THE TWO FACES OF DOGFISH HEAD

Tasting Notes 3 and 4 (of 7) from Doc and Barley’s Killer Beer Night

The Baron expounded on the Aleheads’ love-hate relationship with Dogfish Head in an earlier post. To sum up his elegant prose, DFH represents everything we collectively love and loathe about craft brewing. They experiment and push the envelope better than almost any other American ale factory today. That is to be lauded. But DFH also has a maddening inability to self-edit. Not EVERY beer concocted in the fever dreams of a brewer’s imagination need be foisted upon the Aleheads of the world. If you want to fiddle and futz with all and sundry adjuncts, fine…more power to you. But do it in the comfortable confines of your own testing lab where only your staff, friends and family will be subjected to your wild creations. Only when you’ve hit on a recipe that actually WORKS should you proceed to scale it up to commercial levels. DFH seems to just throw everything out there…the good, the bad, and the ugly. For every Raison D’Etre (a phenomenal brew made with raisins and beets), there’s a Black and Blue (a less than drinkable offering made with blackberries and blueberries). I have no qualms about breweries producing a dog now and then…they can’t all be gold, Jerry. But at least have the decency to beta test your brews before they’re released on an unsuspecting public. It’s just common sense, dammit!

Doc and I got to sample the yin and yang of DFH during our mildly epic little bender a couple weeks ago. First, we cracked into the Festina Peche which was purchased for our respective spouses, Nurse Van Drinkale and Wifey McHops. Naturally, Doc and I decided to tuck into one for…you know…research purposes.

The Festina is a Berliner Weissbier…a popular, light-bodied German ale characterized by a sour tang and a minimal hop profile. While Berliner Weiss brews aren’t fruit beers per se, they are often served with sweet fruit syrup (raspberry being the most prevalent) which is then poured into the brew to cut the sour tang. So if you’re a German who likes to mock Americans for sticking orange wedges into their Hefeweizens…go fuck yourself with a bottle of raspberry syrup.

Since Americans don’t pour shit into our beer, DFH decided (I guess) to mimic the “authentic” Berliner Weissbier experience by brewing the Festina Peche with a buttload of peach concentrate. Awesome idea, DFH. Really. Brilliant. OK…enough sarcasm, onto the tasting note.

The Festina pours a hazy straw color with absolutely zero head and no lacing.*

*Actually, Berliner Weissbiers never hold much of a head…it’s just part of the style. So I won’t knock off points for that. The beer sucks plenty with or without a head.

The nose is a touch sour, but it’s mostly the muted smell of peach juice. There’s a faint hint of yeast and mustiness around the perimeter, but not enough to make a dent in the peachy peachness. The fruit flavor actually takes a backseat in the taste and the primary flavors are sourness (like a watered-down lambic) and bread. The finish is just a wisp…dry, minimal, and kind of pointless. The mouthfeel is light, as it should be, and not particularly well-carbonated. It’s drinkable in that it’s fairly refreshing and not overtly offensive. But it’s really just not that good. With the Festina, DFH took a bad idea and at least made it drinkable, but the degree of difficulty was simply too high on this one. 2 Hops from me, a mild grimace from Wifey, and a shoulder shrug from Doc.

Our disappointment in DFH still lingering, we cracked open a few other brews, imbibed, chatted for awhile, and then went back to the fridge. There, on the top shelf, was a bottle of redemption. A bottle to remind Doc and I of, to paraphrase Terrance Mann, “All that was once good about Dogfish Head…and could be again.”*

*Incidentally, read this little piece about Field of Dreams from Charlie Pierce. Way to ruin the movie, Charlie. Thank you very little.

That bottle was the DFH Raison D’Extra…an amplified version of their brilliant Raison D’Etre which the Aleheads rave about constantly. DFH calls the Extra a brown ale, and I suppose that’s ostensibly true (they are the master brewers after all…not me). But I definitely consider this more of a Strong Ale and BeerAdvocate agrees (they have it categorized as a BDSA). So I’m going to rate it against other Dark Strong Ales since comparing it to a plain ol’ Brown is just patently unfair. It would be like Zack Greinke pitching against Little Leaguers (or his own team, the Royals).

The Extra pours with a deep amber tone, a minimal white head that dissipates quickly, and strong, sparkling lacing. The nose makes you step back for a second and regroup. It is STRONG. Caramel, toffee, dark chocolate, buckets of ripened, dried fruit, a hint of hops and spice, and a massive alcohol noseburn (18% ABV…are you kidding me?). No one could accuse the Extra of being a lightweight. The nose alone would send most novice Aleheads reeling. It’s one of the biggest aromas you’ll ever get from a beer. And the taste? Yeah…it’s even stronger.

The Raison D’Extra, as the intentionally misspelled name implies, is dominated by the flavor of dark, juicy, sweet raisins. But that’s just the initial taste. The sweetness builds up into a toffee-like flavor before being pushed aside by spice, and a round, fruity note. All of this is amplified beyond belief…every flavor is completely maxed out. The finish is warm and bitter…both from the hops and the huge amounts of alcohol. Did I miss something? Of course, I did…I’m sure I missed about a thousand facets of this brew. Complexity, thy name is Raison D’Extra.

The mouthfeel is oily, syrupy, and thick. The brew is too heavy to hold much carbonation and it drinks more like a port or sherry. Drinkability is super-low. It’s so rich, so heavy, so strong, and so palate-crushingly over-the-top that it was all Doc and I could do to split a 12-ounce bottle. That’s not a knock, however. A beer doesn’t have to be a session brew to be a winner. The Extra is a force of nature…it’s a bit too overwhelming to be a 4 Hop brew, but 3.5 Hops sounds just about right.

That’s Dogfish Head for you. They hit you with a limp-wristed, Glass Joe jab with one hand, and then they crush you with a Mr. Sandman haymaker with the other. DFH may frustrate the Aleheads to no end, but the world of beer is infinitely richer and more colorful because of them.

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4 comments

  1. I don’t even remotely remember drinking the Raison D’Extra during the wicked night of Ales. I remember the Peche, which I shrugged off as a flavored beer without much going on, but the D’Extra experience escapes me. Ouch.

    Of course, I’ve tucked into a few D’Extra bottles in my day and completely agree with your assessment. 4 hop brew it is not since drinkability is suspect, but God damn that’s a powerful beverage. I’ve always said that the Raison D’Etre is the reason to trust in Dogfish. The D’Extra just enforces that point to the n’th degree.

    FYI…Night-capping an Aleheads session with an 18% strong ale is a very, very bad idea.

  2. [...] styles (look no further than Pretty Things). Or brewing with esoteric or outlandish adjuncts (see Dogfish Head). Whatever the approach, more and more breweries are taking the road less traveled…and [...]

  3. [...] a similar brew from an ale factory that I’ve disparaged in the past? How about a brew from the most maddening brewery in these United States? A brewery that produces some of the best and worst beers I’ve ever had? What [...]

  4. [...] weird beer that you put weird shit into on a commercial level? For more on this subject, check this out. Having never had any Dogfish Head brews to back up my irritation, I decided to put my money [...]

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