Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale: Making Delaware Relevant Since 1999

There are two big breweries within a couple miles of my house—the headquarters of both Harpoon and the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)—but I've never been on the official tour at either place. That's stupid. I like brewery tours, and I've been to a bunch of smaller, less convenient places; I've also been to the very large and monumentally inconvenient Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del.

Ever been to Delaware? It's nice. Coming from my direction, you get to drive through all 15 light years of the New Jersey Turnpike before being mercifully disgorged into the state that's given us Joe Biden, Judge Reinhold, and one of the most prominent and important breweries on the East Coast. Delaware also has some nice beaches—and many opportunities to buy corn and/or guns on the side of the road—but let's talk mostly about beer from here on out.

Dogfish Head is best known for its Minute-marked line of IPAs: 60, 61, 75, 90, and the absurd 120. Generally speaking, they get boozier, hoppier, and pricier as the number rises, with a couple of detours to pick up grapes and maple syrup along the way. I like all of these beers. My favorite might be the 61 Minute, which is 60 spiked with Syrah grape must. I'm a big defender of 90 Minute in an era when newer, louder double IPAs are getting all the attention. I actually kinda crapped on 60 Minute a couple months ago, but what are you gonna do? Overall, I like Dogfish Head IPAs and especially their Burton Baton, an oak-aged hybrid of English old ale and double IPA. Red and White, their huge 10-percent-ABV spiced Belgian wit, is really good, too, if a bit pricey for its class.

In addition to kickass IPAs, Dogfish is known for their weird, quasi-historical beers and the cult of personality that's sprung up around founder Sam Calagione. I've never met the man; I love his beer and have no reason to doubt his character. But our tour guide, a jacked and affable stoner named Duane, mentioned Calagione approximately every seven seconds. I imagine you hear less about Jesus on the Vatican tour. It was a little spooky.

Those are the reasons Dogfish Head is famous, and this is the reason Dogfish Head is a national treasure: Their Indian Brown Ale is a goddamn miracle. They describe it as a cross between an India pale ale, a Scotch ale, and an American brown ale; let's call it a brown (even though it's basically black).

The 7.2-percent-ABV Indian Brown smells like coffee and raisins, without a heavy hop presence in an aroma dominated by the roasted malt. It's quite effervescent, and tastes lighter than one might expect, with an approachable entry and a thin mouthfeel. (I promise I will never type "mouthfeel" again.) The caramelized sugar isn't as sweet as it sounds, adding a welcome dark-molasses edge. There's a slight suggestion of oxidized wine that helps balance the sweet malt in the beginning, before the hops kick in mid-gulp. And once the distinctively minty-herbal hops show up, they move in for good. That's the miraculous part. This beer is a multi-dimensional shape-shifter in a brown ale's clothing, and it's all the reason we need to keep Delaware in the union.


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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.

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