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:
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.
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.
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.
I first took a look at Dogfish Head’s Positive Contact back in September 2012; I awarded the beer 94 points, and while I typically wouldn’t recommend aging a beer like this for too long, the format it came in (a six-pack of 750 ml. bottles) meant that I still have a few kicking around. So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to open one up with around a year and a half of age and see what’s happened.
Positive Contact is a collaboration between Dogfish and Dan the Automator of the hip-hop group Deltron 3030. Part of the Dogfish music series of beers that have honored other artists such as Miles Davis, Robert Johnson, Pearl Jam, and The Grateful Dead, this drink is a beer/cider hybrid. Brewed with wood-pressed Fuji apples, wheat, cayenne pepper, and cilantro, the beer is 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 26 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The initial release came with a vinyl record of Deltron songs; since then, Dogfish have brewed this beer again, only making it available in single bottles without any accompanying tunes.
My initial review went as follows:
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points
Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.
While the 9% ABV could stand up to some aging, I’m not sure how the apples, cayenne, and cilantro have held up — only one way to find out, and my bottle opener is ready for the task.
Pouring kicked up a small, soapy, bright white head that quickly faded away. The beer is yellow-golden in color, with some darker orange highlights. Body seemed hazy if not outright cloudy, but there weren’t any significant particles or sediment floating around. There was a ton of yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle, but for this review, I let them remain in the bottle. Lacing was quite sparse, only leaving a thin patch here and there.
On the nose, this beer has almost taken on a Brettanomyces yeast-like character, featuring musty and bready yeast up front; that aroma is only enhanced by the, well, bread and straw backing from the malt. This is a fairly strong-smelling wheat beer that has hints of tart apple, orange peel and oranges, and the typical clove and bubblegum. There’s no alcohol present, and the aroma really reminds me of a day at the beach, which isn’t a bad thing, no sir. There’s nothing here that gives away this beer has been aged; no oxidation — perhaps the apple was less tart the first time, but it doesn’t detract.
Tasting, and we’ve got a hit of tart apple up front, which quickly gives way to wheat and wheat and lots of wheat. Straw, bready flavors, think Imperial Wheat; this continues to the finish, when the subtleties nicely begin to shine; there’s a good kick of clove and bubblegum, and we’ve also got some sneaky cayenne that serves to provide just the right amount (read: just a smidgen) of heat. The tart apple returns at the end, and this is quite a refreshing drink with hidden alcohol and a very nice, creamy mouthfeel. I’d classify Positive Contact as being medium-bodied; be careful, or you’ll find yourself in trouble. Very easy drinking.
What has the 1.5 years of age done? Well, it definitely subtracted the cilantro, which was a big part of this brew when I sampled it fresh. It has also turned the once sweet and cider-like apples into a lightly tart, dry experience. It’s sort of like two different beers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The best part about the brew is the subtle use of cayenne. I’d say I preferred it fresh, but it’s nothing to sneeze at should you still have a 2012 bottle. But, nudge, nudge…might want to sip on this one soon.
Appearance: 12 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 31 of 35 points
Dogfish Head Positive Contact Wheat Ale, 88 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.
If you didn’t pounce on the latest release of Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Immort Ale, you might have to wait a while; this brew, which has been crafted each year since 1997 (one of the oldest offerings in the Dogfish portfolio) will not be brewed in 2014. It’s not known when it will reappear, if ever.
Conceived at the Dogfish brewpub (located in nearby Rehoboth Beach) in 1995, Immort Ale uses maple syrup from Red Brook Farm, Dogfish founder Sam Calagione’s family farm. This American Strong Ale is also brewed with peat-smoked barley and vanilla, then is fermented by a blend of English and Belgian yeasts, and finally aged in oak tanks before bottling. This is a big beer — the ABV (alcohol by volume) is 11%, and the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) rate 50. Immort Ale was released each winter in four-packs.
Pouring makes for a nice looking beer capped with a large, lasting, creamy head. The beer is murky-amber in color, with red highlights when held up to a bulb. The body is fairly hazy, but there are no particles or sediment to be found. Lacing is very good, leaving a nice, even coating down the non-sipping side of the glass.
The nose features all of the advertised flavors in scent format — we’ve got lots of sweet caramel and maple syrup, along with a light hint of smoke. There’s even a touch of chocolate that begins to develop more as the drink warms. There’s a definite vanilla bean character and I connected with the oak, which is pleasant and slightly charred. The malt is bready and there’s also bready yeast, along with orange peel. The 11% alcohol is completely hidden. Immort has a nicely complex aroma that tells a story as it warms.
On the palate, the beer is very smooth up front in regards to flavor; there’s plenty of vanilla and orange peel, and maple syrup/caramel sweetness. Oak and vanilla begin to shine through and the tone abruptly changes in the middle of the mouth, turning from smooth and sweet to very full-bodied (nearly overpowering) and boozy. There’s lots of peaty smoke and when coupled with the already-present oak character, it turns moderately medicinal. The smoke doesn’t mingle with the high alcohol easily, and the finish is sharp with heavy oak and very sweet caramel overpowering the opening easy-going flavors. As it warms, the very tail end of the finish begins to develop some dark chocolate and dark fruits. Immort Ale is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy texture.
I thought this beer to be very nice up front, but things went downhill the further I got in. Perhaps some age would smooth the overbearing boozy and sweet flavors, but I could easily see oxidation playing too much of a role should you cellar one of these. I think this is worthy of a try, but by the end of the 12 ounces, my palate was tired and I was ready to move onto something less medicinal and forceful.
Dogfish Head Immort American Strong Ale, 86 points. Price: $13.99 US for a four-pack.
Piercing Pils is a new release from Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware) and replaces their venerable winter seasonal, Chicory Stout (my rating: 82 points). While small quantities of Chicory Stout will remain available, it will be a limited offering only to be found on draft — and that’s big news, considering the brewery has produced the beer each season since 1995.
Dogfish calls Piercing Pils a perry-Pilsner hybrid; a perry is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears, and perry is not to be confused with ‘pear cider.’ Piercing Pils is an authentic Czech-style Pilsner brewed with white pear tea and pear juice, both of which are added after the boil for maximum aroma and flavor contribution. The beer is hopped with Saaz and Amarillo hops, and is available December-February. Alcohol by volume (ABV) registers in at 6%, and the beer has 35 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Pouring produced an average size, bright white head that was soapy in texture and quickly faded away. The beer is yellow-golden in color, more yellow than golden, and it has a slightly hazy body. Carbonation bubbles zoom to support the head from the bottom of the glass. Despite the touch of haze, the body is clear, free of particles and sediment. Lacing is good, leaving thin but solid sheets on the non-sipping side of my glass.
Right from cracking the crown, this is a highly aromatic beer. Those Saaz hops are unmistakable — earthy, herbal and spicy. There are hints of floral notes and lemon peel, as well as very sweet pear juice, like you would find in a mixed fruit cup. Other than some light cereal grains, there isn’t much malt presence. Piercing Pils is crisp smelling but the super sweet pears are an oddball combination against a background of Saaz hops.
And the taste is much the same: sweet, sugary pearl juice up front, but it quickly subsides to some wonderful Saaz flavors; crisp herbal notes, spice, and lemon peel. The pear comes back for the finish, and when mixed with the hop profile, the two battle each other in a way that’s not terrible but not exactly tasty, either. It’s almost like how generic window cleaner smells, but thankfully the finish takes over delivering solid notes of spice and straw-like grain. The beer is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel and overly drying finish. Crisp, yes; refreshing — not quite.
Chalk up another one for what seems to be the ongoing story with Dogfish. Make a solid base beer and then throw something on top of it that just doesn’t work as a gimmick. While the pear isn’t all bad, they’ve taken what would probably be a really solid representation of a Pilsner and have made it just out of the range of being really good. The pear doesn’t enhance and the beer is a touch too dry.
Dogfish Head Piercing Pils Pilsner, 84 points. Price: $2.49 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
Here’s the latest in Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Ancient Ales series, a group of beers based on recipes that are thousands of years old. All are facilitated with the help of Dr. Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
First off, Kvasir — in Norse mythology, Kvasir was born of the saliva of two groups of gods, Æsir and Vanir. The beer connection? Kvasir traveled far and wide, spreading knowledge; upon his death, his blood was drained and mixed with honey, resulting in the Mead of Poetry.
Back to reality.
Present-day Kvasir, in beer form, takes inspiration from a 3,500 year old Danish drinking vessel. Made of birch bark, the vessel was found in the tomb of a leather-clad woman, who Dr. McGovern says was likely a priestess. After analyzing botanical and pollen evidence taken from the 3,500 year old drinking cup, some unique ingredients were found to have once been at home — wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, honey, and birch syrup.
As with most Dogfish Head beers, we’ll tell you what some of the more head-scratching ingredients are:
Ligonberries – a short evergreen shrub that bears an edible fruit. A staple in Sweden, the berries are tart and often made into jam. For this beer, the berries were bog-grown.
Myrica Gale – a species of flowering plant found in western Europe; has a sweet resinous scent and is a traditional insect repellant used by campers. Was used to flavor beer in the Middle Ages until hops became widely available.
Yarrow – A flowering plant native to Europe, known for its use in clotting blood. In fact, a slang name for yarrow is “nosebleed plant.” Again, used in the Middle Ages to flavor beer until hops became in vogue.
Kvasir comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) and only 13 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The beer is a limited release. While all the above ingredients were discovered in the ancient drinking vessel, the bottle says the following: “ancient ale brewed with ligonberry, cranberry, birch syrup, honey, cranberry juice, and herbs.” Your guess is as good as mine if those “herbs” are myrica gale or yarrow or maybe something else. Guess you’d have to know what myrica gale and yarrow taste like to be sure, eh? More on that in a second.
The pour delivers a beautiful beer, capped by a large, creamy eggshell white head that is long lasting. The beer is a nice deep orange color, with an exceptionally clear body, and no particles or sediment. Lacing is awesome, leaving behind a substantial thick coating of foam, and the head regenerates easily when swirled.
On the nose is where things start to get a bit ridiculous. Kvasir is quite bland; there’s no complexity here, just some wheat sweetness, cranberries, and apple peel. There’s a faint bit of perfume-like aroma hiding in there, which probably has something to do with the yeast, but it mainly serves to enhance the cranberry. There’s a little of the 10% alcohol present, but it’s not in any way overwhelming. In fact, nothing on this aroma is overwhelming. It’s very underwhelming.
While the flavors aren’t boring, they aren’t all that inspiring, either. There’s cranberry and apple peel up front, two doses of sweet to one mild hit of tart. There’s definitely some herbal notes going on, but I can’t tell you exactly what they taste like — it’s not an herb I’ve had before, so maybe it’s the myrica gale or yarrow? Those aren’t exactly ingredients in, well…anything I’ve ever had, so… The finish ramps up the tartness just a bit, which dries out the palate. Lingering taste includes cranberry and lemon peel — hey, cranberry lemonade! Yes, that’s pretty much what this tastes like, with alcohol. And score one for Dogfish, the alcohol is well hidden. This beer is light-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
Rant mode on: this is Imperial Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Or a beverage of that ilk. Look, I appreciate what Dogfish are doing with “ancient ales,” but where the rubber fails to meet the road is the fact that I shelled out $13.99 for this bottle and the payoff is highly alcoholic cranberry-lemonade. There’s nothing wrong with the taste of this beer. Nothing. It’s pleasant, and I enjoy the interplay between sweet and tart. And I can even, somewhat grudgingly, get behind the history. But when you throw a bunch of ingredients at me that 95% of the beer drinking population has to look up on Wikipedia and then charge premium and we’re left with a beer that tastes good but has no complexity, no challenge to it, nothing worth returning to? I get cranky.
This is the problem with Dogfish Head these days. You know — they should seriously try to make, say, a Pale Ale, and make it a classic representation of the style. No smoke and mirrors, no looking ingredients up on Wikipedia. I bet it would be great. But such is the modus operandi for Dogfish, especially after being on television and achieving celebrity status…
Bottom line: if you can find this at a discount, try it. But don’t pay top dollar for Kvasir. You’ll only be disappointed.
Dogfish Head Kvasir Ancient Ale, 76 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.