Dogfish Head brewery is the brainchild of Sam Calagione, known among enthusiasts as an easy-going, Willy Wonka type, because (1) he really is easy going, and (2) every beer he makes has a story, at least one wacky ingredient and/or an unusual method of production. Take, for instance, Verdi Verdi Good, sold on draft in 2005. The damn thing was green. Green. Not from artificial coloring, but from spirulina, a blue-green algae worked into the brewing process.
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The wackiness — that’s the Dogfish Hallmark. “Off-centered ales for off-centered people”, they say. Though they weren’t the first to get into the modern craft-brew game (that distinction belongs to Anchor Brewing, which, in 1965, was the only craft brewery in the United States), they helped pave the way for the modern craft-brew revolution. Founded in 1995, the brewery quickly made a name for itself by exploring the entire culinary landscape to choose their ingredients — be they pickles, bacon, oyster or wort caramelized over hot rocks. Their raison d’etre (both the French phrase and the Dogfish beer of the same name) is a slap in the face to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot, a purity law from 1516 that says that beer can only contain water, barley and hops.
Though Dogfish Head currently produces 33 beers, 65 percent of their sales come from their five “continuously hopped” IPAs — and it’s reasonable to estimate that a large portion of that comes from two of the five, the 60 Minute and the 90 Minute.
There’s only one way to drink a line of anything, and that’s one after the other, in small quantities; then, once you finish the business, you come back to the favorites and get properly pissed.
If you live in — ready? — AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, NC, NH, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TX, VA, VT, or WA, you’ve probably seen Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA chilling out on the shelves of at least one local liquor store or gas station. It currently holds a “world class” rating of 95 on Beeradvocate.com; Esquire called it “perhaps the best IPA in America”. Sam first brewed it in 2001, when, as the story goes, he was watching a cooking show where the chef talked about the benefits of adding tiny pinches of pepper to a recipe throughout the entire simmering process instead of dumping it all in at once. What if I do that with hops? he thought. So he went to the Salvation Army (“where I buy my flannel shirts”), bought a vibrating football game, drilled a hole in a plastic bucket, and used two-by-fours to set the whole thing up over a kettle. As the game vibrated, the hops dropped through the hole in the bucket and into the kettle. And so the continuous hopping process was born.
Although it didn’t catch on overnight (distributors in Connecticut and Virginia sent it back), the 90 Minute IPA was popular enough for Sam to try a variation. Instead of adding the hops over a 90-minute period (hence the name), Sam tried adding them over 60 minutes. The experiment gave rise to the 60 Minute IPA. Interestingly enough, in addition to being named for their hopping process, the 60 contains 6.0 percent ABV and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), while the 90 contains 9.0 percent ABV and 90 IBUs.
Two months after the release of the 60 Minute, Dogfish Head released the 120 Minute IPA. Clocking in at between 15 and 20 percent ABV, it still holds claim as the strongest IPA in the world. Almost a decade after the 120 they released the 75 Minute IPA, and, a year later in March of 2013, rounded out the line with the Sixty-One Minute IPA, spelled out to differentiate it from the other selections — it’s not continually hopped for 61 minutes, but a combination of the 60 Minute IPA plus one ingredient: Syrah grape must.
There’s only one way to drink a line of anything, and that’s one after the other, in small quantities; then, once you finish the business, you come back to the favorites and get properly pissed. We started with the 60 Minute, which poured a clear amber with an off-white head. Color-wise, it matched the mental image of “the perfect IPA”, though we found the nose — which contained notes of pine and citrus — a bit muted. The flavor, though, came through big, with tropical fruit supported by a bready, malty backbone and a hoppy, bitter aftertaste. It’s highly carbonated, the benchmark summer beer, and, I personally contend, the hallmark East Coast IPA, which prioritizes malt backbone just as much as a hoppy knockout.
Then, the Sixty-One. It hurts saying this, because we respect Sam and know it’s his favorite, but: we hated the Sixty-One. It smelled sour, almost rank, and possessed an awkward grape flavor. It’s a cool idea, but why take the 60 Minute — of which beer enthusiasts wax poetic — and add another dominating flavor? The sense in the office was that the Syrah must might work better in a kolsch, which has an almost white wine dryness.
With the 75 Minute, Dogfish Head blends the 60 Minute, the 90 Minute and maple syrup (from the Calagione Family Farm) and then dry hops the mixture with whole-leaf Cascades. The 75 Minute’s weird child status was cemented by a strange turn of events involving its packaging: internally referred to as “Johnny Cask,” this beer’s label once featured Johnny Cash tapping a keg, but for legal reasons designers covered him with bushy eyebrows, glasses, a red nose and a mustache. Luckily, the internet keeps the old version floating around. It pours like a cloudier, thicker version of the 60, and smells like a mix between the 60 and 90: citrus and caramel malt. The addition of maple syrup mellows the hops, and makes this the sweetest of the five. While drinking, it’s easy to forget that this is an IPA.
The 90 is such a perfect amber that one wouldn’t be surprised to see a prehistoric bug floating in it. On the nose, there are hints of caramel and graham cracker — none of the florals or citrus from the 60 Minute. In the 90 Minute, we could actually taste a little bit of alcohol, along with brown sugar and malt, like drinking a baked good. The alcoholic warmth, combined with the biscuity sweetness, make this an excellent winter beer.
Like them or hate them, the Minute IPAs epitomize innovation in craft brewing.
The big bad 120 Minute IPA, which clocks in at between 15 and 20 percent ABV, is the darkest of the five, and the heaviest. Though it numbs the lips, the alcohol heat is well masked. It’s not an everyday beer — even Sam admits that he only drinks the 120 Minute two or three times a year, for celebratory reasons — but as a treat, or an experiment in pushing the outer limits of craft brewing, it’s fantastic.
Like them or hate them, the Minute IPAs epitomize innovation in craft brewing. Even the individual who can’t enjoy the line should be able to appreciate it. Continual hopping? Dogfish invented the process. Different takes on the same style? That’s what the Minute IPAs are about. An incredible range of flavors that result from wonky ingredient combinations? A little gimmicky, but more than a little delicious. How could you not respect that?
“Which one’s your favorite?” I asked Sam when we spoke.
“You know how parents love all their children, but like hanging out with some more than others?”
I had no idea. “Uh, yeah”, I said. “Sure.”
“It’s like that. I want to hang out with the Sixty-One all the time, then 60, and then the 75 and 90 are tied, and the 120. What’s your favorite?”