Welcome back to my corner of The Inclusive, for the second installment in what I hope will be a long relationship, unlike my student loans. Last time, I reviewed a tasty American take on a Belgian saison: the Samuel Adams Rustic Saison brewed by the Boston Beer Company and available in their summer mix-packs. That example got a respectable B in my grade book and I hope if they bring it back next summer you all have a chance to taste a bottle.
The reason you may have to wait is that we find ourselves on the nebulous edge of the year between August and September. To the great brewing gods autumn has arrived. So yes, as far back as August 15th, I could have enjoyed a pint or two of a number of brewers’ Oktoberfest offerings. (Don’t even get me started on the pumpkin beers in August.) So, while I refuse to yield completely to fall I would like to give some time here to a beer that’s a bit darker than before, with an eye for the cooler days to come.
Today I’m sampling a beer from the Dogfish Head craft brewery, which, other than Joe Biden and credit card offers, is Delaware’s most prideful export. However, in my quest for New England homerism, I would point out the brewery gets its name from an island in Maine. Dogfish Head brewed their first beer in 1994 in founder Sam Calagione’s kitchen. That beer was their delicious Punkin Ale, which you should all try as well this fall. They then expanded into a small brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in 1995. In the past sixteen years, they’ve grown, including quadrupling in beer output between 2003 and 2006, to their size today, twenty beer offerings on sale in 25 states. The point of entry for most Dogfish Head drinkers is one of their excellent IPAs: the 60-minute or 90-minute IPAs in particular. These beers come through with the citrusy, bitter, fresh hop characteristics your taste buds will remember. However, the discussion of hops will have to wait until another column, because today I’m reviewing Dogfish’s Palo Santo Marron, a brown ale with a bit of a twist.
The beer’s name comes from the Paraguayan Palo Santo tree, whose wood was used in making the beer’s 10,000 gallon brewing and aging vessel at Dogfish’s Milton, Delaware brewery. The marron, for the bilingual readers out there, is a not so subtle hint that what you’re about to enjoy is a brown ale. Brown ales are a tradition hearkening from great English brewers in the 1800s and today have a number of minor variations, but usually center on a healthy malt backbone, a small addition of bittering hops, and a pleasant sweetness. The Palo Santo follows in these footsteps, but adds brewing and aging in the aforementioned giant wooden barrels. How noticeable will that twist be? Let’s open and find out.
Now, at twelve-percent alcohol by volume, a bottle is really all you’ll need. Consider it a kick-start, so after this break out a great session beer and enjoy your evening. Off the pour the Palo Santo is a deep, dark brown with a small bit of head. This stuff is pretty viscous and you can almost see it roll out of the bottle. You’ll want to enjoy this beer in a glass that will collect the aroma, a nice beer tulip, or even a wine glass you have around. Also, keep in mind that in English tradition, beers like this are best enjoyed slightly above refrigerator temperature, say 50 degrees or so; it really helps the flavors come out.
The smell of the beer is enticing: oak and vanilla from the wood, a bit of ginger, and even maple syrup. You’re going to want to drink at this point and when you do you’ll find its surprisingly assertive in its carbonation and a bit thinner in mouth feel than you would expect by its apparent thickness. The sweetness is higher than your average brown ale: a good rule of thumb is that high alcohol beers tend to be sweeter due to high doses of sugar the brewers give to the yeast. The sweetness of Palo Santo comes through almost as a Port does, with raisin notes prominent, but it doesn’t cling too much, as the finish dries a bit.
The take away message is this is a fine beer. The wood treatment gives it an almost similar profile to a whiskey-barrel aged beer, which you can find by some great craft brewers. This is not your average Newcastle brown ale, nor should it be. Grade: A-
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
Glass: Beer Tulip or wine glass
Enjoy at: 50o (average fridge temp is 410)
Redhook Pilsner, Redhook Ale Brewery (Seattle, WA and Portsmouth, NH). The pilsner was formerly Redhook’s summer seasonal, but is now available year round. A delicious refreshing beer in the traditional Czech style, in a cool looking bottle! Grade: B+
Hedgerow Bitter, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (Cambridge, MA). Pretty Things’ flagship Jack D’Or is delicious; their new Hedgerow Bitter is a near equal. Made with all-English hedgerow hops in the bitter ale style, this is a dry, hoppy ale that doesn’t come with the pine and citrus notes you’re used to in hoppy beers. A bit sour and very drinkable. Grade: A-