Monday, June 18, 2012

Anticipation on Tap at Dogfish Head

Dogfish Head Alehouse
6220 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA

Look, nobody is more excited than me about the renaissance of good beer we’re all enjoying right now in America.

It seems like every city across “fly over” country, no matter how blue collar, unhip and unsophisticated, is bragging about at least one or two new start-up microbreweries. (I’m talking about you -- Cleveland, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City.)

Where once a trip to the corner bar meant a tedious exercise of listening to your waitress list off the mass produced yellow piss water most Americans are still addicted to, I can now almost always count on at least one or two decent local brewed craft beers. No matter what corner of America Southwest Airlines happened to drop me into.

And I’m happy about that. I’ll take a local clever-named “Fill-in-the-Blank” obligatory Brown Ale, Red Ale, IPA, Stout, etc., over a Bud Light every time.

But let’s face it, some of these brew masters could use a little more imagination.

They should take a trip out to the Delaware coast to pay a visit to The Dogfish Head Brewery which is constantly pushing the boundaries of the most adventuresome beer drinkers in America.

Those guys in Rehoboth Beach are nuts!

They brew beers with raisins, gesho root, cilantro, ginger, honey, blackberries, blueberries, kumquats, maple syrup, black tea, toasted amaranth and fungus-infected grapes.

You can get Dogfish beers aged in exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. Or brewed from a recipe found on a 2,700 year old beer jug that was buried in King Midas’ tomb.

In other words, don’t bring your girlfriend who “only drinks Bud Light Lime” to this place.

She won’t be happy.

That might explain why Dogfish Head decided to open a small cluster of alehouses in the Washington DC metro area – almost 200 miles from their birthplace on the Delaware coast.

If you’ve ever been to Rehoboth Beach, you’ll know what I mean.

Dogfish beers are for manly men who can lift their beer glasses to their lips with sturdy wrists. Clearly, there aren’t enough of them around Rehoboth Beach.

These are high octane, high alcohol muscular beers that will put hair on your chest.

And I couldn’t be more excited to check the place out.

For Suit757, a journey to the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church is like Moses climbing to the summit of Mt. Sinai.

The anticipation was almost too much to bear.

What if they have the mythical 20% ABV 120 Minute IPA on draft? What if they serve all kinds of crazy beers I’ve never even heard of before?

Should I try something completely different? Or reacquaint myself with my rare favorites?

What if I drink so much high octane double digit alcohol beer that I don’t even know what I’m drinking?

My apprehension only increased as I made my way to the bar. The place was standing room only – on a Wednesday night!

Over the bar was a huge chalk board listing all the beers available that night.

I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming.

It was like walking into a room full of your heroes, Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, Robert E. Lee, John Wayne and Jesus.

What do I do now?

I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment. I didn’t want to screw it up.

Almost immediately, a female bartender asked me what I wanted.

Like Ralphie on Santa’s lap, my brain froze.

Eyes darting up and down the chalkboard, I was looking at the chalky words on the board – 60 Minute IPA, Indian Brown, Chicory Stout – but the information wasn’t registering with my brain.

So much great beer. I wanted to try them all.

But, no! I had to choose. But how?

Oh, the cruelty.

After some interminable number of seconds passed, the bartender decided she had better things to do in the jam-packed bar than watch my glazed over eyes and open mouth as I starred blankly at the chalk board above me.

She helpfully handed me a detailed beer menu and said, “I’ll check back with you in a minute.”

As I clutched the laminated document outlining in exquisite detail all the available beers, I felt myself calming down a bit.

Okay. I can do this.

I began to formulate a plan of action. I knew that I needed to go with the high alcohol beers early in the evening – while I could still appreciate them.

I definitely wanted to try some of the experimental crazy Dogfish beers I’ll never find at home.

But not right off the bat. Nope. Let’s start with something I know is good. And strong.

So, confidence restored, I strode to the edge of the bar and ordered a Burton Baton, a kick-ass 10% ABV hoppy dark beer. The hops are muted a bit by a sweet vanilla flavor acquired as the brew ages for a month in oak barrels.

I doubt you’ll find anything this good at your local microbrewery. Beer doesn’t get much better than Dogfish’s Burton Baton.

One of my dining companions is -- let’s just say -- a little less adventurous when it comes to beer drinking.

I noticed apprehension in his eyes too as he gazed at the black board.

But for completely different reasons.

He asked the bartender, “Do you have anything like a lager?”

Translation: “Which of these beers is closest to Bud Light?”

“Go with the Shelter Pale Ale,” she said.

The menu says it is their “most approachable beer.”

In other words, perfect for girlfriends and Rehoboth Beach bed and breakfast owners.

To be honest, the Shelter Pale Ale is a tasty brew. I would expect noting less from America’s greatest brewery. But at 5% ABV and no discernable hop bite, I wouldn’t even consider wasting one of my limited beer choices on it.

Instead, on my second round I opted for a My Antonia, an “imperial pilsner”.

An “imperial pilsner?” That’s like “jumbo shrimp”. Or “civil war.”

It’s an oxymoron in a glass.

The menu describes it, ironically enough, as “a lager for ale lovers”. In other words, my lager-loving buddy would probably hate it.

My Antonia is a light colored lager with lots of hops. Crisp, refreshing and delicious, I found My Antonia to pack even more of a hop wallop than the Burton Baton.

At this point I was ready to just go crazy.

Unfortunately, most of the off-beat experimental beers on the laminated menu were not available on draft, including the 120 Minute IPA, Immort Ale and World Wide Stout, which dashed my hopes of an over-the-top flight of four different mind-blowing beers.

Rather than go with a sampler of stuff I’ve tried before, I decided to get creative.

As a proud Suit of Irish descent, I’m normally morally opposed to contaminating a perfectly good Guinness with a repugnant British lager by ordering a “black and tan.”

But the Dogfish Head version of a “black and tan” intrigued me. I mean, when else will I be able to mix multiple Dogfish brews on tap?

My Dogfish black and tan was a sight to behold. A dark layer of Dogfish Chicory Stout layered over a base of 90 Minute IPA.

Now that’s a marriage I can drink to!

In all this excitement, I almost forgot to tell you about the food.

Yes, they do serve food at the Dogfish Head Alehouse. Good food too.

After all that high potency beer, I might not be the best one to judge, but I really liked my cup of crab soup.

Generous clumps of crab meat floated on a thick, hearty stew. It was a good taste of Delaware.

The calamari appetizer we all split was excellent also. Huge clumps of squid fried crisp were accompanied by spicy banana peppers, which added a nice kick.

Unfortunately, the standard issue cocktail sauce was not the right condiment. A nice aioli or remoulade would really elevate the dish.

For entrees, the menu listed a vast variety of options, from wood oven baked pizzas to ribs to sandwiches to pastas to burgers.

Perhaps because I was just exhausted from all the evening’s gut wrenching decision making, I opted for a ten dollar bratwurst -- the first thing I looked at.

The sausage was dense and flavorful and served in a sturdy pretzel roll, but the banana pepper sauerkraut overwhelmed the taste of the brat. I’m not really a big sauerkraut guy anyway, so I scrapped most of it off.

Like the calamari, the brat suffered under the wrong accompaniment. Grilled onions and peppers would be a better option.

Along side the two brats came a small dish of meaty chili and a whole pile of tortilla chips.

The tiny portion of chili was good enough to make me want to come back and order a whole bowl next time.

Ah, next time.

The Dogfish Head Alehouse is definitely a place you want to come back to. Again and again.

Next time I’ll try one of the pizzas. Or the firewood smoked ribs.

And can you imagine what kind of new crazy beer concoctions those boys in Delaware will come up with next?

My head’s already swimming with anticipation.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

Dogfish Head Alehouse on Urbanspoon


  1. "Dogfish Chicory Stout layered over a base of 90 Minute IPA" = Wow.

  2. I'm pretty sure it comes out of the tap like that in Heaven. Or at least I'm hoping.

  3. They have been tapping a keg of 120 every Tuesday for past several weeks, and it never lasts til the end of the evening