4. Dogfish Head, Milton, Delaware
Production: approx 35,000 barrels
Extreme. Fire up the frickin taste buds, because these guys are doing some funky, bold beers. Using such ingredients as fresh oysters, arctic cloudberries, green raisins, st johns wort, and beet sugar, they’re off to the races..and running like mad greyhounds. Sound interesting? How bout their Malt de Liquor; a bottle-conditioned malt liquor served in its very own brown paper bag. Now that’s street-swilling in style.
They seem to be everywhere in the media at the moment, their classic fish-shaped icon appearing so much you’d think you’d popped your head in the aquarium, and they deserve to be. The American Homebrewer’s Association has picked their 90-Minute Pale Ale as their top-voted beer two years in a row (and who ain’t gonna listen to the legions of home chemist/hop geeks/brew monks/flavor-craving-crowd of die-hards when they sound their collective horn). Like all the other brewers in my top 5 list, founder Sam Calagione is passionate. But his passion lies in pushing the limits of imagination and what’s possible to capture in liquid form.
I got it in my craw to make a Pumpkin Ale a couple of months back (“Praise the Gourd”), and did a lot of reading and tasting to get familiar with what’s out there. I found a number of approaches to this style, some over-spiced messes that wiped the spit off your tongue, and many in which no pumpkin could even be detected. I wanted pumpkin… and was happy when I got a solid backbone of gourdy goodness in my final beer (I baked fresh pumpkin sprinkled with brown sugar until caramelized and placed in a hop sack during the boil as opposed to with the malt extracts–believe it or not, a much-debated question of timing in the homebrew community).
Of all those I tasted during my ride down gourd lane however, I most dug the Dogfish Punkin Ale. It was hearty, well-spiced and evocative of children wearing spit-filled rubber masks greedily running from door to door through the brisk Colorado air. It brought me back to my childhood and the details you remember: A chill in the air. Strange cutouts of witch silhouettes in the windows. Yards filled with thick spider webs capable of swallowing children whole. I think you get the picture… That power was what hooked me to Dogfish. That “style”, and how it took you on a ride. Their beers are rich and full of depth like dark Syrahs from the Northern Rhone–embodied with soul.
Favorite brews: 90 minute pale ale, Punkin Ale, Raison d’ Etre