Last week was the August episode of the homebrew club meeting and since I didn’t have any homebrew to pass around, I picked up a bomber of Dogfish Head Squall IPA on a whim knowing full well that DFH’s reputation and this beer should make for some good conversation at the meeting while sample glasses of it were poured and tasted. Almost to a man, the majority of comments were in the superlative. Even I thought that the one ounce that I sampled was significant enough to warrant a beer review for SPT and a thousand words or so. Squall was my purchase goal.
I walked through the door and beelined it right to the DFH section of the craft beer shelf. There they were, the last seven bottles of Squall, neatly lined up, ready for plucking. I grabbed two bombers and had a mental struggle.
DFH’s beers are, for the most part, exceptionally good, but the prices reflect that quality to a penny. Each one of these bombers (1 pint 9.4 fl.oz., or 25.4 ounces) is tagged at $11.99, Illinois dollars. If you take the blue collar route, that equates to $24 dollars for 50.8 ounces of beer (or about 4 1/4 12-ounces glassfuls.) That’s almost 6 bucks a beer! The things we do for love.
But then there were the raves at the homebrew club meeting, my own personal memory of those few sample sips and the reputation and eccentricity of DFH to go on. With two bombers, this may be a monetary gamble that just may pay off in the taste department. I bit the bullet and coughed up the cash for the pair with the hopes that all of my hunches would pay off.
Saturday came with early thunder storms and torrential rain. By beer drinking time it was in the middle 70s out in the Manly Garage. Research began and files were saved. A good time will quite possibly be had by one, me.
This Squall IPA is deemed an Imperial by whoever decides these things. For me that meant more malt, more body, more hops and more alcohol. My stomach and I were set and willingly awaiting the first sip of this beer named after an impending storm.
I grabbed the first bomber and noted that it had more of a teardrop shape rather than an enlarged bottle shape. The label was odd, a convolution of whites on blacks and horizontal and vertical text. Gothic font dominated the label and the only basic information about the beer was:
BOTTLE CONDITIONED NATURALLY FERMENTED 90 MINUTE INDIA PALE ALE.
Could this be DFH’s 90-minute IPA under an alias and in a different bottle? It was time to test and taste that theory. I grabbed the first bomber and poured a bit into the Duvel snifter, perfect for IPAs and aroma deliverance.
The beer poured up with a nearly 2-inch majestic, off-white head, somewhat similar to whipped egg whites in consistency. The liquid had the look of rusty water, translucent orange-brown looking like apricot juice. The aroma was slight but did have the hoppy notes that often accompany IPAs, but this one was a more malted hoppy than the other way around. If that made any sense at all.
The first sip was incredible. The liquid had massive body to it, there was an odd taste note in the middle and then the final hop bang, but somewhat muted. Like a gun with a silencer. There was an initial big sweetness at the start of the sip, blending into what?… a little almost-roasted malt flavor and then the swallow with its twang of bitterness. And then nothing but the tongue begging for another sip.
This beer was such a taste treat. It’s the most unusual IPA I’ve tasted to date. The initial sweetness, the mystery malt and the cloaked hop-swallow made for a really delicious quaff (do people still use that word?)
The hops in this beer were unique. Once again we have the synergy between the hops and the malt which really give this beer it’s full bodied character, nicely, tastefully balanced, only with barbs here and there. Those barbs consisted of the sweetness at the beginning which came in with horns blaring. The sweetness was like the loud guy at every party. Some people can take him for only a little while. But this sweetness bordered dangerously close to being cloying. However, this beer had much more going on other than being sweet.
The beer, as stated before, had a lot of body in each sip. The malt character was different. It had a roasty flavor to it as the liquid was transferred from the front to the back of the mouth. This roast flavor then disappeared right down the gullet with the rest of the sip. It was there, and then it wasn’t. Like Batman.
The hops in this beer are another story. The bitterness was there to be sure. But at each swallow there wasn’t that pure electric zap of bitter that gets ya, and then goes away gradually. Rather, the hops in this beer are masked or otherwise disguised – covered up (or unified) by the malt character. The bitterness is there but in a different, somehow unfamiliar form. It’s almost as if the hop genome was altered just for this beer.
The DFH guys have performed some magic on this beer. The recipe must have a huge grain bill and many hop additions during the boil. The DFH website claims the beer is dry-hopped with Palisade, Amarillo, Simcoe, Cascade, CTZ, and Willamette hops. Six hops all added either at the end of or during fermentation. Amazing how all this came together.
Before I finished the first glassful, I had decided that this was a top drawer IPA ranking with, if not above the likes of Hopslam and the others. What I will remember how different this IPA was from all the other ones I’ve tasted. It’s in a league of its own.
I highly recommend this beer for its unique taste. The price of this beer gives me a little pause, though. 12 bucks a bomber is quite off the scale, but when you think of it, so is this beer. Dogfish Head classifies this beer as one of its Occasional Rarities. With that in mind, if you see a bomber of this beer at your LBS, get it before you can’t find it again for another few years. In this case, twelve bucks should be considered a wise investment in taste.
Taste: A+ > A kaleidoscope of flavors in your mouth.
Smoothness: A > A sock to the jaw and then and endless apology.
Drinkability: A > Yes. Please give me more. Wait. I must sleep first.
Bang for the buck: B+ > “If you don’t consider the price, DFH makes some damn good beer.” – Robb Hasty
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Looks cloudy and kinda brown. (sip… sour face… wide eyes) It was real citrusy at first, and kinda bitter, but then it went away. (sip) It’s really not that bad. (sip) It’s just that first hit. It gets smoother. (sip) Not too bad actually, considering. (Do that first face again.)
Video review (One of the weirdest so far.)
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