THE ART OF THE ADJUNCT

Since the Aleheads began LiveChatting episodes of Brew Masters, the Discovery Channel’s ill-conceived reality series “starring” Sam Calagione, we’ve been thoroughly and unabashedly slamming the Dogfish Head brewery. There are plenty of reasons for this. First, we’re assholes. That just goes without saying. Second, when you sign up for a reality series, you’re basically signing away your dignity and any hope of obtaining or maintaining the public’s respect. Third, Brew Masters is the first show about the craft brewing industry in the US…and frankly, it makes that industry look bad.

But there’s another, more specific reason we’ve been skewering Sam and his troops at Dogfish Head…at least as they’ve been represented in the show. They seem to brew every pipe dream that comes into Sam’s head with no testing or quality control…and that strategy just strikes all of us as being, well…pretty fucked up.

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Let’s back up a second…I know that reality shows are edited in such a way as to create dramatic tension out of thin air. Wifey and I enjoy watching Top Chef…a show that makes it seem like cooking an amuse-bouche is as intense as facing down a drunken Rooster Cogburne on horseback.*

*Slouch Sixpack asked me if I enjoyed the Coen’s remake of True Grit. My reponse was that “Fill your hands, you sonofabitch!” has now replaced Tombstone’s “Skin that smokewagon and see what happens!” as my go-to call-out if I’m ever in a duel.

So, at first blush, it seems likely that Discovery is arbitrarily ramping up the adrenaline in Brew Masters by making it appear as if Dogfish Head is fighting the clock with every beer they produce. In seemingly every episode, Sam & Co. have only moments left to brew, bottle, and serve each beer at some pre-determined festival or tasting event. It’s silly, of course…brewing beer isn’t like making a dish on Top Chef. It takes weeks to properly produce an ale (at a minimum)…let alone the R&D to determine what goes in it (plus the logistics of getting the ingredients shipped and prepped).

Anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of brewing would probably assume that Dogfish Head doesn’t ACTUALLY operate like it appears they do on the show. I used to joke about Dogfish Head by saying that their standard operating procedure was just to “brew it and damn the consequences”. But of course, deep down, I assumed I was just being a dick and that Dogfish Head was like most other breweries. In other words, they carefully brewed test batches, beta-tested, conducted tastings, and only released a beer after it had passed stringent quality control tests. Sure, it seemed like Dogfish Head produced an inordinate number of terrible beers for such a respected brewery, but that had to be me, right? Those beers just didn’t mesh well with my tastes, right?

But after watching five episodes of Brew Masters, I realized something. My uninformed opinions about the brewery that produced such awful swill as Black & Blue, Fort, Pangaea, and Chateau Jiahu might actually be dead on. It really DOES seem like Dogfish Head is the only brewery on Earth that throws a bunch of shit into the fermenter, crosses their fingers, and then sells their wares to an unsuspecting public. There have been numerous occasions on the show where somebody expressed dismay about a beer Sam was going to produce, and instead of reflecting on the best (or even just a better) approach for the brew, he simply pushed through his original, unedited recipe. He’s like a homebrewer trying every wacky recipe he can think of…but instead of producing a 5-gallon batch that his friends can sample for free and throw away if it sucks, he’s ramping up his insane creations to production level and selling them at high price points across the US. Even when the beer is a proven loser (see: Fort), DFH brews it year after year…as if Calagione is simply unwilling to admit he ever makes mistakes.

It’s as if Sam’s ego (at least as it pertains to brewing) has gotten so inflated that he assumes that ANYTHING he produces is going to be gold. After so much early success (and admittedly, he was a wunderkind in the industry for many years), he thinks he can’t fail. It doesn’t matter if he tests it first. It doesn’t matter if he’s using ingredients, equipment, or methods that have never been used before. It doesn’t matter if the recipe sounds iffy before he even starts. If Sam’s involved, it’ll be amazing, right?

No. Not right. Not right at all. Look, I’ll be the first to admit that I like plenty of DFH’s beers. Their IPA line-up is quite good (the 60, 90, and 120). I like the Palo Santo Marron very much. The Raison D’Etre and D’Extra are both really interesting. But these high-quality brews are becoming the exceptions, not the rule. In the very first episode of Brew Masters, Sam notes that most microbreweries make 6-8 different beers a year while he makes 31. He says this in a prideful way…like he’s better than other brewers because of his output. But for those of us who have tried the majority of Sam’s beers, we know the true story. He makes 4 or 5 times more offerings annually than other brewers because he scales every recipe he can think of to production level. Most other breweries test out lots of different brews before selecting the best ones to mass produce. Sam just mass produces them all. It’s madness.

Take a look at Dogfish Head’s website: 8 year-round brews. 17 rarities. 4 seasonals. 9 collaborations. Plus 47 brewpub exclusives. Now compare that with one of the Aleheads’ favorite breweries…the far more thoughtful, infinitely more consistent Founders brewery in Michigan. 5 year-round beers. 3 seasonals. And 7 rarities. A much shorter list, but there’s not a single dud on there (unless you dislike the Cerise…a cherry beer which I think is actually pretty excellent, all things considered). Quality over quantity…it’s the mantra of most small brewers. But not Sam.

Sam does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and damn the consequences. I don’t expect that to change any time soon, but as long as his train wreck of a show persists…the Aleheads, at least, will keep calling him out.*

*I’m sure our insults make Sam cry himself to sleep every night on his bed made of wooden pallets.

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While this post was mostly an excuse to rant about Dogfish Head, I should probably talk about what triggered my thought process in the first place…Cigar City’s Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout. I sampled my first bottle of Hunaphu’s during the Night of a Thousand Stouts. It’s a version of Cigar City’s award-winning Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout with the addition of Peruvian cacao nibs, ancho and pasilla chiles, Madagascar vanilla beans, and cinnamon.

Why did this remarkable beer lead to yet another anti-Dogfish Head screed? One word…adjuncts.

Adjuncts are, as the name implies, “additions” to beer that add (or subtract) character or flavor. In the world of craft brewing, it’s often considered a dirty word. The Evil Axis (BudMillerCoors) brew what most people would call “Adjunct Lagers”. The adjunct they use is corn…an ingredient that provides sugar to feed the yeast (so it can produce alcohol and CO2) but minimizes flavor, character, and body.

But not all adjuncts are awful. Fruit beers…pumpkin beers…honeyed brews…winter warmers. All of these styles have adjuncts in some form or another (and while you’ve probably sampled some awful examples of each style, there are also plenty of great ones out there).

In a roundabout way, this all comes back to Sam Calagione. You see, Sam is probably the king of the adjunct. His beers are rarely, if ever, simple, clean products. They’re always loaded chock-full of novel (at best) or weird (at worst) ingredients that you usually don’t find in beer. Sometimes they work…often they don’t. My earlier venting about Dogfish Head has a lot to do with Sam’s obsession with adjuncts. Because Sam can’t self-edit, he “over-adjuncts” his beer. Beers don’t usually need 5 or 6 novel ingredients competing with the malt and hops. In the world of craft brewing, simpler is often better.

But once in awhile, you come across a beer so well-constructed, that you realize Sam’s approach CAN work…in the right hands. The Hunaphu’s is just such a beer.

On the surface, the beer sounds EXACTLY like something Sam would cook up. Two types of chile peppers…Peruvian cacao…cinnamon…it sounds like just the kind of hot mess that Dogfish Head would jump right into. But there’s a difference. Cigar City might use a variety of unusual adjuncts…but unlike Dogfish Head, they clearly put a lot of thought into their recipe. You can taste the careful craftsmanship and I have no doubt they tested this beer over and over before releasing it to the public. This is no “throw caution to the wind” Dogfish Head offering. This is a Cigar City brew…which means they knew it was great long before they bottled and sold it. So how about a Tasting Note?

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The beer pours perfectly onyx with a thin, but nicely effervescent dark, tan head that fades quickly to a small collar. Lacing is oily and splotchy.

The aroma is massive…dark chocolate, ripe fruit, espresso beans, toffee, tobacco, and a big hot pepper and alcohol sting with each whiff. The taste left me floored. The night I sampled the Hunaphu’s, I had the good fortune of sampling Deschute’s The Abyss and 3 Floyds The Dark Lord as well. While all three beers were outlandishly good, I would give the Cigar City offering the nod over the other two (though this opinion was certainly not universally held by the other drinkers at the table…just a personal preference). The flavor was unusual, bold and complex, but completely satisfying and delicious. I got a lot of fruit and chocolate sweetness up front with a wonderfully tasty blend of vanilla and chile pepper in the middle and a bitter coffee and hops blend in the finish. All the notes were in perfect symphony and no single flavor overwhelmed or dominated the sip.

The mouthfeel was lush, creamy and decadently full, but good carbonation kept it dancing softly across my palate. Drinkability was off the charts…not because it’s a refreshing, easy-drinkin’ brew…but because it was so damn delicious.

4 Hops all the way for the Hunaphu’s. Sam Calagione, grab a bottle when you get a chance. You might learn something…

4 hops

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12 comments

  1. Wow. This rant was spot on.

  2. Say what you want about Budweiser, but at least their labels point straight to their use of Rice as an adjunct. Their corporate website even explains why they use rice in addition to their other traditional ingredients. Miller Lite on the other hand is triple-hopped brewed, so who cares if it’s brewed with corn? I mean, triple-hopped brewed! Wow!

    You know what else is triple-hop brewed? Just about every other beer, ever. It’s called bittering, flavoring, and finishing.

    That’s the problem with the beer industry is that consumers will buy into anything if they don’t have the knowledge behind their purchase. Sam can say he adds 8 ingredients, whereas most beers only have 4, so your average schmuck will just think that Sam’s beers are twice as good (Don’t worry, if you’re reading anything on this site, this definitely doesn’t pertain to you). You can’t just dump shit into beer to hide flaws and expect people to think it’s good just because you tell them it’s good. Well, at least it shouldn’t work that way.

  3. While I just can’t quite give the Hunahpu’s the nod over the Abyss and Dark Lord (the traditional vanilla, cocoa, and licorice flavors are just too delicious in the stout for me), it is a dyn-o-mite beer. Cigar City is mos’ def a quality outfit. It is complex and just downright awesome. The chilies make it unique and delicious. But call me old-fashioned, I just love me some vanilla and chocolate. Definitely splitting hairs here though, it’s a damn delicious brew.

  4. spencer · · Reply

    i keep going back and forth between dark lord, abyss, hunahpu, and kbs as the winner of the night. there was just too much delicious. i guess we’ll just have to do the tasting all over again before i can come to any conclusions.

  5. spencer · · Reply

    damn it. i just remembered b.o.r.i.s. is a contender as well.

    someone let flip know that we’re going to need some more dark lord and kbs. john, you’re on abyss duty when you go out west. hopefully reeves has more hunahpu. i’ve got the boris. more contenders welcome.

  6. Like I said, I thought all three (Abyss, Dark Lord, and Hunaphu) were tremendous. I give the Hunahpu the edge over the Dark Lord because I thought the latter had a bit too strong of a soy sauce savoriness. As for the Abyss…I can’t really say I like it any more or less than the Hunahpu, but the Cigar City offering “surprised” me a little more. And there’s nothing more exciting for a beer drinker than when you take that first sip and are blown away by flavors you weren’t expecting. The Abyss is just a rock solid beer through and through, but if absolutely pressed, I’d probably take the Hunaphu.

    Spencer’s right though…we need to run it back to determine a true winner.

  7. gingerale · · Reply

    The Hunaphu was also my favorite. Though they were all wonderful in their own right, I just found Hunaphu incredibly complex and you’re right– it’s as if you can taste the time, energy, and thoughtfulness they put into the ingredients and brewing process. It’s phenomenal.

    It’s also important to note that Hunaphu was one of the last samplings on the Night of a Thousand Stouts, yet the flavors still came through loud and clear.

  8. spencer · · Reply

    if i’m not mistaken, i believe the hunahpu was the third beer we drank. either way, it came soon after a dark lord sampling, so despite the flavors of at least one heavy hitter still lingering on the palate, it still stood out. that definitely says a lot about the beer.

  9. […] Sam Calagione travels to exotic countries, completely ignores his brewery and employees, and thinks everything he makes is pure gold. Meanwhile, Jim Koch serves as a one-man quality control department by getting hammered on his own […]

  10. […] always translate to a quality beverage. That’s OK…as long as the brewery doesn’t ramp every weird experiment up to production level like a certain douchebag brewmaster in Delaware, I have no problem with occasionally terrible […]

  11. glucanmaximus · · Reply

    Sam is the quintessential used car salesman of the brewing industry. Like the little old lady that only drove the car to church on sundays, he assures us that he uses only the best ingredients & Experts like McGovern/Delee are at his beck and call to ensure the snake oil he’s selling has been verified at a molecular level. Thankfully sam is only in the brewing/rap/soap/shoe painting business, imagine if he brought his off centered approach to the aerospace industry, the poor test pilot’s would be uninsurable; Although it would be fun to watch his DJ screaming “Sam stop this crazy thing” moments before crashing & burning.

  12. You’re probably right, Maximus. Perhaps we should be thankful that Sam decided to devote his “talents” to the world of brewing rather than something more dangerous for humanity.

    Some good news though! I heard a rumor that there were some major issues with the brewing of Fort this year! The less of that horseshit on the shelves of package stores the better…

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