Beer Review 0221: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Got your hop goggles on?

Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA is a cult classic when it comes to craft beer. This is a beer that everyone seems to want to try, and Dogfish calls it the “holy grail” for lovers of the hop.

Like Dogfish’s other India Pale Ales, the timestamp measures how long the boil is while brewing this beer; this one is boiled for 120 minutes while being continuously hopped using only American hops; it is then dry-hopped every day for a month and then aged for another month on whole-leaf hops!

As you might expect, this has a huge IBU (International Bitterness Units) score — 120, to be exact. And along with the high bitterness, comes the high ABV (alcohol by volume). 120 Minute IPA is brewed to meet a range between 15-20% ABV, but sources say the version I will be reviewing, a bottle from mid-2012, is around 18%.

120 IPA is somewhat of a hard beer to find; thanks to the difficulty in brewing, Dogfish only make limited amounts of this, and it seems to fly off the shelves, no doubt thanks in part to the Discovery Channel show Brew Masters, which featured an extensive feature on the trials of brewing this beer. (See episode 4 of the series, titled “Grain to Glass,” for more information. It is on iTunes.) I have been seeking this beer out for nearly two years just so I could review it, and my search finally ended on a recent trip to Blacksburg, Virginia, where the bottle shop Vintage Cellar had three bottles remaining. The maximum amount of alcohol allowed in beer in my home state of North Carolina is 15%.

Dogfish also says that while this is an extreme IPA, it does age well — it even says AGES WELL on the bottle.

The pour produced a much larger head than I expected from such a high alcohol beer — yes, it was still small, but surprising. The head was creamy in texture and stuck around for quite a while. The liquid itself was a nice amber color with orange highlights, and was exceptionally clear, free of any particles or sediment. As I sipped, it left small touches of lacing on my glass here and there.

Aromatically, 120 IPA presented a very balanced picture for such an extremely hopped beer — yes, there’s plenty of hop aromas to be had, but there was a mighty malt presence here, too. Honestly, this reminded me much of 60 Minute IPA on steroids; there were classic notes of grapefruit and orange as well as the same grassy hops found in 60 Minute. On the malt end, there were notes of biscuit, sweet toffee, and caramel. There’s also a blast of alcohol, but it’s not overwhelming (like World Wide Stout) or distracting from the overall aromatic picture.

On the palate, this beer showcases a bit of restraint on the hops. Instead of punching your face full-tilt, there’s a mellow sweet bitterness up front, with flavors of grapefruit and sticky, resinous pine. The middle continues the sweetness, almost turning sugary, although I found the mouthfeel to be medium and creamy, not thick or viscous. The finish ushers in more of the sweet and bitter combination, turning slightly syrupy despite the medium mouthfeel, and turning up the volume on the alcohol on the swallow. Yeah, there’s definite warm booziness to be had. I also noticed a faint peach note on the very tail end of the finish.

120 Minute IPA is dangerously drinkable for an 18% ABV beer. Seriously. Be careful here. This is a tasty beer, but there are other Imperial IPAs out there that are just as flavorful that you can enjoy at least two of before having to call it quits. Yes, this beer is a cult classic, and I do think everyone should seek it out at least once…but for a once weekly drinker, or even a once-a-month experience, I don’t know. Maybe consider this a rare treat (especially with the price tag). I’ll be aging my second bottle for quite a while.

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, 90 points. Price: $11.95 for one twelve ounce bottle.

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