Founded in 1995 by Sam Calagione, the Dogfish Head Brewery based in Milton, Delaware sits among a small pantheon of craft breweries that have managed to compete, at least on some level, with the big boys while maintaining an allegiance to the experimentation and creativity that makes craft brewing more an exercise in artistry than in bottom-line thinking. From the day that we enjoyed our first sips of Dogfish Head’s IPA line – defined by absurd IBU levels courtesy of a proprietary continual hopping device known as Sir Hops Alot – the brewery earned a place in our hearts as a true go-to outfit. Dogfish’s Indian Brown Ale earned a permanent spot on the top shelf of the castle ‘fridge. All was well with the world. And then things got weird.
While we applaud forays into the absurd, Dogfish Head has, from time to time, pushed the limits of this Baron’s gustatory threshold. Two major letdowns included the raspberry-flavored strong ale, Fort, and Festina Peche: sphincter-clenchingly terrible and sticky saccharine, we abruptly abandoned our love affair with Dogfish Head and, save for an occasional frolic and detour, came to consider the brewery’s suds expensive offerings that were more than likely to disappoint. Until today.
The Baron welcomes Dogfish Head back into his heart courtesy of Burton Baton, a 10% ABV, 70 IBU English-style old-ale/imperial IPA blend. “Lush and enjoyable now… this beer ages with the best of ’em,” the label promised. It didn’t disappoint. Dogfish ferments each style of brew separately in stainless tanks, then transfers them to oak tanks for a month’s worth of combined fermentation. The result is all the bright circus notes of a good Imperial IPA combined with subtle hints of wood and vanilla.
The brew poured an unusual electric orange with a finger of rich cotton head that gradually dissipated. On the nose were pungent notes of toast, tobacco, pine, and citrus. The flavor was sublime: dried fruits, particularly raisins, with citrus, carmel, and a subtle splash of bourbon. Mouthfeel was velvety and chewy, pleasing and sure. If there was one drawback, it was an overabundance of ethanol on the nose and the tongue. Delicious as it was, it’s a boozy offering at heart and after one I was satiated and relaxed: a wonderful sipping brew. I give Burton Baton three and a half hops.
Welcome back, Sam. And, to borrow from Douglas Adams, thanks for all the (Dog)fish.