In the faith of craft breweries, Dogfish Head has always served as my Vatican, my authority on beers. No brewery seems to know beer quite like Dogfish Head. Sure, Stone has earned its arrogant reputation with its high quality brews. Rogue deserves props for the care that goes into growing all of their ingredients at the Rogue Farm. And Sierra Nevada owns hops like no other brewery. But no brewery goes as far into the study of the history of brewing beer as Dogfish Head. A sampling of their Ancient Ales line is like a walk through the relics underneath the Vatican. The knowledge gained from studying brewing techniques dating back 7,000 years only informs their creativity today. I had to make a pilgrimage.
Unfortunately, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware has no reason to be in my travel plans for work or for pleasure. By chance, I was recently in the DC Metro area and was scouring for good beer restaurants on the BeerWhere app. I almost fell off the toilet when I read that a Dogfish Head Alehouse was around the corner from my hotel. If you can’t make the Vatican, I guess Notre Dame ain’t bad. My dinner plans were set.
While I looked over the gastro pub’s menu of amped up pub fare with most items cooked on a wood-fired grill, I ordered a limited release Ancient Ale. Kvasir is based on a Nordic grog recipe extracted by Dr. Patrick McGovern from a 3,500‐year‐old Danish drinking vessel (Check out the video for the crazy details of this brews creation). Dr. McGovern’s molecular analysis traced out a recipe of wheat, lingonberries, cranberries, myrica gale, yarrow, clover, honey, and birch syrup. I ordered a half as the brew was steep coming in at 10% ABV. The beer reminded me very much of a sour but with more balance than most sours are accustomed to from the herbs, honey, and birch syrup.
For dinner, I was drawn to the burger selection, all of which are cooked on the wood grill and served with buns toasted on the wood grill. I ordered mine with Portobello and gorgonzola and washed it down with a Black and Tan made from 90 Minute IPA and Chicory Stout (something I wouldn’t find elsewhere). The burger didn’t disappoint. The flavor was big just like any Dogfish Head brew. The initial crunch brings in smoke from the bun and the burger lending a certain outdoorsy quality. The cooked-to-order burger was then enveloped with the juicy Portobello and creamy, melted gorgonzola. The flavors were so bold and the burger so moist that no condiments were necessary.
The Black and Tan was a perfect match for the burger with its abundance of flavors. At first, the palette is washed with the earthy chicory and coffee flavor of the stout and then followed by some spice. The end is all hops, baby, leaving a clean finish begging for another sip. My pour was a bit too heavy on the 90 Minute though. I’m not sure if that was by design, but the balance of the Black and Tan was lost for the last quarter of the pint. Either way, I’ll never have a regular Black and Tan again.
For dessert, I ordered Bitches Brew from Dogfish Head’s Music Series. The brew itself was inspired by the music and life of Miles Davis. In a short web clip, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione sites Miles’ philosophy on music as his own for brewing beer. “Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.” This beer follows that philosophy and is not something you will find cloned by another brewer.
The ale is brewed from three threads of imperial stout and one thread of honey beer based on an African recipe. At first sip, I wasn’t impressed. The brew seemed rather mild for an imperial with an almost astringent finish ending much like a sour. The more I drank though, the more it resembled an imperial stout with sweet undertones from the honey beer.
If you find yourself in the DC metro area, check out one of three Dogfish Head Alehouses in Gaithersburg, Fairfax, or Falls Church. You won’t be disappointed. But remember to bring your credit card as Dogfish Head is mighty proud of its beers with some hefty prices given the fact you are buying directly from the holy grail.
What brewery do you have to make a pilgrimage to in your lifetime?