You can’t talk about craft beer in America without at least mentioning Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Naming it after a favorite childhood vacation spot in Maine, Sam Calagione opened Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats in 1995 as a brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Calagione, a curious homebrewer, crafted the first beers served at the restaurant on a 10-gallon brewing system that looked like a high school metal shop project. Dogfish Head was the first brewpub in Delaware, and Calagione himself tirelessly lobbied the state legislature to pass laws allowing its existence. Today, Dogfish Head has transformed into a craft beer giant, producing over 2 million gallons of beer annually.
It wasn’t always sunshine and roses for Dogfish Head. Like many small breweries, it initially struggled against soaring debt, prohibitive laws and a beer market dominated by a few megabrewers. Anheuser-Busch even tried to block Dogfish Head’s trademark applications for use of the terms “punkin” and “chickory” in its beer names, which Anheuser-Busch claimed were too vague. For large breweries like Anheuser‐Busch with a zillion lawyers and giant legal funds, it’s all too easy to initiate this kind of bogus litigation against smaller competitors like the young Dogfish Head.
In a way, Dogfish Head has become a cult warrior in the struggle against the dominant megabreweries like Anheuser-Busch and the Miller Brewing Co. (both of which are owned by foreign companies, by the way). The company was featured in the 2009 documentary “Beer Wars.” The film highlights the power of megabreweries and the big beer lobby. It’s a worthwhile flick if you’re at all interested in the business of brewing beer.
As a brewery, Dogfish Head has always been a bit weird — it recently released a beer containing actual moon dust, and spacesuit-style cozies were used in initial tastings. The brewery has also been known to experiment with new techniques. For example, the 60 Minute IPA is so named because hops are added continuously during the 60-minute boil instead of at set intervals during the boil as is traditionally done.
In the spirit of the season, I decided to try Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, a fall-only offering. Spiced pumpkin beers are challenging to brew because the spices typically used are quite strong. Achieving a balance among flavors from the malts, hops and spices is what makes a great spiced beer.
I poured the beer into a pint glass from a 12-ounce bottle with Dogfish Head’s signature papery label. The beer pours a slightly hazy reddish gold with a lasting off-white head. The aroma is malty with noticeable pumpkin notes and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg spice. Up front I tasted spice and a pleasant but fleeting pumpkin flavor. The high alcohol content does not hide very well, but it provides a warmth that positively contributes to the overall experience. Toward the end, the spices all but vanish, leaving a lingering sweet, malty and bready aftertaste.
Overall, I enjoyed the Punkin Ale for what it is — a spiced, robust brown ale. The pumpkin and spice flavors are not hugely prominent; this is basically an already-tasty beer with some accentuating flavors tacked on. The high alcohol content (7 percent ABV) will definitely keep you warm on a brisk fall night. Also, something about this beer makes me think of flannel, so in that regard I suppose it’s a pretty successful falltime pumpkin beer.
7.0 percent ABV
$3.50 for a bottle at Mad Greek’s
My ratings (out of 5):