In early May, news broke big and loud that Sam Adams bought Dogfish Head. The very next day after the announcement, I had the chance to chat with Jim Koch and Sam Calagione about why the sale went down. I turned the interviews into a rapid-fire article for Men’s Journal, making sense of the sale for one and all. Curious? Oh boy, do I have a link for you!
Lookie here! It's my latest Gourmet column, about insanely flavored beers. Read it here, or look below.
On an average day, Manhattan’s Blind Tiger Ale House pours 30-plus unique beers on tap, from dark stouts to pumpkin ales. But few are as weirdly wonderful as the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA—a highly hoppy, malty ale—that will soon be infused with lemongrass, tropical fruits, pine and spruce tips, fresh hops, or leafy mint and bourbon ball candy. “It’s all thanks to Randall the Enamel Animal,” says Blind Tiger owner Alan Jestice.
The Randall, Jestice explains, is essentially a sealed, cylindrical water filter filled with loosely packed flavoring agents and connected to a keg line. When beer is drawn, it passes through the Randall tube, picking up aromatic oils and flavors. The secret is using snifter-worthy 90 Minute IPA, which contains 9 percent alcohol by volume. The alcohol strips off flavorful oils, essentially instant-infusing the beer. (The “Enamel Animal” sobriquet references the fact that extremely hoppy, resinous beer often feels like it’s dissolving teeth enamel—the pungent resins can taste gritty.)
Dogfish Head’s gonzo device is a technological twist on brewers’ centuries-old tweaks: Porters and stouts have long been seasoned in oak barrels, while Hefeweizens and Belgian ales are often re-fermented with additional doses of yeast. These flavors can be subtle and nuanced, but not so the tastes of bourbon ball candy and fresh mint. They’ve transformed the IPA into an ersatz mint julep. Several mint leaves tossed on top provide an herbaceous nose, but the flavored beer is almost oppressively sweet.
“The beer washes the sugar directly into the beer,” Jestice explains.
It’s difficult to drink a full glass, so I switch to the lemongrass-infused Simple Thai. The citrusy herb counteracts the hops, resulting in an almost vegetal quaff. Sometimes the sum is not greater than the parts. Same goes for the Summer Fresco. The dried-melon-and-pineapple barely magnify the IPA’s fruity essence.
More successful is the Northern Winter. Pine and spruce tips imbue the beer with a Christmas-tree nose, and an evergreen-fresh flavor that’s a perfect accompaniment to the already piney IPA. However, my favorite is the Hoppy Giant. A strong dose of whole-leaf hops gives the IPA heady aromatics, resulting in a smooth, delicious flavor. It’s the difference between eating a beefsteak tomato and a farmers market heirloom.
“That’s what’s great about a Randall,” Jestice says. “It’s not meant to transform a beer. It amplifies beer’s natural flavors.”
In case any of y'all were curious, I pen a biweekly beer column for Gourmet magazine's online component, Gourmet.com. This is my latest column, about the battles our dear beer-drinking brothers in Alabama are waging to be able to sip a pint o' delicious, high-alcohol nectar. Drink it up!
The Battle for Craft Beer Long deprived of world-class brews, Alabamans are fighting back.
Stuart Carter is crazy for craft beer. The Alabama computer-service technician loves refined Belgian Trappist ales, Great Divide’s rich, dark, decadent Yeti Imperial Stout, and Dogfish Head’s strong, sweet Midas Touch Golden Elixir. There’s only problem: In Alabama, drinking these beers constitutes a criminal act.
“You can buy fortified wine or pure-grain alcohol, but you cannot buy Atlanta’s SweetWater IPA because, gosh, it contains 6.7 percent alcohol,” says Carter, president of Free the Hops, a grassroots beer-advocacy group fighting to reform the state’s many antediluvian laws.
Home-brewing is currently illegal in Alabama. A brewpub can only operate in a historical building situated in a county that sold alcohol pre-Prohibition. You can be fined for bringing two cases of beer into dry counties. And most problematic for craft-suds fiends like Carter, Alabama (along with Mississippi and West Virginia) prohibits the sale of beer that’s higher than 6 percent alcohol by volume (5 percent alcohol by weight)—just a bit stronger than a Budweiser (which has 5 percent ABV).
“Most craft breweries’ beers start at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume,” Carter says, adding that, out of Beeradvocate.com’s top 100 beers in the world, just four are sold in Alabama (though the number varies because the list changes weekly). “We need to bring Alabama into the twenty-first century.”
To remove the restrictions, the three-year-old organization introduced bills into Alabama’s legislature. They failed in 2006. And 2007. Carter partly blames Birmingham Budweiser, which distributes Anheuser-Busch products, for the bills’ defeat; he claims that Birmingham Budweiser vice president Pat Lynch has lobbied against changing legislation (Gourmet was unable to verify the claim).
In January, Free the Hops escalated its tactics by calling for a ban on products handled by Lynch’s distributorship. Lynch did not respond to calls for comment, but on February 13, Free the Hops revealed that the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association (AWBA) had helped broker a compromise between Lynch and Carter’s organization. The beer concerns are hammering out a bill that would increase the allowable ABV from 6 percent to 13.9 percent—welcoming most craft brews to Alabama.
“Passing this should be a no-brainer,” Carter says optimistically about the bill, which should go before the legislature later this year. “Wholesalers will make scads of money, more tax money will go back to the state—and we’ll finally be able to drink good beer.”