(This review is part of a crossover with my friends over at GastronAmigos! Click here for Will’s take!)
Though I do, from time to time, partake of alcohol, I’ve never really been a beer drinker. I attribute this mainly to an experience I had as a toddler; one of my dad’s friends decided it’d be funny to give the little kid Budweiser, and I’ve yet to get the appalling taste out of my mouth.
While spicy-sweet is most definitely my favorite flavor combination, I’d have to say that sour-bitter is probably my most hated. And since, for a very long time, most commercially available beers fell under that banner, I avoided them with an intense fervor. However, as of late, I’ve become more and more curious about the modern beer landscape. Why? A couple of reasons come to mind:
First, I’m preparing myself for an upcoming review, where sampling the beer is a totally non-negotiable part of the experience. Since I know damn near nothing on the subject, I figure that I’d better educate myself quickly.
Second, since the craft beer/microbrew scene hit in the mid 90s, there’s been a major upheaval in the way the public perceives beer. Though the run-of-the-mill, commercially available swill such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Keystone Light still exists (and is bafflingly popular), there are a host of better options out there. The Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams, were the arguable leaders of this cultural shift, and as a result are now the largest American-owned brewery. Sharing their innovative spirit and passion for beer is Dogfish Head, based in Delaware. Both are noted for the…inventive…approach they have to brewing, often resulting in very unique concoctions.
For this review, we’ve chosen two brews that are in no way your average beers: Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch and Samuel Adams’ Thirteenth Hour.
Midas Touch is the first beer in Dogfish Head’s “Ancient Ales” series. As the story goes, the brewery was contacted by an archaeochemist from the University of Pennsylvania to recreate a beverage based on residues left on pottery from the real King Midas’ tomb. Made from barley, honey, muscat grapes, and saffron, they boast that it’s “somewhere between wine and mead”, and will “please the chardonnay and the beer drinker alike”.
Being a big fan of both white wines (especially those made with muscat grapes) and mead, I was really excited to try this beer, and in fact, spent over a year trying to source it in this area. With the exception of the IPAs that they’re famous for, it’s actually really hard to find Dogfish Head’s stuff around here. I ended up stumbling across it randomly at Wegmans, and scooped up a 4-pack before it disappeared again.
Pouring it into the glass, it’s hard not to notice the bright golden color. The beer also has a thick head, which never really dissipates fully. As a beer novice, the only aroma I could detect was a general “beer” smell. This caused my initial enthusiasm to fade a bit, but ultimately I decided to try it anyway.
The reason I chose a non-hopped beer was based mainly on the assumption that it was the hops that caused me not to like the beers I’d had previously. This turned out to not be the case; I now know that it is the barley that turns me off. Especially if/when the beer is ice-cold, the sourness of the barley is right up front, obscuring the lovely sweet flavors that I was anticipating. If given a chance to warm up, however, the flavors of grape and honey become more pronounced, and the beer becomes more enjoyable. It actually took a few bottles of this stuff for it to grow on me, and I was initially very disappointed in it for not being anything like I expected (I think my initial reaction was “It tastes like beer! It lied to me!).
By comparison, it’s ridiculously easy to find most of Sam Adams’ more unique brews around here. In fact, I’ve spotted this one at the tiny grocery around the corner from me. The first beer that I ever really enjoyed was a schwarzbier, and I’ve since learned that I do tend to favor the darker beers. Thirteenth Hour, however, is not your average stout. Part of Sam Adams’ “Barrel Room Collection”, it’s a blend of two different beers. One is a “Belgian stout” made from seven different malts; the other is a Belgian brew they call “Kosmic Mother Funk”, an integral part of all four beers in the Barrel Room Collection. Kosmic Mother Funk is aged for a over a year in large oak tuns, then blended with the other beer and “bottle conditioned”, for three fermentations in all. Thirteen ingredients give Thirteenth Hour its name–seven malts, two different yeasts, two different brewing sugars, Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble hops, and the Kosmic Mother Funk.
I think Will’s comment when he poured it was “Yep, looks like a stout”. By that, he meant that it was deep and dark, with a huge, cappuccino-colored head. The head did start to dissipate rather quickly, though. Although it took a bit for me to detect anything other than “beer” in the nose again, I was eventually able to pick up a faint roasted smell. True to expectations, there was a definite roasted quality to it, with tons of coffee in the front end. The finish was much brighter, sour, even. After a few sips, I began to pick up on the sweetness and fruit flavors in the brew. All in all, I liked this one a lot, and this will be a definite purchase in the future.
So am I a beer convert? Not really, though I do plan on trying more varieties of brews. For now, however, I’ll stick to my hard ciders, spirits, and sweet white wines to slake my alcoholic cravings. I am, however, planning on sampling Dogfish Head’s Tweason’Ale next time I’m out somewhere that has it on tap. Their first Gluten Free offering, it’s made with sorghum, strawberries, and honey, and promises to at least be something interesting.