Friday, July 29, 2011

The Chicago Beer Project

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

July 29, 2011

About a month ago I announced that during my last month in Chicago I would be reviewing 20 Chicago Area beers and posting them here.  Well, in retrospect, that was a bit crazy on my part.  Trying to squeeze in extra shifts at work, seeing all the people I wanted to see before moving cross country and all of the business of packing things up left little time for writing.

I still, however, would like to pay homage to my hometown, so I will still be pursuing the Chicago Beer Project, but it will be over a much greater period of time.  I'll sprinkle in Chicago Beer reviews when I can until we get to all 20.  As of this writing, I have notes for 5 or 6 of them, but I'll have to convert those notes into full-fledged reviews.  Expect to see those showing up early next month.

In the meantime, I am working on the details of one more trade to complete The List - I just need to get my hands on a bomber or two of AleSmith's YuleSmith (Summer).  I also plan on recapping the whole experience as I learned a ton about Double IPAs during this project.

For those of you who have been checking back once in a while for updates, I appreciate the patience.  I am currently wandering around Western Colorado (Montrose tonight, Durango tomorrow) before settling into my new home in Boulder in about two weeks.  I will be updating more regularly then.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review #19 - Founders Devil Dancer

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

July 28, 2011

I have to admit, I was a little worried about this one.  During the couple days I scrambled to track down the Dogfish 120 I took my eye off the Devil Dancer ball.  I figured Founders would send a little more Devil Dancer out than Dogfish did the 120 Minute.  It turned out that I was correct but not by much. 

The few places that did carry Founders Devil Dancer sold out quickly, whether it was on tap or by the 4-pack.  I just kept missing it, but I finally called Bad Apple on Lincoln Ave. here in Chicago and while they didn’t have it on tap yet, they said that they were expecting it sometime soon.  The catch was that they didn’t know exactly when it would arrive, when they would tap it or exactly how much they would get.  The only thing they did know was that it would go quickly and I’d have to be there very soon after the tapping.

Of course, while I would love to do nothing but hang out at the Bad Apple and eat their absolutely delicious, gourmet burgers and drink their dozens upon dozens of tasty Midwestern beers, sadly I do not have the time or funds to do so.  So the young lady that informed me over the phone of their Devil Dancer situation also informed me about a website that I am embarrassed to say I did not already know about –

The link above takes you straight to the Chicago site, but beer fans in New York City, Philadelphia, L.A. and San Francisco can also figure out the most up-to-date tap and bottle selections throughout their respective cities.  This is absolutely not an ad, just a heads up to other beer geeks who have somehow managed to keep their heads in the sand as long as I have.  The point I’m making is that it allowed me to track down Founders Devil Dancer and led me to a great liquor store here on the North Side of Chicago. 

After checking for a few days, and finding that I had just missed snagging myself a 4-pack, pint or even just a bottle or two, I finally came across Fischman’s Liquors, a small, but very well stocked liquor store with an outstanding craft selection.  To make the place even better it is attached to a bar, which we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, Carlos, the guy who was in charge the day I called Fischman’s, was kind enough to hold the last 4-pack for me.  So my brother-in-law and I headed down for a midday beer run.  When we arrived, Carlos presented the 4-pack and told us to look around.  I ended up grabbing a bomber of Ruination, a bomber of Great Divide’s Chocolate Yeti Stout and a couple Two Brothers Hop Juice Bombers.  After chatting with Carlos at the register for a bit, he tossed in a big Belgian bottle as well - a Fantastic guy running a fantastic store. 

Of course, we had to peek into the bar next door to see what was on tap and as I ran out to put more money in the meter my brother-in-law made the call to order us two Firestone Double Jack IPAs…20oz. pours for…get this…five dollars.

Yeah, so it was a fun beer day.  Let’s get to the stats on the Devil Dancer now.

ABV: 12%
IBUs: 112
Brewery Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Style: American Double/Imperial India Pale Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: A-/4.01
My Beer Advocate Rating: A/4.33
Current Number of Reviews/Rank in the Top 20 on Beer Advocate: 949/17th
Brewery Description: Founders Devil Dancer   
Bottled On: June 24, 2011

APPEARANCE:  (4 out of 5) Golden copper in color, very typical DIPA look to it, but with a stronger head than expected.  Fluffy and white, the head did vanish rather quickly, but the aroma did not slip away with it.  As I type this and watch the head dissipate I can still smell it.

SMELL:  (5 out of 5)The Devil Dancer possesses a big, strong nose.  The dominant aroma is a resiny pine, but not too far behind that is a very nice toffee aroma with just a hint of toasted malt to it.  The true test of whether or not I truly love the smell of a beer is how long it takes me to actually take a sip after the bottle has been opened.  Well, I have yet to take a sip at this point and my nose has been in the glass five or six times.

TASTE:  (4.5 out of 5) After the last review, the Dogfish Head 120 Minute, I thought I was tasting a truly unique beer.  To be fair, I was, but this now takes the cake, in my opinion as the most creative and different beer on The List.  The nose and my prejudice led me to believe that the Devil Dancer would be some version of a big, sweet, sugary, Hopslam-like DIPA.  This  beer has a bite - a big, bold, hoppy bite.  And as it turns out, Devil Dancer is an ideal name for this beer.  It tastes like the balancing sweetness is actually dancing around your tongue as the sweet, but evil balancing agent that levels out the hop flavors more than enough to help all 12 ounces of this 12%er go down, but without overpowering them at all.  It is easy to tell that this is a 100+ IBU beer from sip one.  The bitterness begins and ends the sip with the sweet, somewhat piney and anise-like flavor (am I nuts or has anyone else experienced anise here?) arriving mid-sip, but staying relegated to the sides of the palate, never quite fully overtaking the bitterness.  As the hoppy bitterness fades with the last of the sip, the toasted malt that the nose hinted at pops up and leaves a pleasant, smoky taste on the tongue.

MOUTHFEEL:  (2 out of 5) My first let down of the beer so far, but I can’t knock Founders too much for making this a tad too sticky for my taste – or feel actually.  The carbonation is actually pretty noticeable on the way down, but the resin left on the tongue and lips is not pleasant.  I think the ideal scenario here would be to pour two beers – a Stone Ruination and a Devil Dancer and trade sips…hmm…I do have both available, maybe sometime soon.

OVERALL:  (4.5 out of 5) I have heard very mixed reviews on this beer, but I still thought I knew what to expect.  Turns out, you should never judge a beer by its label.  Dreadnaught was all over the place, a rollercoaster ride for the palate; Gordon Ale tested the limits of the style, Ruination presented bitterness in a beer as a work of art and Hopslam, Dogfish 120 and Pliny the Elder all provided the excitement of the chase of a difficult beer to obtain.  Founders Devil Dancer has all of those elements.  This was a treat and an unexpected, fun beer experience. 

DRAWBACKS:  I can see why the reviews are mixed on this one.  It is not what many people have come to expect from a DIPA.  That said, it certainly is a DIPA (or maybe a TIPA as Founders says).  It may expand to push on all four walls of the room that contains the definition of a Double IPA, but it never cracks through them.  It is just an unusual version of the style and I can see many people not appreciating that, or at the very least, not being happy to be surprised by their beer.  Also, the mouthfeel thing.  In no way is it a deal breaker for the Devil Dancer, but it seems more like a necessary evil for a beer like this.  Some may actually enjoy that aspect of it though.  Additionally, I haven’t spoken too much about food pairings here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights, primarily because most DIPAs pair with very similar foods, but this would be a tough one to do with many of my favorite DIPA pairings like blue cheese, smoked meats and sharp cheddar.  I’m not real sure any food would pair very well with it.

SOUND:  This one is obvious and became so as soon as I started writing about the taste.  The sensation of having the flavors dance around on my tongue along with the fact that this beer is called Devil Dancer immediately made a song pop into my head – “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead.  The only other beer that paired so perfectly with a certain sound was Avery’s Maharaja.  Honestly, do yourself a favor, especially if you’re a fan of the Dead, and get your hands on a bottle of Devil Dancer and crank up “Friend of the Devil”.  It may be tough to pair this beer with food, but it truly has a perfect musical pairing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review #18 - Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

Posted by: Tyler Rippeteau

July 7, 2011

Prairie Moon comes through once again with the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA!

Yep, after searching high and low, putting my name on waiting lists and even having my roommate who is a chef at Whole Foods get his name on their list I was left with nothing but disappointment the day that Dogfish 120 came out.  It seemed as though there was no hope of finding it and I’d have to rely on my year and a half-old review to complete the The List, but then I wandered into Prairie Moon and Kyle, one of Evanston’s finest bartenders, looked right at me and said “Hey, look what we got.” as he pointed at the specials board. 

Sure enough, in big, chalky letters it said “Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA - $19/bottle”.  $19 was a bit more than I wanted to pay, especially considering that my roommate told me he would get it for $12 at Whole Foods, but what are you gonna do?  I missed my opportunity to buy in the store and the Moon only ended up with eight bottles, five of which were gone by the time I arrived.  This might have been my only chance to get a bottle of this batch.

Coincidentally, eight bottles was the allotment for my roommate’s Whole Foods store as well.  They were apparently promised two cases initially and then the rep showed up with two 4-packs instead, saying he couldn’t even get a bottle for himself (which I find hard to believe, but his point was clear).  That lack of 28 more bottles squeezed me out of the equation at the time.  However, a couple days later, when someone on the waiting list bailed I was able to secure another bottle for $12 which I intend on aging for a year or two.

So that leaves us here at 20 Beers in 20 Nights with just two beers left on the list – Founders Devil Dancer (which I am having an extraordinarily difficult time tracking down now that it has been released) and AleSmith YuleSmith (Summer) (which I am currently attempting to trade for).  If any of you out there have leads on them for me, let me know.

And with that, I think it is finally time to get to the review of Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA:

ABV: 18%
IBUs: 120
Brewery Location: Milton, Delaware
Style: American Double/Imperial India Pale Ale
Average Beer Advocate Rating: B+/3.86
My Beer Advocate Rating: B/3.65
Current Number of Reviews/Rank in the Top 20 on Beer Advocate:
Brewery Description: Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Bottled On: June 24, 2011

APPEARANCE:  (5 out of 5) The Dogfish 120 is an exceptional looking beer, which is somewhat surprising given its enormous ABV.  Most beers this big, even many of the more “normal” Double IPAs that we have already reviewed here on 20 Beers in 20 Nights, lack in the carbonation department.  The instant this beer is poured it becomes clear that that is not the case with the 120 Minute IPA.  Crystal clear in the pour, this beer is also a deep, dark copper with a pretty and fluffy half-inch head resting on top.  The lacing was spectacular, covering a solid 80% of the back side of the glass.  This is a very impressive looking beer. 

SMELL:  (2.5 out of 5) Unfortunately, the surprising look was balanced out by a surprisingly disappointing nose.  Just a hint of floral aroma was present as the beer was poured, but that seemed to vanish once the head finally receded.  This was a stark contrast to the bottle that I had in early 2010, which was rich with a whole array of aromas. 

TASTE:  (4 out of 5) This is an amazingly sweet beer.  As my bartender Kyle put it when he tried a sip “it tastes a little like a dessert wine mixed with coffee.”  He was right, the dessert wine flavors all came from the banana, apple, pine and dark fruit tastes along with a lot of sugar.  The coffee was far more subtle, but it lingered a bit on the back end providing some balance to what would have otherwise been far too sweet of a beer.  The 120 Minute is also a bit boozy, but by no means over the top, even at 18% ABV.

MOUTHFEEL: (3 out of 5) Sticky and smooth are the first two words that come to mind.  As I mentioned above, the carbonation is visible, but when it comes to the mouthfeel it is not as noticeable.  The sweet, mouthcoating stickiness is the most dominant feel here.

OVERALL:  (4 out of 5) For an 18%er this is a solidly drinkable beer.  That said, one is pretty much enough, or half of one.  I wanted to drink close to the full bottle for the purposes of this review, but the next bottle I have will probably be split with the woman as an after dinner drink.  By the end of the bottle, the sweetness is a little too much.  The Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, however, is certainly a unique beer.  It stands out as one of the more memorable beers from The List and I do look forward to tasting the cellared bottle next year sometime.

DRAWBACKS:  There is no need to get too involved in the drawbacks here, it is probably clear to anyone reading this that the sweetness was my biggest issue with the Dogfish 120.  I tend to enjoy dryer tasting drinks and in both the taste and the feel department the sweetness was too much.  Of the three beers that Dogfish Head managed to get on this list I still have to go with Burton Baton as my favorite.  In the end, though, uniqueness earns it a 4 out of 5 overall.