Beer Review 0031: Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale

After a lengthy hiatus without beer reviews, I’m back with an ale that I want to be special, yet also not.

On this website you may hear me talk about “lawnmower beer” from time to time. My definition of lawnmower beer (see my review of Miller High Life) is a beverage that you can drink cheaply that might not be of the highest quality, but is good enough to become a regular in the rotation of drinks. It’s not special occasion beer with a high ABV (alcohol by volume) but rather an everyday drinker; a simple beer, 5% alcohol or less, that you can drink multiples of in one sitting. A “session beer,” if you will.

Enter Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale. Now, I’ve reviewed several Dogfish beers in the past and they’ve all been on point with mostly high marks (see 60 Minute IPA, 95 points or Indian Brown Ale, 94 points) but what we have here might just be Dogfish’s “lawnmower beer.” Coming in at just 5% ABV (Dogfish beers typically average 9-10% ABV) this is a drink you could sample a few of in one sitting…

The heritage on this one is storied, as well. With a lineup of “off-centered ales,” Dogfish created Shelter with the regular beer drinker in mind, the person who isn’t looking for anything extreme in their drink, just good beer. Modeled after Bass beer but unpasteurized, this brew was born and has been around since the company officially opened in 1995.

Now, the downside. This beer, while made year-round by Dogfish, is only distributed to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. I live outside that Mid-Atlantic region, which means I had to rely on another person to supply me this beer. Strike one against becoming my new lawnmower beer.

Strike two? The price. This stuff is $10.95 for a six pack.

That being said, the prospect of a sessionable lawnmower-style beer from Dogfish Head is very appealing, no matter the limits. So I tried some of this Shelter Pale Ale out, to see if it was worthy of all the trouble.

Proudly emblazoned upon the packaging is “the local favorite since 1995.” The pour produced a nice classically golden liquid, topped with an average sized head that lasted at about half an inch for quite a while. The beer was clear in body and fizzy with no particles or sediment present. A very good looking beer, very traditional. The lacing was sparse; walls of suds were created when taking a sip but those quickly faded back into the drink when allowed to sit.

The aromatics were a treat for the perfect balance between hop and malt; the hops were largely one dimensional (floral with a slight fruity note) while the malt smelled roasted, with a subtle caramel scent and a hint of coffee. As a whole, the scents were a bit muted for what I’ve become accustomed to with Dogfish, but the balance was excellent. High marks for that.

On the taste buds, the hops hit first with a bit of a citrus flavor (more on the grapefruit end than say, lemon or lime or orange) that washes into a malty roasted flavor, and finishes slightly bitter. Nothing overly complicated here and the drink is very refreshing, with a thin but creamy texture.

Drinkability on this one is high. Very high. Lawnmower? Indeed — nice, easy flavors; nothing special, but really not meant to be. But this is such a departure for Dogfish, who normally produces such extreme, edgy and complicated beer. For this to be such a normal beer, done so right, it makes Shelter Pale Ale quite special. Unfortunately the price and availability issue makes this a non-starter as a lawnmower session beer for me. If this were widely available in my area and a couple dollars cheaper, I’d be on it.

However, I can’t let the price and availability affect my rating of this beer.

Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale, 83 points. Got somebody you want to get into craft brew? This would be an EXCELLENT starting point.


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