Redux Review 0023: Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale

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Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Red & White, a high alcohol wheat beer that spends time aging on wood, is probably my favorite beer from the eccentric brewery. I reviewed it back on May 14, 2012, and awarded it 95 points, which is classic on my rating scale. At that time, I decided to squirrel away a few bottles and return periodically — two years later, we’re making that second trip, and it is the subject of this review.

Brewed only once each year, Red & White uses a Belgian yeast strain, and sees additions of coriander and orange peel. The beer is a blend — 11% of the final beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels, while the other 89% rests on oak barrel staves. You could call this an Imperial Wheat, as it comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). Sam Calagione, Dogfish’s founder, came up with the idea while attending a wine dinner, where he departed wanting to make a beer that had vinous qualities.

My initial review went as follows:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

With two years in the bottle, and without having been disturbed since I laid it to rest in 2012, let’s crack into it.

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Pouring makes for a small, soapy, bright white head that lasts atop a beautifully vivid golden-orange beer. The body is cloudy, as you might expect from a wheat beer; there were no particles or sediment, but there were plenty of yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was pretty good for such a high alcohol beer; there was a respectable sudsy layer at the top of the glass before all the action tapered off.

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this aged beer was the nose, which has taken a sharp decline in complexity. I remember this beer having hoppy notes, funky yeast, and a large spice presence — not today. There’s some general malt sweetness up front mixed with a bit of orange peel. The alcohol is heavy, almost boozy; there’s plenty of the oak barrel, and a slightly wine-like scent going on. Think woodsy, ashy oak and a bready sweetness. As it warms, some coriander starts to mingle. Sweet, plenty of alcohol, but dialed-down when it comes to the scents you’re here for.

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On the taste, it’s more of a return to form — orange peel, coriander, and sweet grain hit up front, with a touch of light caramel sweetness. Eventually, the sweetness starts to win out, and it’s more of a toffee/Tootsie Roll thing going on, which I find typical in some aged beers, especially Barleywines — but this drinks a lot like a Belgian Tripel, not so much in yeast flavor, but in how dry it is. There’s notes of grape skin and oak barrel that come through, and the finish is warm (not boozy!) with dry orange peel and very sweet bready yeast. Red & White is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

This beer has changed a lot, and I’m more inclined to like it fresh. There’s significantly more grape and wine-like flavors here than I remember, which I suppose is what Mr. Calagione was after; however, a fresh bottle is more beer-like and seems to be easier drinking. Perhaps my tastes have changed some. Drink it fresh if you want a beer with some wine qualities; try it aged for wine with beer qualities.

Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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