If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA versus Beervana

I have begun translating my March Madness winnings into beer (explanation here). Mostly I invested in foreigns and mostly, I confess, in Belgians (I should be more ecumenical, but ...). One domestic I did buy is the much lauded Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. Everyone loves it. Esquire called it "perhaps the best I.P.A. in America." Zymurgy didn't stop there, and instead called it "the best commercial beer in America." Raters on both Ratebeer and Beer Advocate give it top marks. In other words, next stop: Transcendence.

Pah.

Dogfish Head has three versions of its IPA, identified by the length of time they infuse the boil with hops. The 90-minute weighs in at 9% and 90 IBUs. Along the East Coast it is renowned for how extreme it is, particularly those 90 IBUs. What I admired about the beer is that the long boil seats the hop flavor into the caramelly maltiness so that the perception of depth is enhanced. Unlike the East Coasters who regard it as cosmically hoppy, I found it leaning in the direction of a barleywine, emphasis on the malt and alcohol. The hops are roughed up during that long boil, and their more evanescent qualities are lost in the boil or kept hidden under the iron fist of the malt and alcohol. I'm not a huge barleywine fan, but as barleywines go, it's a nice version. But it's hardly exceptional, and for a proud and loyal resident of Beervana, all this swooning over an above-average beer looks a little silly.

The Northwest is the furthest region from population centers of our country's founding. The generations of immigrants to Oregon have shared the desire to want to get away from home, and they had to do something more than wander here--they had to want to come. We are too far away and too small to attract the attention of the nation (except Seattle, which is largely misrepresented), and this provokes in us a strong ambivalence. We don't wish to attract attention to our little paradise, because that runs the risk of attracting immigrants who don't understand what makes it a paradise. On the other hand, when you live in paradise, you chafe when the rest of the world fails to acknowledge it.

So it is with beer. I am confident that only Belgium rivals Oregon for the variety of beer, broad availability, and penetration into the consciousness of the residents. But our beers don't leave the Northwest, and when they do, they meet perplexed reception by those who do not have the appreciation and sophistication of our drinkers. On that "Best Commercial Beers" list, 50 in all, there are only three Oregon beers--all from Rogue, the only brewery with national distribution. None rank higher than 34, and that beer is Dead Guy, a decent beer that almost no one in Beervana would call Oregon's best. Yet to the brain trust in Colorado, this is our pièce de résistance.

It's the cross we bear. Our beer is the best, but like our region, no one knows or will or can ever acknowledge it. To the rest of the country, we have the delusions of grandeur typical of parochial backwaters where people just don't know better. And since there are so many parochial backwaters where the locals have delusions of grandeur, I don't blame em.

Fair enough, but I'm still saying Dogfish Head is a good but forgettable beer. A solid B but nothing more. Take that, Delaware!

20 comments:

Bill said...

Amen, brother!

I've never understood the fascination with Dogfish Head, but I haven't been brave enough so far to write about it. Every few months I try a 60- or 90-Minute, just to see if I've changed my mind. They're drinkable, but there's nothing special about them.

Joe said...

That was enlightening, I've always been tempted by Dogfish Head, but will now spend my beer money elsewhere.

Chipper Dave said...

Who says Colorado thinks Rogue is the best from Oregon? Bah! I personally like the brews from Full Sail better than Rogue, but when you speak of variety you need to include Colorado in that short list of yours. I like Dogfish 90 but as with all beers my taste for it comes and goes with the seasons. I think we all spend too much effort trying to figure out which beer is best at the moment. Rather - take that moment and just enjoy the beer your with.

Anonymous said...

It is nice to see someone else feels Dogfish Head is over rated. Being in the beer industry I have tasted the lot of Dogfish brews at many local Delaware beer tastings. I think Sam is a good marketer that makes consistently exciting average beers.
my .02.

DR WORT said...

It's all about marketing and distribution. It's a popularity contest based on commercial access and exposure.

If the Northwest chooses not jump on the big commercial marketing bandwagon and distribution, then those beers will stay mostly in the shadows of the beer world. We do have international recognition for some quality beers and breweries.

That said, I think a lot of NWers prefer the NW stay out of these corporate DICK waving games and stay true to their craft and quality.

What's better? To make a quality product that a small population will enjoy or produce a run of the mill product that is just well advertised.

I guess it depends on your outlook and personal character.

Do you value standing out and being the big man on campus, even though you're only and average shmuck?

or

Do you just want to fill your pockets with tons of cash based on snappy promotion and heavy advertising of a pathetic boring product?

or

Do you want to produce a quality product for the love of beer and brewing and concentrate your profits on bettering your product, using quality ingredients and adding new quality products to your impressive brewing portfolio??

I'd go for the third option, but then again, I'd be about the product quality rather than kudos/praise or cash.

There are many many great beers that are not POPULAR... and thank God for that! ;-}

What are everybodys thoughts in this regard?

erik_flannestad said...

I like Dogfish Head beers OK. Likewise have never quite gotten the cult following they seem to engender.

I'm excited that they recently started to show up in CA, just for the sake of variety. On the other hand, I think there are clearly more interesting CA (Wisconsin, Michigan, Oregon, Washington...) Beers than the Dogfish varieties.

I'll take a Pliny the Elder over a Dogfish 90 Minute IPA in a second. Plus, the Dogfish Beers are too darn expensive.

Anonymous said...

As regards Dr. Wort's comment above, I think that Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA is a _quality_ product made with quality ingredients, although in my opinion not a stellar exemplar of the style. Is it really so wrong for them to hype it, and to have been successful at doing so?

Jeff Alworth said...

Wow. I'm surprised that anyone commented, and I'm even more suprised to see general agreement. I figured I'd be taken to task for my heterodox view. In a certain way, your agreement undermines my thesis, but let's ignore that for now, shall we?

Chipper Dave--
I say that about Coloradans only because that's where the Zymurgy/Papazian/Beertown borg resides. And in their judgment, only Rogue makes the top fitty beers. (That list, btw, is a total joke. It's supposedly the top fifty commercial beers in America, yet there were foreign beers on it. But WAY too few to be representive on an international list. Follow the link--it's a bizarre, absurd list.)

Erik, Pliny the Elder is one of the finest beers in America. We do it a disservice by mentioning it in the same breath as Dogfish. Pliny is magnificent, the Mona Lisa of strong ales. I'm totally with you.

Beer & Loathing said...

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is an amazing beer. I've converted more of my friends to 90 Minute drinkers than just about any other beer I recommend because it is intensely hoppy while being incredibly balanced at the same time. I've been to Portland and drank my fair share of local brew, all of it tasty, but I wouldn't say that any of it was finitely better than products I've had from other parts of the country. And since it was mentioned, Rogue is a fine brewery but hardly the best in Oregon. Best in marketing though? Absolutely...

Jon said...

You totally called it on the barleywine comparison; I personally like Dogfish's 60-Minute IPA better because it's actually truer to the style. The 90-Minute is fine, but syrupy and cloying, and I can never understand why people like it over the 60-Minute as an IPA.

DR WORT said...

I too agree that 90 Minute is more of a Barley wine than a IIPA and it's a quality product....

It's popularity factor is causing the quandary, which goes back to intent of brewery owners; Popularity? Money? Bragging rights? Or do they just want to brew quality beer?

Dogfish has been on the cutting edge of beer experimentation! They're chickory Stout, Raisin brews and other odd ingredients have given them a reputation as a brewery that wants to push the envelope. But what has brought them popularity? Someone once said, '...with popularity comes mediocrity...'

The question originally posted: Why does Dogfish get so many kudos verses other quality beers in the NW?

I don't know if Jeff intended on this aspect for Dogfish popularity, but it does come down to some interesting thoughts.

Speaking of Pliny, which is a great beer.... I'm surprised we don't talk more about Vinnie's true brewing mastery with his Belgian styles and his research and experimentation with Wild Yeast beers. This is what will truly give him legendary status as a brew master. His Belgian's are light years above and beyond what I've seen and tasted in the NW. I think we'd all love to see more Belgian styles popping up in our local breweries that could reflect his mastery.... ;-}ybvcokd

Jeff Alworth said...

I'm surprised we don't talk more about Vinnie's true brewing mastery with his Belgian styles and his research and experimentation with Wild Yeast beers. This is what will truly give him legendary status as a brew master. His Belgian's are light years above and beyond what I've seen and tasted in the NW.

I don't talk more about them because I've never tried them. I would LOVE to. Anyone who brews Pliny gets about ten free passes on subsequent beers. I think the Belgian/yeast/spontaneous fermentation frontier is the future of brewing, and we're seeing ample evidence of it all across the country. Dr. Wort, you know where to get this stuff in Portland?

DR WORT said...

I don't talk more about them because I've never tried them. I would LOVE to. Anyone who brews Pliny gets about ten free passes on subsequent beers. I think the Belgian/yeast/spontaneous fermentation frontier is the future of brewing, and we're seeing ample evidence of it all across the country. Dr. Wort, you know where to get this stuff in Portland?

Not available in Oregon or Washington. No distribution outside of CA.

If Wild Yeast fermented beers are the future trend in US brewing, then the future is here and been thriving for about five years in certain states. WE need to jump on the bandwagon before we miss the bus... ;-}

Acquiring the beer? I have a friend that makes 3-4 trips a year from CA to the Northwest and bring me Russian River Brewing care packages.

Russian River Brewing's web site also has Gift Shop where they will occasionally start selling beer by the bottle or case. They only mail to CA addresses, so it would benefit people to have a couple CA buddies to have the beer delivered.

Of course, beer can be acquired by making the 10-11 hour drive to Santa Rosa. ;-}

Pliny is a Tinker Toy beer compared to the other beers that he's producing...

Check out their web site for Beers brewed and brewing info:

http://russianriverbrewing.com/web/barrel.html
http://russianriverbrewing.com/web/belgian.html

Here's some beers they brew:

Damnation
Stong Golden Ale 7.0% ABV

Salvation
Strong Dark Ale, 9.0%ABV

Perdition
Biere de Sonoma, 6.3% ABV

Redemption
Blonde Ale, 5.0% ABV

Sanctification
100% Brettanomyces, 6.25%ABV

Deification
Pale Ale with Brett, 6.35%ABV

Benediction
Abbey Ale, 6.75%ABV

Erudition
Saison with Brett, 6.5%ABV

Rejection
Belgian Inspired Black Beer
for Valentine's Day, 6.1%ABV

Little White Lie
Wit Beer Available in Summer, 4.8%ABV

-------

Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing in SO-Cal has been producing some excellent tasty Belgian brews, some with wild yeasts. Lost Abbey beers can be found across the river in Washington. I know By the Bottle carries a couple of the Lost Abbey Beers, but the catalog is huge!

Every year Lost Abbey starts it's 'Patron Saints and Sinner's Club' where you buy beer futures and receive one or two different beers a month for the entire year. A nice little Holiday present for those Beer Aficionado's who want to drink some artistically crafted beers brewed with a interesting variety of malt, hops and yeasts. A lot more creative than just brewing beers with bucket loads of hops.... :-O

http://www.lostabbey.com/

Anonymous said...

Russian River expanded their facility and I heard their beers will be distributed in Oregon by Point Blank in the near future.

beer-retard said...

Both Pliny and Blind Pig (which is almost as good as Pliny and only around 6% so you can drink more of it) will be available in bottles in Portland and Seattle by the end of summer. Exciting news...I may not be able to bring myself to drink the local IPAs when those get here.

Anonymous said...

Just to chime in on a couple comments here:

As one who moved from Colorado (most recently Boulder, in fact) to Oregon, I can attest to the fact that there are many brews here that do not make it to CO at all, which might account for the lack of Oregonian beers on that list (although one would think that if you were to make beer brewing and the tasting thereof your livelihood you would know these sorts of things; this is a digression). In fact, I think that there were only several Oregon beers/breweries that I was familiar with before the move: Widmer (oddly, I only ever found the "brewer's fest samplers there"), Bridgeport (the IPA and Ropewalk Amber were easy to find, and I once came across the porter), Full Sail (only the pale and IPA) and Deschutes (ONLY Mirror Pond). As you can see from that list, there are quite a few holes. I'm not sure if that's due to my own ignorance or the general lack of distribution, but there you go.

Additionally, I was lucky enough to be in Santa Rosa last year and order an 11-beer sampler at the Russian River brewery, and each beer was somewhere between solid and spectacular. I look forward to the distribution in Portland!

Jeff Alworth said...

I can attest to the fact that there are many brews here that do not make it to CO at all, which might account for the lack of Oregonian beers on that list (although one would think that if you were to make beer brewing and the tasting thereof your livelihood you would know these sorts of things; this is a digression).

I'd say two things to this. First is that, of the 80+ breweries in Oregon, the vast majority don't release their beers in bottles. I'm actually fine with Zymurgy limiting a list of "best commercial beers" to those available in the bottle--otherwise you're talking about tens of thousands of beers instead of just thousands.

But the second point is more direct: if a national magazine compiles a list of "the best commercial beers," but limits itself only to those available in its local market, it's a list of limited utility outside Denver.

blindhippie said...

A number of posts here give the impression that the publishers of Zymurgy compiled this list and that explains their anti-Oregon bias. But the list is compiled from votes by Zymurgy's readers, some 1,600 votes in all, from all over the country. Obviously the list is going to skew toward more widely available beers. Even dedicated beer geeks like these homebrewers can only sample so many beers. If the beers are not distributed beyond the borders of Oregon, it is unlikely that they will make the list.

The voters also get to list their 20 top beers, so something special like 90-minute is bound to make a lot of lists. Don't worry, everyone knows that Oregon makes a lot of great beer. Michigan seems to have made a good showing this year, so maybe they just got more people to vote. I would suggest that if you want more Oregon beers on the list, you should subscribe to Zymurgy and vote for your favorites.

Anonymous said...

You Rule! I'm drinking the 60 minute right now. I'm kicking myself for laying down 10 bones for this. Im an Oregon boy living in Madison Wi.

Oregon and Wisco have the beer to put this to shame, sorry I bought Dogass.

Christopher Miller said...

"Nothing special" about the 90 minute IPA?

GOOD GOD! I knew "taste is in eye of the beerholder", but, that is crazy talk. I used to think I didn't like IPAs but then I tried some and thought they could grow on me. Then I tried Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and it blew my socks off. It hasn't always been my favorite beer of the week, but it's damn good and certainly "special".

I've never liked beers that describe themselves as "barleywine". While DFH 90 Min IPA may be a little like that, it's better. It doesn't have the yucky "sour mash" taste of some Sam Adams beers, it's not just a bitter bomb like Centinial IPA, and it has a nice malty slightly sweet heavy body I like. I would say the DFH 90 Minute IPA and Green Flash "Palate Wrecker" are about equal in terms of goodness, and, somewhat similar in character but not the same.

Post a Comment

NOTE: Blogspot has been eating some comments, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. IF your comment doesn't appear, it's not you, it's not me, it's the genuiuses at Google. Sorry--