What I'm Sipping--Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

"If you truly believe in what you're doing, nothing can stop you" --Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Brewery, Brewing Up a Business Ahhh. So here is the first of many "What I'm Sipping" posts. Consider this a beer memoir, not a review. I won't, after all, put anything on this blog that I don't believe you should try, nor put anything on here that I don't like! Of course my first beer memoir must be from one of my favorite breweries in the entire nation--Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA. Do read on if this picture entices you...

I was fortunate to enjoy a Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA (India Pale Ale)  a few weeks ago. As I was sipping it, a great idea came to my head...why not share this beer with everyone? This beer is a meal on its own, but that doesn't mean it should be neglected on my blog! On top of that, I visited the brewery a few months ago, why not share that experience as well?! Brilliant.

I had the pleasure of visiting Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware this past February with my friend Kristi, whose life I’m pretty sure was changed forever after our experience ;) I've become a big fan of Dogfish Head after reading Sam Calagione's book Brewing Up a Business, where he shares his rough beginnings, determination, and ultimate success from building Dogfish Head brewery from the ground up. When I realized the original brewery would be just a short road trip away, we jumped in the car...and went to Delaware! Visiting the brewery after reading the book confirmed how all of his hard work paid off. Check out these two pictures. The first is the original brewing room…the second is just a snippet of their current bottling warehouse.  It is bigger than any facility I’ve ever seen:

Dogfish Head is truly a unique brewery—there’s really no other brewery like it. In his book, Sam talks about how he was always throwing random fruits, herbs, spices, anything into his batches of beer…he could never just stick to the normal recipe! And the brewery reflects this in all their beers…they’ve got an IPA brewed with syrah grapes, a brown ale aged in Paraguayan wood, a pilsner brewed with pear juice…there’s just nothing normal about these beers, which is absolutely fantastic.

My brewery tour was phenomenal...I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. I was lucky enough to be invited to their employee happy hour after closing for the day—everyone was so nice; it was obvious what an incredible community the company has built with its employees. For that reason alone, it is definitely a brewery I am proud to support.

Okay, now on to our featured beer…Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA. I should note that this beer is brewed only a few times a year (because it is a difficult beer to brew), so it is hard to find. If you come across any, buy a few (I’ve had good luck at Whole Foods). I just saw on their Facebook page that they will be releasing their latest batch in a few weeks...so now is the time to look for it! Drink one whenever you like, but save another to drink in a few years—the beer ages beautifully (flavors mellow out/change into a completely new experience). Andrew and I opened this bottle after about a year of aging. Maybe we should have waited, but sometimes you’ve gotta live a little, right?

120 Minute IPA is boiled for an entire TWO hours…most IPAs are boiled for 1 hour...and they continually add hops during that entire boil.  On top of that, it is then dry-hopped every day for a month and then aged for another month on whole leaf hops! People say it is the ultimate beer for hop-heads; it comes in at 120 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) after all, which is way more than most IPAs. However, I don’t really put this beer in the IPA category…to me, it drinks more like a barleywine than anything.

The aroma immediately enticed me with a beautiful, subtle sweetness of cherry pie and raisins. There may have been some hoppy aromas, but what really drew me in were these dark red fruits that made me feel as if I were smelling an aged tawny port. When I took that first sip, I got all those fruit characteristics and more—it was complex, but somehow subtle, and bitterness was restrained, hidden by the warming alcohol and balanced maltiness. It is a meal on its own, but would go well with an assortment of cheese, charcuterie, and crusty French bread…nothing more. And with its alcohol percentage around 18%...you might want to share a bottle with a friend :)

If you are looking for that “ultimate hophead” beer, look elsewhere—the bitterness is so balanced that, no matter how much you want it to ruin your palette, it won’t.   It really is a beer you have to experience for yourself, because there is nothing like it. If you’re lucky to get your hands on a few, drink one now, and age the rest—each one will probably be a completely different experience than the others.

Carrot Cake and IPA: A Classic Beer Pairing

Who would have ever thought that an IPA goes perfectly with Carrot Cake? It's true, friends...this carrot cake beer pairing is a classic.

The first time I heard that carrot cake is a classic match with IPA, I was in disbelief. I get why chocolate pairs well with sweet stouts, I get why spicy foods go well with dry lagers...but why would you drink an IPA with carrot cake?!

Let's take a look at how this dessert tastes for two seconds. It may not be the first thing we think about, but carrot cake is incredibly sweet. There is a lot of natural sweetness from the carrots and raisins you may add to it, plus the whole thing is buried under a thick layer of sweet, tangy cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake is not like other cakes my friends. And can I throw in there that having vegetables in your dessert automatically makes it healthy??

The Pairing

So because carrot cake is so sweet and tangy, pairing it with another sweet beer or wine will just overwhelm your entire dessert experience. We definitely don't want to do that. So the key with pairing beer with this cake is balance. Imperial Pale Ales (IPAs) are snappy, bitter beers with lots of citrus or floral components coming from the addition of bright hops. When you pair that alongside a super sweet dish like carrot cake, the bitterness and sweetness of the two contrast one other, balancing the extremities of each. So if you aren't usually a fan of  hoppy beers, this pairing may change your mind since the cake will decrease the perception of bitterness in the IPA.

Recommended Beers to Pair with Carrot Cake

When you're picking a beer to pair with this cake, you want to choose an American IPA, not an English IPA. English IPAs are slightly less bitter and more malty than their American cousins. We want more hops and bitterness in the beer to contrast the cake's sweetness, so American styles are the best. If you like double or Imperial IPA (the hoppiest of all IPAs), that's an even better beer to match this meal. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Anchor IPA
  • Speakeasy Double Daddy IPA
  • Great Basin "Icky" IPA
  • Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA (60 minute is not as hoppy as you want and 120 minute might be too sweet)
  • Firestone Walker Union Jack or Double Jack
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Harpoon IPA or Leviathan IPA

To make the same carrot cake that I did (so yummy!), head over to SallysBakingAddition.

Other dessert and beer pairings on Care to Pair:

Fudge Brownies paired with Sweet Stout

White Chocolate Cheesecake paired with Raspberry Lambic

Apple Donuts with Maple Glaze paired with Pumpkin Ale