Beer Review 0063: Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

(This is the first in a series of three reviews featuring the musical beers Dogfish Head have created to honor artists that have stood or will stand the test of time. Be sure to check out the other two — Robert Johnson’s Hellhound On My Ale and Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale.)

Miles Dewy Davis, born May 26, 1926, was an American jazz musician. His instrument was the trumpet, and in 1970, Davis released an album called Bitches Brew, which would go on to be Davis’ first gold record. The record was notable in the fact that it fused the jazz and rock genres, and featured a large rhythmic ensemble, something that was quite unusual at that time for a solo jazz artist.

Bitches Brew was a turning point for modern jazz, and like most great works, upon release critics called it “obscure and outside.” But the legacy of Bitches Brew, 41 years after it’s release, is largely of adulation and praise. It is, indeed, one of the greatest creative works of our time.

In 2010, Dogfish Head, a Milton, Delaware craft brewery, set out to honor Davis and his seminal album on its 40th anniversary. This beer was crafted by blending three parts Imperial Stout with one part honey beer, or Tej, as it is traditionally called in Africa. Tej is a honey wine brewed in Ethiopia that is flavored with gesho twigs — gesho root is present in Bitches Brew.

You can’t write or talk about this beer without drawing the parallels of what Miles Davis did on the Bitches Brew album with what Dogfish did with the Bitches Brew beer. Davis was an improvisational artist, and this beer is a very improvisational experiment. In fact, the Dogfish credo lends itself to how Miles Davis went about his music and his life — he did what he wanted to do, without care or concern of what critics thought. (Which kind of makes it funny that I’m reviewing this beer to start with, as I’m sure Dogfish probably doesn’t care what I think about it!)

Dogfish founder and president Sam Calagione listened to the Bitches Brew album whilst writing his company business plan. Said Sam, “I wanted Dogfish Head to be a maniacally inventive and creative brewery, analog beer for the digital age. You could say that my dream was to have Dogfish Head, in some small way, stand for the same thing in the beer world that Bitches Brew stands for in the jazz world.”

That’s certainly a lofty goal. Let’s get to the drinking.

Before the pour, I made sure to put on Bitches Brew. It only seemed right to play the record whilst drinking this beer.

Out of the bottle, this beer proved to have a very intimidating appearance. The liquid was dark black, probably the darkest I have ever seen a beer, topped with an absolutely huge dark tan head that was creamy and long lasting. I couldn’t tell if there were any particles or sediment present because of the darkness of the brew. The body was muddy, and the lacing was good in the wake of each sip. Bitches Brew is a fine specimen of beer, so gorgeous that I awarded it a perfect score in this category.

In the aromatics, the malts were the dominating act on the bill, featuring a very complex bevy of scents within the category. I detected lots of chocolate and coffee, with an overall roasted and smokey vibe. There were some hints of sweetness from the honey, and some caramel, as well as a medicinal scent that I can only attribute to the gesho root. This wasn’t the typical medicinal aromas you get because of high alcohol — and this one is high, coming in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume).

The flavors. Oh, the flavors. Right away, there’s serious amounts of coffee and chocolate, followed by a gradual transition to a honeyed sweetness that lasted for a long time. Finally, the finish arrived with some of the gesho, followed by a turn more towards the bittersweet and eventually to a more roasted and smokey flavor. It’s almost as if the finish alternated between deep, rich chocolate and pit-cooked smokiness. The alcohol provided a whole body warming sensation, and the texture in the mouth was velvety smooth, expertly crafted to be creamy.

As I wrote on my review sheet in big, bold capital letters: SUPERB. This is a beer that Dogfish have hit the nail square on the head with, in terms of making something celebrating an artist as diverse, improvisational and just so damn good as Miles Davis. The beer fits all those categories, from complexity right down to the fusion of all the flavors and aromas. And fusion is the theme here.

Cheers to good fusion — from Miles Davis to my ear, and from Dogfish, about Miles Davis, to my taste buds. FIND THIS BEER!

Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, 99 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.


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