adventures in craft beer and real food

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Tasting notes: 120 Minute IPA

I couldn't help it.

Compared to its promiscuous 60 and flirty 90 minute sisters, this beer definitely plays hard-to-get. And I may have been distracted by its 20% alcohol content.

At any rate I'm still basking in the afterglow.

The Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA is -- to quote a commercial recently airing in the Madison area -- "unique, one of a kind, and impossible to find anywhere else." And the 20% ethanol content is just the beginning.

Hops were added to it continuously over 120 minutes using Dogfish Head's signature hopping regime whereby a shaker adds hops continuously over the time of the boil. Most beer is boiled for only sixty minutes and may have anywhere from two to five hop additions. The traditional hop addition method results in quantized hop flavors: the sensation of hop bitterness, the hop flavor, and the hop aroma. Dogfish Head's IPAs, hopped continuously, have a beguiling hop character that stands apart from every other beer I've ever tasted. Someone with excellent calculus skills figured out that it adds up to 120 IBUs. Which is insane.

It was also dry hopped every day for a month and then aged on a bed of whole leaf hops for another month. Given the hop shortage, this beer is perhaps somewhere between extravagant and wasteful. But the hops are so expertly employed that they really deliver. If it weren't for the solid use of hops, any beer of this size would be cloying and undrinkable.

The beer has also inspired an internet phenomenon whereby people chug 120 Minute IPA and post videos of it on YouTube. Name one other beer that's gotten that kind of attention. I recommend the one at Should I Drink That? ("even if it's crappy, we drink it so you don't have to"). The video is not necessarily family or work friendly, if that's a concern for you. The guy downs an entire bottle in about three seconds, which I can only assume is unhealthy -- it's only 71 mL of pure ethanol. That's more than four shots of vodka.

The beer also draws righteous indignation from people who gasp at the >$9/12 ounce bottle price tag (I think I paid $12 for it a year ago, but I have seen bottles for as low as $9). As far as I know, Dogfish Head doesn't sell packs of 120 Minute IPA. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not ($9/bottle * 6 bottles/6-pack = $54/6-pack), but aside from price I find that this highlights the uniqueness of the beer.

I'm not sure how they hit 20% alcohol content -- whether they use what could only be described as a "crap load" of malted barley or excessive amounts of adjuncts. At any rate, their yeast must have a high alcohol tolerance. Given the limitations of conventional yeast strains, the ale character of the beer comes through surprisingly cleanly.

When I opened the lime green cap, an intense and rich sweet aroma burst forth that reminded me somewhat of sticking my head in a jar of honey like Winnie the Pooh. There's some roastiness to it, and a slight poppy seed aroma to it as well. And of course there's definitely ethanol, but a lot less than I expected.

It poured in my glass with plenty of carbonation, raising a respectable head (about five millimeters) that lasted as long as there was beer in my glass. The amount of lacing was excellent. This beer is for kissing -- not making out -- and as such is pretty much the ultimate brandy snifter beer, and I would have used more appropriate glassware if I had it. It was initially quite hazy, again like honey, but the haze disappeared as the beer warmed. The beer had a rich reddish-gold color.

The flavor is enormously vivacious. It is complex and surprisingly smooth. The initial taste is surprisingly sweet, and it's only later that you taste the intense bitterness. The flavor mellows into a sourdough-like bread flavor, with biscuit-like highlights. Like the 60 and 90 minute versions, it has a slightly horse blanket maltiness. Given the fact that I aged this bottle for about a year, there's very little distinct hop aroma or flavor. But it does have a very floral flavor. There's an underlying mealy apple flavor, which may not sound appealing but it matches with the malt character perfectly. The ethanol hits the palate with impossible warmth that is something like sweaty middle-of-summer sex.

Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA is seductive and intoxicating. Bring one home, treat it with the respect it deserves, and savor every moment with it. Like the perfect partner, it's perfectly fulfilling in every regard but leaves you thirsty for more.

I couldn't help loving this beer.


xenobiologista said...

sorry but there's something awfully funny about the phrase "signature hopping regime".

xenobiologista said...

oh and it's good to see you blogging again.

Father Spoon said...

It's not as bad as you may think. The reaction at the end is 100% real. It honestly did screw with me but not for very long. I added it at the end because we both thought it was funny and eh why not. Heck the whole video was a jab at those "extreme beer chugs." and those who sent us hate mail didn't realize it was about them.

I had fun making it though!


Ben Hoffman said...

What? $9 per BOTTLE? I'm paying $2.69 for a bottle, here in Elkhart, Indiana...also, would you happen to know why the beer says "ages well"? Does that mean the flavor gets better? Or simply that it doesn't get worse?

Nicholas said...

The more alcohol content a beer has, the better it ages in general. As a high gravity beer, 120 Minute IPA is expected to age well.

The thing with aging is that it's not necessarily that the flavor gets better as it becomes different. Initially, 120 Minute IPA is very hoppy. As time goes on, the hop character diminishes to a kind of floral note. It becomes less brash and more balanced, it sacrifies assertive flavors for complexity.

I hope that helps.