Growing up, I really only knew two things about Delaware. Of the thirteen original states, Delaware was the first state of the United States, ratifying the constitution on December 7, 1787, and more importantly, that it was a long, boring section of highway connecting our house in Pennsylvania to a week at the beach in Ocean City, MD. The only highlight while passing through Delaware was the hope seeing an enormous C-5 Galaxy sitting on the runway at Dover Air Force base. If we were really lucky, we would even get to see one landing. It still amazes me that something so large can get off the ground.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that Delaware is also home to arguably the most famous craft beer brewery in the US — Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head has a cult following among craft beer lovers due to their extreme, experimental brews. In 2008, The New Yorker ran a story about Dogfish Head, providing a glimpse into the extreme beer movement and some of the more interesting brews produced at the brewery including a re-creation of a beer, through chemical analysis of clay pots, found in the tomb of King Midas. (After reading this story, I made it an objective to get to Rehoboth Beach to visit the brewpub myself, and eventually did get there in 2010).
However, Dogfish Head is not the only craft brewer in Delaware, and I wanted to discover more. In 2011, the Brewers Association listed Delaware as having 9 breweries. Beer Me!, shows 11 breweries (3 listed as planned), but not every brewery listed packages their product for off-site sales. After a cursory review of each brewers website, I decided that I could potentially get my hands on two more Delaware brands: 16 Mile Brewery and Twin Lakes Brewing — both of these are listed as having distribution beyond the state border northward into southern Pennsylvania and Maryland.
To get beer from the brewery to a wanting consumer, brewers in most states must rely on a distributor. This is a result of the three tier system created at the end of prohibition. It doesn’t take too many internet searches to turn up a wealth of articles, blogs, and news stories proclaiming the pros and cons of the current state of the distribution system, so we will not dive into that sea here. However the distribution system is not entirely to blame for the lack of accessibility. Craft beer is a small business endeavor. And as expected with a small business, there is a limit to production quantities. In 2011 for example, Dogfish Head produced a little bit more than 141 thousand barrels of beer. Compare that with the 2000 barrels produced by 16 Mile Brewery. Knowing that one barrel is 36 gallons and one long neck bottle of beer is 12 ounces, 1 barrel produces about 384 bottles of beer (64 six packs). We can quickly see that the supply for the smaller brewers is very limited, and as expected directed towards their loyal local market. (If you are curious about how these brewers compare to the big national brands, 18.23 million barrels of Coors Light were sold in 2011.) Due to this limitation, tracking down beer from the smaller brewers is hard when you do not have within close proximity to the brewer.
In the end, I was unsuccessful in my search for other Delaware brands and had to settle on just Dogfish Head. From Dogfish Head, I selected three different brews: Chicory Stout, 90 Minute IPA and Sah’tea.
Just like those C-5 planes on the runway at Dover Air base, Dogfish Head brews are big, bold and can be hard to wrap your head around. More often then not, when I arrive at an event with some Dogfish Head, I don’t have to worry about sharing — it is an acquired taste. It should be noted that they do have easier to drink products and If you are not into extreme beer, you shouldn’t turn away. The 60 minute IPA is a very drinkable beer, and if you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend the Namaste.
I chose Chicory Stout because it is listed as one of the first beers brewed by Dogfish Head back in 1995. I generally like stouts. The darker the beer the better. When it comes to stouts, there are many out there worth checking out, the most famous probably being Guinness, however the Chicory Stout stands out in the crowd. The Oxford Companion to Beer describes a stout as having “a distinct roasted character that is often perceived as dark chocolate or coffee“. In this case, the beer is brewed with chicory and mexican coffee making this perception a stark reality. When poured, the beer was a nice dark color, typical of a stout, but unlike other stouts, there was little to no head. Among our tasting party, the two traits that really stood out were coffee and bitterness. The bitterness most likely comes from the chicory, which is often characterized as have a bitter taste. This beer also wanted food, and we were quickly reaching for the nearest bag of chips to complement.
90 Minute IPA
The 90 Minute IPA (India Pale Ale) is one of Dogfish Heads award winning beers. The 90 min., one in the range of their continuously hopped IPAs is considered an Imperial IPA. In the traditional usage of the term, Imperial meant a beer specially brewed for Kings and Queens, in the craft beer world, imperial usually implies a bigger and stronger than normal brew. The Oxford Companion to Beer describes the IPA as “the most romanticized, mythologized, and misunderstood” beer style that “became the most popular craft beer on the planet”. Based on this, we can probably expect to see and taste a few IPAs over the upcoming weeks.
I really enjoy this beer, the strong hoppy flavor is well complemented by a nice citrus taste.
Love it, but it will knock you on your ass
Others in the tasting party said it was too strong for their tastes. It is, like all DogFish Head brews, a strong beer. The Imperial moniker is well deserved in this beer.
The final beer of the week is Sah’tea. A “modern take on a 9th-century Finnish beer”, this one sure was different. I always struggle with spiced beers, actually never liked them. And this beer reconfirmed that fact with its impressive spice blend: cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper.
When you pick up the glass, the first thing that hits you is the cloves, and they hit hard, so much that I couldn’t get beyond it to taste any of the other spices. I was not the only one to have this reaction, making it the only beer of the evening that was left unfinished.
One of the more impressive assets of the beer was the amount of floaters. This really didn’t bother, I have experienced this with other beers, but it was still pretty impressive.
Overall, I would say the 90 minute IPA was the biggest hit of the tasting, with the Chicory Stout coming in a distant second. I always have, and probably always will treat Dogfish Head as an extreme sport. One that you are always willing to take on, but never really know if you will make it to the finish.
Next week: Pennsylvania. Ratifying the Constitution just five days after Delaware.
Thanks for reading.