There is so much good beer being made in New York—and Brooklyn in particular—right now that it’s conceivable and perfectly reasonable that you’d never drink anything made elsewhere. You could easily enjoy way more than your fill of world-class IPAs, top-notch Saisons, and big, boozy stouts, not to mention some very good sours. But this week, it’s worth taking a look outside the local scene, about 225 miles south, to be exact, to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where Dogfish Head Brewing is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Despite being the 13th largest craft brewery in the country—for some perspective, Brooklyn Brewery is number 11—and despite having, in Sam Calagione, one of the most recognizable figures in the industry at its helm, Dogfish Head tends to fly somewhat under the radar, at least as far as hardcore beer nerds are concerned. There are two possible explanations for this. First, their flagship IPAs, 60 Minute and its older brother 90 Minute, both of which were groundbreaking in their hoppiness when they were first released, are decidedly tame by today’s standards. And second, a lot their beers are sort of confusing, falling far outside any easily defined style or category. In other words, one doesn’t ordinarily walk into a bottle shop thinking, “Man, I am really in the mood for a beer brewed with rye, juniper berries, black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, black pepper, and wort caramelized over hot rocks.”
Along those same lines, in celebration of their 20th anniversary, they’ve just released Higher Math, a 17% ABV golden ale brewed with cherries and cocoa nibs. Twelve-ounce bottles are showing up on store shelves right now, and it seems safe to say it’ll be worth the not-insubstantial 12 bucks it’ll set you back. But in the interest of looking back and honoring their considerable contributions to the craft beer movement, here are the 10 best Dogfish Head beers ever, many of which are widely available right now and would do very well on your Thanksgiving table.
10. Piercing Pils
An admittedly tame offering for Dogfish Head, this is a 6% ABV Czech-style pilsner that would be perfectly palatable to drinkers of even the palest yellow swill. It’s crisp and massively drinkable, with a subtly bright hop presence and a pleasant roundness courtesy of the White Pear Tea and pear juices that are added to the kettle. It’s a winter seasonal, so it should be around soon. Be on the lookout.
9. Burton Baton
One of Dogfish Head’s many underrated beers, Burton Baton is half English-style old ale and half Imperial IPA, literally—they brew two beers separately, blend them, and then age them for a month in oak barrels. It’s a huge beer, coming in at 10% ABV, and I’ve always thought it paired well with desserts like vanilla ice cream.
8. Punkin Ale
I am no great fan of pumpkin beers. I will generally have one or two each fall, and it will almost always be Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale. At its core it’s a beautifully made brown ale, which is then hit with the addition of brown sugar, actual pumpkin flesh, and a light dose of seasonal spices—a far cry from the nasty, clove-juice monstrosities that are all over the place these days.
7. Noble Rot
The worlds of beer and wine cross paths frequently, usually when sours or saisons are aged in wine barrels. For noble rot, Dogfish Head went in a different direction, utilizing grapes and grape must in conjunction with pilsner and wheat malts and a Belgian yeast strain. The result is a super dry, complex, 9% saison-like beer that’s somehow reminiscent of cider?
6. 120 Minute
Arguably the beer Dogfish Head is most known for, 120 Minute is the older older brother of 60 Minute and 90 Minute. A little background on the whole “minute” thing: In the 6% ABV60 Minute IPA, hops are added to the boil every minute for 60 minutes. In the 9% ABV 90 Minute IPA, hops are added every minute for 90 Minutes. For 120 Minute…. you get the point. It’s a huge beer, with an ABV of somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, which makes it a great candidate for cellaring. It is perhaps the ultimate sipper, a beer best split with a friend, even though it comes in 12oz bottles.
5. Palo Santo Marron
Walk into any beer store with a halfway decent selection of craft beer, and you will likely see Palo Santo Marron sitting on the shelves, passed over by beer nerds for harder to find beers that aren’t nearly as good. This is a 12% ABV imperial brown ale aged in giant vessels made of Palo Santo wood from Paraguay. You’ll get caramel, brown sugar, some chocolate, and lots more. Plus, the wood imparts a hint of vanilla and, well, a distinct woodiness.
4. Indian Brown Ale
Dogfish describes this beer as a cross between a scotch ale, an IPA and an American brown ale. To me, it’s always seemed like an aggressively hoppy brown ale, which, until recently, was not a style you’d see around very often. Indian Brown Ale does great with a wide variety of foods, and clocks in at a reasonable 7.2% ABV, so you can have a couple, no problem—but it’s also complex and hearty enough that it could stand nicely as a perfectly satisfying one-and-done if that’s what your situation requires.
3. World Wide Stout
Another absolutely world class, special occasion beer you could easily buy on any day of the year while everyone else wastes their time standing in line for one super limited beer or another. World Wide Stout is an imperial stout brewed with, as it says on the bottle, “a ridiculous amount of barley.” Like 120 Minute, it does best with some age on it—at somewhere around 18% ABV, it can burn a bit at first, but after a few years you get a surprisingly smooth and insanely delicious beer that boasts tons of chocolate and coffee and a huge amount of roast character.
2. Bitches Brew
Originally brewed in 2010, Bitches Brew was released to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Miles Davis album of the same name. It’s a combination of a big, roasty imperial stout and a tej, which is an african beer brewed with honey and gesho root, which adds something totally unique and hard to pin down.
1. 75 Minute IPA
I realize this is something of an unusual pick for number one, but bear with me: 75 Minute is a blend of 60 Minute and 90 Minute—two of the most famous and popular beers in the Dogfish portfolio—which is then combined with maple syrup, tweaking the whole mixture just enough to get your attention. There’s a subtle sweetness, a bright citrus character, and an exceedingly creamy mouthfeel. For my money, it’s the perfect Dogfish beer, and, lucky us, a fresh batch is making its way around the city right now.
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