Given the opportunity to write about craft beer every month in Decibel has been eye-opening. The idea that our "Brewtal Truth" column would have lasted more than four years (and counting) and even spawn a book—The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, out in November—is pretty amazing. Now it's time to bring a little "Brewtal Truth" to the Deciblog. Each week we're featuring a different craft beer that you should drink now. These aren't so much reviews as recommendations. We won't post anything here that we haven't happily poured down our own gullet. There'll be a new one every week at noon Eastern time, a little something to get you thinking about your imbibing options for the weekend. OK, the hop fixation of the last several weeks' posts is officially over. For now. We move on to what is being marketed by those beer-style shunners at Dogfish Head as a "continually hopped India Pale Ale brewed with Syrah grape must." Which in layman's terms is basically a beer/wine hybrid, something that Dogfish Head has become more and more enamored with since it introduced the concept with brews like Midas Touch and Raison D'etre. This "style" (we use the term loosely, because it's not really a style) isn't so much about pleasing both wine and beer drinkers as it is an opportunity for a brewer to see what kind of flavors he/she can introduce. Dogfish Head prez and founder Sam Calagione apparently came across the idea for Sixty-One after pouring a splash of red wine in his pint of 60 Minute IPA at a get-together with friends. It's now part of the brewery's year-round lineup.
SIXTY-ONE IPA? Dogfish Head Rehoboth Beach, DE 6.5% ABV
If this is indeed an IPA (and we contest that on a number of different fronts) it's the reddest IPA we've ever seen. It's like French rosé red. Only with carbonation. And the smell? Well, tons of fruity wine notes, with a hint of malt and a little sprinkling of hop sauce in there, too. Someone could pretty easily wave this under our nose if we were blindfolded and convince us it's a sparkling wine. Without trying to sound like a pompous wine nerd, it has aromas of ripe berries and plums. It in no way smells anything like an IPA of any description. Which is our first point of contention regarding this beer's IPAness. Actually make that two points: since when are pale ale's red?
If there's enough syrah grape must to turn this pale ale red and overcome all typical beer aromas, especially from a beer that's been "continually hopped," you can bet that it'll be present in the taste. And it is. In a very unexpected and goddamn excellent way. First of all, this is a very dry beer. There is little in the way of residual sweetness which is likely the result of a yeast strain that takes its job of gobbling sugar seriously. This is a good thing, as it prevents this from tasting like a wine cooler. But that is also another point we use against in denying it tr00 IPA status.
A lot of the fruit notes detected on the nose are definitely there on the palate as well. Again, the grape flavors dominate, but they arrive quite innocently, do a little dance across the tongue and then get swished away by perhaps the lone characteristic of this beer that's beer-like: a nice bitter hop bite. So, the end result is a tart, dry, refreshing and pleasantly bitter malt beverage. Not an IPA. Still, we could drink plenty of these, especially on a warm, sunny day. Calagione could easily make a whole line of these brews featuring different kinds of grape must and hop varieties. How about Mosaic and Viognier, or Sorachi Ace and Pinot Blanc? DFH has the blueprint dialed in. They just need to drop the "IPA."