Planet Dogfish

Cheers, readers. We’re fresh off the Cape May-Lewes ferry, but not feeling so fresh after two days of drinking 18% World Wides and 120 Minute IPAs down in the D-to-the-E. These are the beers of Dogfish Head, whose motto “off-centered ales for off-centered people” is apparent nowhere more in its HQ of Milton and the nearby postcard-pretty towns dotted like bracelet beads along Route 9 and Coastal Highway 1.

In Delaware, Dogfish is a way of life. You’ve probably enjoyed their 60 and 90 Minutes IPAs at our local gastropubs—Ugly American still had some of their refreshingly not-too-sweet Punkin Ale left a few weeks ago—and maybe if you’re lucky the mead-like Midas Touch, crafted from a recipe derived from the residues found in the burial chamber of King Midas’s real-life counterpart. But to get the full Dogfish experience, it’s wise to make the trip to the ground-zero, where experimental brews are easy to come by and surplus seasonals hide away on dusty liquor store shelves for those ready to look. At Coastal Liquors, a booze emporium that looked like horse trailer off Highway 1, we nabbed Pangaea, an ale made with water from Antarctica and ingredients from every other continent, as well as some summer-in-a-bottle, Festina Peche, chilled and ready to remind us of the dog days of August.

First, we hit the Dogfish brewery in Milton, a converted cannery where tours are currently Tuesday through Saturday. Guide John took us through the brewing process, little of which we remember as we were still bleary from pounding Punkins and Palo Santos the previous night. Speaking of the Palo Santo Marron—thanks to Meal Ticket’s Felicia for the heads—check the picture of the three wooden storage tanks. The two oak vats on the left are for Dogfish’s Black & Blue, a Belgian strong crafted with blackberries and blueberries, and Red & White, an orange-and-coriander witbier fermented with pinot noir juice. The rightmost one is made of super-heavy, aromatic Palo Santo wood from Paraguay that gives the Palo Santo Marron its distinct vanilla notes. It’s a big boy, dark and rich and caramely, like a Molasses Pop from Steel’s Fudge fermented into an unfiltered 12% Megan Fox of a brown ale that’ll smack you around if you don’t treat her right.

The tour highlight is the tasting session at the end—John explaining that Dogfish exports to three countries, Canada, Mexico and New Jersey, was a close second—with four (generous) draws per customer: the 60, the 90, the current seasonal and a wildcard. You know the virtues of the flowery, bitter-edged IPAs—peep the pic of Sir Hops A Lot, the feeder that continually hops the ales—but you may not have had the Chicory Stout, Dogfish’s winter brew. The dark, delectable stout was all roasted coffee on the nose, with lingering notes of cream and licorice and a shot of St. John’s Wort, a natural anti-depressant that’ll get you through the long, dark winter nights. The World Wide was the real standout, a surprisingly light-bodied stout with a barley backbone and clean, tart finish.

The brewery sells beer to go and we accordingly picked up some Palo, Chicory, Midas and Fort, the 18% framboise-like elixir just released this week. And since we at blogalicious are gluttons for punishment, we proceeded to Dogfish Head brewpub later that night in Rehoboth Beach, where bee lights twinkle from upside-down lifeguard boats and the burgers feature beef from local cows fed by recycled brewing grains.

This is where Dogfish founder and pres Sam Calagione got his start, brewing out of pickle buckets in the backroom of bi-level brewpub. The experimental beers are still made here, in a concrete-floored chamber behind the bar. Aprihop and Midas Touch originated here before going mainstream. Brewer Jason took us on a quick tour after we polished off creamy corn-and-crab chowder, not-as-good-as-it-sounded curried chicken soup and wood-fired pizzas on whole wheat-and-barley crust. See that barrel bubbling away? That’s the as-yet-unnamed beer Dogfish will be premiering at the 2009 Extreme Beer Fest in Boston. Its ingredients read like a Christmas dinner shopping list: green peppercorns, roasted chestnuts, maple syrup to name a few. On the brewing sheet, under “Beer Style” the mystery brew is classified simply as “Awesome.”

Jason also took us upstairs to the one-pot liquor distillery where Dogfish makes its Blue Hen Vodkas, Rum and yes-it’s-spelled-that-way Jin. The bar pours conventional booze as well as the Dogfish spirits, including infusions made with blood orange, vanilla, chocolate, mango and pomegranate, but honestly, beer’s the thing to get here. Woodcut Dogfish logos top the tap pulls, looking like a school of soaring flying fish. They have the Lawnmower and Shelter, Raison D’Etra—whose sweetness, BTW, is infinitely mellower on tap—and the Olde School Barleywine, as well as pretty good nonalcoholic birch beer. Samples appear out of nowhere, especially of the brewpub’s current experimental beer made with star anise and balsam fir tips from Calagione’s home state of Maine. Word is Calagione wanted to call it Suck My Balsam, Lick My Anise, but wife Mariah put the axe. Women. Instead, it’s called Arms Akimbo. The dark, spicy porter is available only at the brewpub, so don’t expect to see in Philly unless it crosses over like those experimentals before it. You can however expect the word “akimbo” to begin appearing in our prose with alarming frequency.

See the rest of our snaps from the trip below.

Photo: blogalicious

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