Beer Review 0160: Dogfish Head Noble Rot
Noble Rot is a brand new beer for 2012 from Milton, Delaware’s Dogfish Head, and it might be their most intricate experiment to meld the wine and beer world yet.
Using two different types of grapes sourced from Alexandria Nicole Cellars, located in Prosser, Washington (the 2011 Washington Winery of the Year), this is a limited release from Dogfish and curiously has the word “rot” in its name. So why?
Dogfish uses viognier grapes in this beer, but they have been infected with a fungus called botrytis. Yes, a fungus. This “Noble Rot” is actually desired, as the botrytis reduces the water content of the grapes, intensifying the sweetness and complexity of the fruit. The second type of grape used in the brew are pinot gris must, and the flavor of these grapes is intensified by a process called “dropping fruit,” in which large clusters of grapes are clipped off to amplify the quality of those left remaining.
Then add some Belgian yeast, and on paper, this reads to be a complex beer that might make your brain a bit sludgy. Dogfish’s Sam Calagione says this beer “is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world that’s ever been done commercially.”
The pour made for a large and frothy head, which quickly disappeared. The beer was extremely clear (sparkling) and yellow like macro lager. There were no particles or sediment present, and this one left behind an impressive thick coat of lacing as I sipped.
The aromatics reminded me of a straight up white Riesling wine — it’s fruity with a big grape note, but it is supported by grain (wheat malts are used in Noble Rot). Then you have the yeast, which adds a mustiness to the scent, and as it warmed, the Belgian qualities of the yeast came more toward the front, presenting themselves in the form of bubblegum and banana. This beer has a slight vinegar-like quality to it, too — you can really smell the tartness. Very nice and really unique.
And the taste… yes, outstandingly unique. It’s sour and tart up front, fruity and with a big, almost sour grape note. This one drinks very much like a Riesling white wine, from the heavy sweetness on the finish to the puckering sour at the beginning of the taste. The finish presents hints of the Belgian yeast; the mouthfeel on this one is thin and slick, and it dries the mouth out just like an acidic wine.
After a couple of missteps by Dogfish (see: Ta Henket, 71 points or Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale, 73 points), this is a sure winner. This is what Dogfish does best; they take ideas, marry them together and make something not only unique but damn tasty. And they’ve done it here with Noble Rot. Take this to your next gathering where there are wine drinkers and surprise them with this beer. They’ll not be disappointed, and neither will you.
Dogfish Head Noble Rot, 87 points. Price: $11.99 for one 750 ml bottle.