Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sudstastic Adventures 1: Dogfish Head’s 120min IPA

The average beer is about 3-5% abv. Many craft beers are around 8%, and a decent amount can get up to 10 or 11%. A number of red wines are around this same area. Dogfish Head’s 120min IPA is about 18% abv. This is about as high as you can get without dishing out $150 for Sam Adams Utopias.

I have the unique honor of living within 20 minutes of Oak Tree Buy Rite. Oak Tree is one of the best beer stores in the country, and I’ve heard stories of people coming from as far as North Carolina to visit this Mecca of beer. Luckily, I live just far enough away that I don’t go there on a daily basis, wasting all the money I don’t have. Unlike other stores, Oak Tree stocks an ample supple of 120min IPAs, which I have admired for the past year or so. The reason I didn’t buy a bottle until now is that it’s about $9 for a bottle. A 12oz bottle. This may seem steep, but if you consider that a 750ml bottle of decent schnapps costs about $20 and clocks in at a similar abv, it’s not too bad.

Why is this beer so alcoholic? Well, the answer is in the name. An IPA (Indian Pale Ale) is a popular style in America known for it’s massive hoppiness. During the making of a normal IPA, the wort is boiled for about an hour, with hops added during this time. Some get a little crazy and boil it for an hour and a half. Dogfish Head goes nuts and does it for two hours. The longer you boil it, the more sugar you get. The more sugar you get, the more alcohol the yeast produces when you ferment it. However, at the same time, Dogfish Head continually hops the beer as it boils. This means the beer will end up incredibly hoppy, incredibly alcoholic, but surprisingly pretty sweet due to all the sugars produced during the long-term boil.

With big beers like this, it tends to be a one-time adventure for me. I want to try it for the experience, and then not drop so much money for it again. For instance, a few weeks ago I bought Southern Tier’s Crème Brule stout. I tried it, and it was an interesting experience, but something I wouldn’t need to have again. I mean, if someone offered it to me, I’d say sure, but beyond that, I’m good. I assumed the 120min IPA would be like this. At $9 a bottle I needed it to be like this. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

The extremely helpful fellow at Oak Tree suggested I try the vintage 2006, as the harshness of the hops have mellowed, and the flavors have complexified. So, I got home and reluctantly stowed the beer in the Fridge. Despite wanting desperately to pop it open right away, it was a work night, and this is not a beer to have on a work night. I knew I had off on Wednesday for Thanksgiving break, so I scheduled my beer-quality-time for Tuesday night. Yes, I literally put it in my daily planner.

As I am an info-junkie, I looked on the Dogfish Head website and found a video from the brewmaster Sam Calagione about the 120min IPA. This is an interesting guy who I saw talk at Beer Advocates Extreme Beer Fest last year, and who was a primary person followed in the amazing documentary Beer Wars. He has the whole beer in a goblet, but explains this is only to showcase the beer, and he highly suggests splitting a bottle with a friend. The nice fellow at Oak Tree suggested sharing it with a friend… or two. They both also suggested that it should be served at room temperature. I ignored both of these suggestions. I’m not sure why. Okay, yes I am. I didn’t share it because I wouldn’t mind any effects that may occur by drinking it on my own (hey, I had no work the next day!). And I didn’t drink it at room temperature because I knew it would take me a few hours to drink, and I like experiencing the full spectrum of taste; from cold, to cool, to almost-warm. Each of these stages offers a unique tasting experience for a beer.

So, Tuesday rolls around and I excitingly run home and grab the beer. I pour it into my trusty Chimay goblet. The first thing I notice is the color. Most IPA’s are transparent. They range in color from dark amber, to copper, to a light, almost lager yellow. This beer was the color of apple cider, but what was striking about it was that it wasn’t transparent. It was foggy. I’m assuming that since it was continually hopped for 2 hours, the hops imparted almost all of their resin to the beer. I can’t say for sure, but it was definitely an interesting color.

The smell was intense; a lot of hops with some interesting underlying fruit scents and sugars. The taste was massive and complex. The hops were there big time, but as appose to a big spicy hop flavor, it was a more complex fruity, grassy hop flavor. I got a lot of grapefruit, as well as almost a buttery flavor. And, to be honest, this is one of a few beers that I’ve had where the fact that hops and cannabis are related really comes through. Alright, alright people, don’t get any funny ideas. I’m sure anyone who’s been to college at least knows what the stuff smells like. Either way, this beer was surprisingly drinkable, and the 18% abv was incredibly well hidden. I expected to only sip it, but ended up taking some sizeable swigs. It did last the entire night: through the afternoon snack, through dinner and through the making of apple dumplings (you’ll see a post on that soon!).

The worst part of the whole thing is how incredibly delicious this beer was. I mean, I could probably drink this beer once a week… if I were Bill Gates. In fact, just thinking about it now makes me salivate. I also have acquired an intense curiosity to see how a fresh batch tastes. However, I doubt I will be having another bottle—fresh or vintage—anytime soon. There’s a pivotal part of the puzzle missing before such an event can occur: a job.

Thanks for reading, and remember: Don't be afraid to drink it, eat it, or cook with it. But always drink it in moderation while you cook it.

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