Dogfish Head 60/90 Minute IPAs: Hops done right
I should start out by saying I'm not normally a big fan of all those over hopped "extreme" beers that have become all the rage lately. I think people claim to love them in a sort of macho, "I'm drinking the beeriest of beers" fashion that borders -- and often goes beyond -- pure snobbery. They're like chicken wings. Certain people search out and are proud to eat the ones that are napalm-sauced hot with complete disregard for flavor and enjoyment. I definitely love spicy wings, and there are times when I want a beer that leans heavier on the hops to keep it bitter, crisp and dry. But, too much is often way too much.
Then there's Dogfish Head. Like several things in my life lately, I have held a bit of an irrational personal prejudice against them only to find, try as I might, I actually like them. Dogfish Head brews 60-minute, 90-minute and now even 120-minute IPAs that are much better than my cynical imagination would have preferred them to be. They aren't interchangeable, exactly. As a rule of thumb, if you're having several stick to the 60 (right), have the 90 (below) with a meal, and try the 120 if you are adventurous and like the other two. The 120 is over the top by anyone's definition. It has something like 20% alcohol and 120 IBUs -- an acquired taste to be sure, if anybody in their right mind would want to acquire such a taste. I'll just consider the 60 and 90 here.
They both have an abundance of hops. If you don't like hops at all, you won't like either of these beers. They don't pretend to be balanced, but neither are among those tongue pounding, absurd hop-monsters that are more punishing than enjoyable. Both beers are hazy. I'm more inclined to think it's hops floating around in them rather than the usual yeast, though. They both tend towards the orange side of golden. The 90 minute has a creamier head, but both hold considerable lacing. The hops fill both beers with piney, citrus (especially grapefruit), and floral aromas and tastes, with a dollop of raisins and bread in the 90-minute. That one also has a creamy sweetness that smooths out some of the rough edges, and all the alcohol in it gives it a warm finish as opposed to the lip-smacking, dry bitterness of the 60. The 60 minute has 6% alcohol, while the 90 packs 9%. Plan accordingly.
I was lucky enough to sample the 90-minute hooked up to a device called the Randall. As if the hops the beer naturally comes with is not quite enough, this set-up holds a batch of fresh hops that the beer is pulled through on the way from the tap to the glass. This infusion gives it a fresh, grassy, herbal hop taste rather than just increasing the bitter flavor that is already there. If you have the opportunity, this is the best way to sample the beer. Both 60 and 90 tend to be a little more harsh from a bottle than they are from a tap.
Those hot wings are the best accompaniment for the 60 minute, but if you're having a real meal, go with the 90. It pairs up well with most manly foods -- anything spicy, grilled or barbecued. Stay away from tame flavors or either of these beers will just trample all over them.
Dogfish Head shows that the over-hopped science experiments many of the breweries are passing off to the extreme hop-heads are misguided and wrong. It is possible to make a beer with plenty of hop taste and remain enjoyably drinkable and tasty. Stay away from all the pretenders that just want to impress you with the all the IBUs they can cram into a bottle, flavor be damned. In these two ales, Dogfish Head supplies all the IBUs anybody could want, and still manages to make it taste good.