Tag Archives: Dogfish

Dogfish Head – Festina Peche

During our time in Delaware this was a beer that I tried three separate times, once at the Rehoboth brewpub, once at the Milton brewery, and once out of a bottle with friends. Each time the flavor was a bit different, but always good. Dogfish Head’s reputation preceded them, and I often run into people on the west coast who know that they make good beer, but haven’t ever tried any.

The 90-minute IPA from Dogfish routinely ends up in my hands, and Burton Baton is among my favorite beers, but nothing has ever done for me what Festina Peche did. It made me a beer lover. I already knew I liked beer before I ever tried this neo-weisse, and I knew that I loved trying new things, but never had the two combined in one fateful moment like with Festina. As I sat in a bar in San Francisco about four years ago, sipping on a bottle of the peach concoction I knew that I was a beer guy, a lover of trying new beers and it was that love that eventually led me to homebrew and led me out on the road to visit breweries across the country.

But about that beer – on tap at the brewpub in Rehoboth was my favorite version of the beer, sweetly cloying at the first sip, but immediately dry and crisp on the finish. It tasted fresher than the other two examples of Festina we had, if only because it was less dry and slightly less carbonated. The beer on tap at the brewpub was wonderfully unbalanced, exceptionally tart and sweet at the same time, with almost no hop presence whatsoever. I’ve come across several beers with mild hop profiles, but none that shift the expectation like Festina – while all beers play bitter and sweet (malty) against each other, Festina replaces bitter with sour on the teeter-totter of flavor, and the balance is perfect. I’ve had a number of other sour beers, but Festina is the only American sour I’ve come across (but it’s a long strange trip to be had yet!) that strikes the balance so well. Rodenbach Grand Cru and Cantillon’s Kriek both still outpace Festina by a Belgian kilometer, but Festina stands out for its use of no bacteria to ferment the wort.

(If you’ve never been to the Rodenbach website, you should, go and let their president wait on you, then pour you a beer. It’s a hoot.)

So what changes between the different serving styles? I imagine age has something to do with it, as the bottle we had was the driest of the three pours, with a strong tart flavor up front and only a hint of peach sweetness left. The brewery pour wasn’t far behind, with barely any more sweetness than the bottle, and I might only be imagining even that minor difference. However, the bottle was certainly more tart than the brewery pour, with a puckering effect immediately on sipping that mellowed the more you drank. Of the three the pour at the brewpub was considerably sweeter and less effervescent than the other two, which I think is probably a good thing. It actually worked having the different flavors though, as in the A/C of the brewpub a nice sweet brew was refreshing, but in the 90 degree sun the tart bottle was preferable – I don’t know if it was intentionally portioned out that way or completely by chance, I just know it worked.

At the end of the day, if you don’t like sour beer or don’t like fruit beer, this isn’t the brew for you – but if you want to try a great example of what Dogfish Head does best, or just want to get a solid example of either style under your belt, you could certainly do much worse and would have to try to do much better.


The Dogfish Dilemma

We’re a month into this trip and I’ve yet to give any brewery a bad review – I don’t think my palate is refined enough to judge brewers on their work officially, only to differentiate what I do and don’t like. I also don’t think it’s fair to judge a brewery on a single visit, times change, moods change, and ups and downs are natural.

Now that I said all of that it’s time to admit something – I was disappointed by Dogfish Head.

There – I said it. The first question that might come to your mind is – what the fuck? Let me explain.

I really like the beer at Dogfish Head – Festina Peche is among my favorite brews ever, and My Antonia is amazing, while 90-minute and Burton Baton are impressively good every time. The beer we tasted visiting the Rehoboth brewpub and the Milton brewery were inconsistent for sure, but never bad – just different. Peche at the pub tasted of peaches, while at the brewery it was much more tart and Raison and Theobroma were different too, though less pronounced. My opinion on this – So what? The beer is good, and inconsistency is part of the deal with craft beer, it’s a minor inconvenience at most. So what gives, why the disappointment?

It’s easiest to explain it in chronological order. It was probably a few years ago when I had my first 90-minute and it blew me away, I’ve told people this is the beer to try when you need a good craft beer. I read Sam’s book, Brewing up a Business, and enjoyed the insight into Dogfish Head’s start. When we headed over the bridge toward Delaware yesterday I could feel the anticipation grow as we rose up over the water – I was truly excited. This was beer I knew I loved, and a culture I thought I would love too.

When we got to the pub our server Emory was awesome, taking good care of us outside on the deck and helping get us what we were after. After a short pub tour we headed to the bar and were promptly ignored for a few minutes. After ordering drinks and waiting a few more minutes we tried a flight of Dogfish spirits – if you’re in Delaware this is why you’re here – you don’t know it yet, but it’s true.

Unfortunately things took a turn from there – it’s hard to place my finger on specifically but I think it boiled down to two things.

First – The people working there were less excited by Dogfish Head than I was. In any other business this seems perfectly normal, but in craft beer it’s more of a detriment than other businesses. The bartenders at the pub didn’t crack a smile in the two hours we sat at the bar – literally – not a single laugh or smile the entire time. The tour guide at the Milton brewery was enthusiastic and generally awesome, but the rest of the staff seemed peevish and not really interested in the place. I think it was weird to me mainly because it was in such sharp contrast to the other breweries we’ve visited – each and every one of the almost 60 breweries has been populated with people excited about craft beer with the exception of Four Peaks in Tempe. Both breweries have excuses – Four Peaks we visited during the crunch of 5,000 ASU graduates making their way out of town, and Dogfish we visited in early June as the locals are having to deal with the huge influx of beach-going tourists headed their way. Nonetheless, when we’ve been other places with similar crunches the attitudes haven’t suffered like they did at Dogfish.

Second – Dogfish, more than almost any other brewery, plays up it’s image as the cool brewer on the block. From the name, to the off-centered slogan, it purports to be a brand that encourages creative and independent attitudes – the sort of place I thought could understand someone quitting their job to travel 4 months and visit a brewery a day. In spite of that, this was among the most corporate feeling breweries we’ve been to, not to mention the only place where I’ve been reprimanded on a tour for falling behind the group. Turns out stalling for a few seconds for an extra shot of their 10,000 gallon wooden fermenter (honestly awe-inspiring) is grounds for a little wrist-slap. I was a bit put off that being last through the brewhouse door meant I got a little verbal warning, but it bothered me more the next thing our second tour guide said, “You can’t stay at the back and take photos, insurance reasons.” Ouch. It sounded like a verbatim lie that some manager told him to use if any customers got out of line – almost like we were visiting a shop in the mall and a mall security guard was trying to chase us out. I admittedly have a bit of an anti-authority streak, but I would never have thought it would be sparked on a brewery tour, let alone at Dogfish Head, the king of free-wheeling, think for yourself, Burning Man art everywhere, brewery.

In the end, writing this the next day, nothing that happened there really affected my visit that much. It just didn’t feel right. Maybe I built the brewery up too much in my head. Maybe I went into it with unrealistic expectations that everyone involved would feel like I feel – that craft beer really is something life-changing, that it can truly make a difference because it’s “only beer” and it’s being made by an industry that separates itself in words and actions.

If you ask me I think in the end it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wanted Dogfish Head to be the shining beacon that proves you can take your craft brewery from a small but creative force all the way to the top of the craft brewing world without giving anything up, because that’s the kind of business craft beer is.

I was wrong.