Dogfish Head – Noble Rot

If you’re into craft brewing, one of the most interesting things to look into is how people like to play with the different ingredients of beer.  People seem to like to try to figure out how to include strange ingredients into beers that others may have never thought of before.  One of the stranger directions we have seen an increase in over the past couple of years is the use of wine grapes.  Two weeks ago I did a review of Saint Somewhere’s Cythinana.  It was one of the best uses of wine grapes I’ve noticed in a long time, and it had me wondering if I needed to try to give this concept another try.  Maybe I just haven’t really given it a fair chance.

This is a blanket statement that may not be true, but I believe Dogfish Head has to be the all time lead brewer of beers containing some use of wine grape.  It almost always seems like their newest beers to be released have them toying with some type of grape.  Sam Calagione has gone on record as saying that he wants to bring beer up to the same status as wine, which may be a good way of looking at his attempts to utilize these different grapes in his brews.  It’s also one of the main reasons he refuses to can his beers.  His newest attempt at utilizing wine grapes in his production is one of the more interesting blends I’ve heard of in a while.  The Dogfish site explains the use of the grapes in this way, “The first addition is unfermented juice, known as must, from viognier grapes that have been infected with a benevolent fungus called botrytis. This noble rot reduces the water content in the grapes while magnifying their sweetness and complexity. The second is pinot gris must intensified by a process called dropping fruit, where large clusters of grapes are clipped to amplify the quality of those left behind”. I understand the two different grapes that are being utilized.  I’m okay with pinot gris as a wine, but I would probably not choose to drink it all that often.  Secondly, I have had wine from viognier grapes as well.  The restaurant I work at carries a wine of this sort; however, it has a really sweet quality that I don’t particularly enjoy anyway.  The big glaring thing about the grapes in this brewing process is that they are infected with a fungus.  I tend to think of fungus as a bad thing, so I was really interested to taste a beer that had used something that had purposely been infected with a fungus.

This beer poured out the most frightening pale yellow color I have seen in a while.  There is the old adage, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I was immediately judging this beer on its color.  I have come to realize that a lot of brews that pour a color like this aren’t really for me, and I was actually regretting buying this bottle.  The 750 ml bottle of the week is my little gift to myself every Friday night, and I just didn’t want to have something that I would regret.  Hopefully I was wrong about the color.  There is a lot of ample white fluffy head that develops.  There is a lot of lacing that gets left of the side of the glass and in the bottom of the glass after drinking as well; however, the sticky residue just isn’t really there.  The beer is extremely clear which allows you to see the moderate carbonation within the glass.

The smell has a lot of Belgian qualities to it.  The slightly spicy yeast quality comes out of this one the most.  Dogfish has billed this one as being a saison-esque type of brew, which helps to explain why it comes off slightly more Belgian than another other style with the smell.  Other than the yeast, it is the ample sweetness that is really prominent on the nose as well.  The overall sweet grape quality really comes out.  This is then blended with some very light citrusy qualities, as well as, a little sweet malts and light hops.

The first sip reminds me most of one thing: white wine.  Sam Calagione states that this particular brew “..is the absolute closest to equal meshing of the wine world and the beer world that’s ever been done commercially”. While I have a feeling some people will see this as a big win for the world of craft beer, I happen to wonder why we need to blend the two worlds.  Regardless, it has been done.  There is a light sweet quality that starts the flavor profile of this one.  The light sweetness blends well into the big wine grape quality coming from the viognier and pinot gris grapes in the brew.  The beer quality comes mostly in the yeast that follows the wine grapes.  The yeast has a prominent spice to it that helps remind you that you popped a beer bottle and not wine bottle.  The ending has some more citrus and apple fruit flavors that blend into the slightly tart finish.

The mouthfeel here is one that is really close to a white wine or almost champagne quality.  There is a lot of ample carbonation here without any real syrup at all.  It is basically crisp and clean throughout most of the entire taste.  The tart ending is fairly nice but it may not be for everyone.

While Saint Somewhere made me believe that wine grapes can be used without killing the beer feel of it, Dogfish helps me remember that I’m still not a big fan of it.  I understand that Dogfish Head is trying to raise the bar on craft beer, but I feel like it is taking us too far away from the things that I love about beer.  Don’t get me wrong, there are those people out there that will love this beer.  Perhaps this one will get wine lovers looking more into the realm of craft beer, but for me, I don’t think this is a direction I need craft beer to take.  Give me my lots of hops and malt and leave grapes for the wine makers.  Oh Dogfish Head, why must you always make me feel so indifferent to your company?

Teacher Grade: D (only for the Belgian yeast which I actually liked!)

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2 Comments

  1. I had this at their Falls Church brewpub, filled to the rim with nearly zero head, which was unfortunate. I did like the belgian yeast that seemed to kick in fleetingly, just before the slightly sour, winey finish.

    I would say, as with many DFH beers, it was interesting…

  2. To me this was a light lager with a splash of welch’s grape juice. Not enough grape for the varietals to really shine in the beer. Just not much of anything. Oh well, you can’t like them all.


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