Does Dogfish Head have the Midas Touch?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to brewing beer. One is traditional, follows the rules, and generally strives to make a beer distinctive through excellence. The other school is anarchy. These brewers are more than willing to toss anything into the vat, rules be damned, and just see what happens -- hoping the result is unique, above all. I'm of the old school, even though I have been known to partake of an occasional experiment if it comes out right. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery is the reigning King of the heretical sect.
His Midas Touch Ancient Ale is either not really a beer at all, or it's one of the original recipes. In either case, it's like no other beer around. The story goes (and at Dogfish Head there is always a back story) that a drinking vessel from the tomb of King Midas was excavated and the residue from the evaporated liquid it contained was analyzed. They found barley, honey, grapes and saffron. Just add water and ferment, and it would be something vaguely akin to modern day beer.
If Calagione's version is anywhere close to the real thing, those ancient Turks must have liked their beer the way they reputedly liked their women -- strong, sweet and smelly.
Midas Touch looks like a great beer. Just a bit of haze in a perfectly golden brew, with a proper two finger head on top. The aroma is different, though. If ancient had its own distinct aroma, this would be close. It smells like the tomb itself probably did when it was first opened; honey, wine, saffron, allspice and maybe some dirt for good measure. I have to admit, the smell didn't exactly make me want to taste it; bury it, maybe.
But, it wasn't awful. The 9% alcohol is evident from the start. All warm and spicy, but it stays smooth all the way down. The grapes make it taste as if you accidentally topped off your beer with the wine being passed around. The honey tries to even everything out, but stands out itself a bit too much. The overall effect is a hodgepodge of flavors, not all of them welcome, that are never brought into balance.
Midas Touch is more of a freakshow of a beer than one you'd want to visit often. Once you've seen spider-baby once, that's usually enough. So it is with this beer. It's interesting in a way, especially if you like the story behind it, but it won't do everyday. You probably won't want it to get in the way of any dinner, either. You'll only be able to put up with a couple in a row, at most. Anything more becomes obnoxious. The sticky sweetness will wear on you even quicker than the alcohol will. These are best brought as a gift for a beer-geek friend . Tell him the story, knock one back with him, then move on to something better.
Dogfish Head is all about extreme beer. Midas Touch is a perfect example of that. They don't try to appeal to the masses. They hardly ever advertise. They generally brew very decent beer, but almost always with a twist, or two. Or three. For the most part, they want to do odd-flavored or over-hopped, almost gimmicky concoctions instead of the tried and true. Too much is never enough with this lot. It's more like a kid playing at brewing beer than an old monk painstakingly following a recipe passed down for generations. Extreme beers are fine every now and then when you feel a bit adventurous. But, when it comes down to it, day after day, I want simple excellence. I want the monk's honest and complex beer that silently screams quality, rather than the freakshow version, which just screams that they have something I've never seen before.