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.