Dogfish Head salutes the Dead
These days, everyone makes an IPA. Dogfish Head, in Milton, Del., makes two particularly good ones. Their 60-minute and 90-minute IPAs are exemplary of the range that can be achieved within the popular style.
As part of its occasional music-inspired offerings, Dogfish Head recently released American Beauty, an imperial IPA brewed in tribute to the Grateful Dead.
“There was something different about a Grateful Dead show,” the bottle reads. “Whether you saw one or 100, you felt it, but you knew it wouldn’t last forever. If only you could have bottled it . . .”
Dogfish solicited some 1,500 suggestions for American Beauty. Among them, the top ingredient suggested was organic granola, a “sweet and toasty complement to the barley and all-American hops.” The band’s members — some of whom still tour despite the death of leader Jerry Garcia in 1995 — suggested the base beer, a double-IPA of 9 percent ABV and around 55 international bitterness units. After sorting through many illicit suggestions, the granola was chosen as a write-in ingredient.
The beer pours an orange-amber with a thick white head. The aroma is sweeter and more subtle than your hoppiest IPAs. With the first sip you realize this is not an aggressive beer; it’s mellow like the music it was created in tribute to. When the hops do come in, they’re more piney than floral, more like something you might grow under a lamp in your closet than fresh grapefruit. Despite carrying that kind of heft, American Beauty is incredibly easy to drink. The alcohol content is hidden well. Despite the lack of aromatics, this beer is the perfect treat before any concert.
Smuttynose riff off Scotch ale tradition
Just up the road in the underrated beer town of Portsmouth, N.H., Smuttynose Brewing Co. churns out some of the highest-quality beers in New England. You’ve likely heard of Old Brown Dog and Shoals Pale Ale, two year-round offerings, but the brewery also frequently releases specialty brews in its Big Beer Series. One of those, Scotch Ale, is a good introduction to a style that flies below the radar.
Smuttynose Scotch Ale was one of the four original Big Beer Series brews going back to 1998. It’s one of 15 beers that rotate in and out of the series today.
“They’re sort of a funny style,” says JT Thompson, the brewery’s minister of propaganda (that’s his real title). “They’re maybe not the most dynamic beer style in the world.”
They’re not the easiest style to define, either. Scotch ales, which are top-fermented, vary in strength. For a while, American brewers took to adding peated malt to them, but there’s no evidence to suggest Scotch ales were smokier than any others. The use of peated malt stuck more for its reminiscence of the country and its Scotch whiskey than because a recipe called for it. Flowers and herbs — heather in particular — featured prominently in these beers before the introduction of hops from England in the 19th century. Today’s Scotch ales are malt-forward, with hops continuing to take a back seat.
Smuttynose riffs off this varied tradition. Instead of peat-smoked malt, the beer is brewed with malt smoked on German beech wood. It’s a malty beer of 8.2 percent alcohol by volume and only 28 international bitterness units (IBUs). As another twist, 30 barrels of this beer were put into red wine barrels for around six months, then blended with the remaining 170 barrels to make the final product.
Poured into a tulip glass, the beer appears ruby red with a compact head. Nothing stands out in the aroma, just the nice, restrained smell of baked bread and brown sugar.
According to the brewery, the use of beech wood-smoked malt “fits nicely as a complement of the beer’s rich toffee-like malt character, rather than overshadowing it.” That hint of beech wood-smoked malt really is just a whisper, and it’s delicious. Toffee and dark fruit notes blend seamlessly, masking the relatively high ABV. This is not as assertive as some Scotch ales, but it’s beautifully balanced. I wish I had another bottle.