Dogfish Head “Sahtea” (Delaware) – Ale with juniper berries and black chai. And I drink it full of amusement at the number of times I’m asked, rather out of the blue while browsing any craft beer aisle, what I think of Dogfish Head. Because this pretty much encapsulates my answer: they can be extraordinary, they can be awful, I love the iconoclasm, but I’m not sure a good portion of what they make is actually beer. (Except, of course, in the most basic form of the definition: the base alcohol on which the product is built.) That is to say: some of what I like…and hate…is based on the premise that I, the consumer, don’t actually want one of the many variations on beer, but that I want whatever the thing is that Dogfish Head has bottled. In this, I think it’s like a chinato or a vermouth from the wine world…yes: wine, technically, and yet not “wine” as a drinker would conceive of it when choosing between it and another beverage.
So this is chai, first and foremost, with a little bit of beery froth. I’m not the juniper berries add an obviously separable character, but on the other hand their high-toned, patently gin-like treble does make itself gently but persistently known…though without knowing the source, the sensation (rather than the actual aroma) is not entirely unlike that of slightly oversteeped tea. This is really excellent, but “beer” it is pretty much not. That’s OK, though.
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale (Delware) – One of my favorite pumpkin ales, though a little of such brews goes a long way, and I’m glad it’s a purely seasonal dalliance. Most lean rather heavily and overtly on lush stews of baking spices, and while I can appreciate those if done with “restraint” (the term barely applies to these lavish displays of additive brewology), this is something a little purer: it really does taste of both pumpkin and beer, melded and confident, with the minor vegetal bitterness of the former and the grain of the latter. (9/11)