas Touch embodies what we all love about Dogfish Head beer. They’re constantly challenging us with exotic ingredients and eclectic ideas. I find Dogfish to be the best American brewer at this time, hands down. Their spirit is contagious and you have to admire a company that has the balls to release a beer like this.

Dogfish Head Midas Touch, 83 points. Price: $11.99 US for four pack.

Interesting sidenote: Since the Muscat grapes that go into this beer are harvested at different times each year, batches vary in flavor.


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