Make Like a Tree and Get Out of Here…

Dogfish Head’s spruce infused pale ale, Pennsylvania Tuxedo, was a much sought after well regarded beer.  It was brewed in collaboration with Woolrich, an outdoor clothing company. The beer was brewed with fresh green spruce tips that were picked from Northern PA forests in the spring.  They give the beer a resin like flavor that is piney (obviously) and complements well with bitterness of the hops.  This is, without a doubt, a fantastic beer.

Dogfish Head likes to play with the notion that they are don’t do things the way everyone else is doing things; this is generally true. Putting thousands of handpicked little bits of new pine tree growth into a beer is certainly not the traditional way of brewing a pale ale.

If you like craft beer, and considering you are reading this blog I assume you do, chances are really good that you very much like this beer.  It is a damn fine pale ale. It is a little hard to find but definitely worth your efforts to try.

Is it “off-centered?”  Sure.

But is it daring?  I don’t think so.

Daring is putting an entire six-foot Douglas fir tree into your brew and hoping you do not end up kegging turpentine.

Theo Armstrong of ZerØday Brewing Co. did just that… put an entire six-foot Douglas fir tree into this beer.

 A glass of D.T.F Saison at the bar at ZerØday

When I saw that he was putting an entire six-foot tree into his brew I first assumed it was a joke. Then when it was clear that it was not a joke, I thought it was stupid and that it would never work.  I mean… You can’t just put the whole fucking tree in there.

Apparently, you can put the whole fucking tree in there and I am the stupid one. The end result was D.T.F. Sasion and it’s delicious.

Not everyone is going to love D.T.F. Saison. It is a piney, earthy, slightly sweet, semi-dry saison/farmhouse ale. D.T.F. is funky and has a strange nature that builds as you sip the medium bodied lightly carbonated brew. At first sip I thought “well I think I can taste the pine tree.” As the beer warmed up and throughout the drink the flavors stick and build on the palate like baseball pine tar upon a batting helmet over the course of the season. It’s slightly sticky and clear on opening day and by the end of the glass you have 162 games worth of rich, dark, earthy, aberrant flavors adhering to your mouth via a long finish.  I loved it.

This beer is daring because it is strange, unusual and riddled with risk.  I have not asked Theo, but if he says he KNEW the beer was going to turn out as well as it did, I wouldn’t believe it.  This beer easily could have turned into a disaster. In brewing, failure is not an infrequent occurrence.  Failed brews cause brewers to dump beers that just don’t turn out; even with beers that they have perfected over years of brewing. Sometimes, yeast just don’t eat. Temperatures get out of hand. Sometimes something goes wrong that is out of the brewer’s control.  Each ingredient, level of complexity, and step of the brewing process is an opportunity for failure.

Failing a brew at ZerØday would have been difficult. As far as I know they are working very hard to meet demand.  Theo is brewing all the time (while working his regular job).  To fail an entire batch at a brewery that is less than a year old would have been hard. If Dogfish Head’s Pennsylvania Tuxedo fails, they move on and no one outside can tell the difference.

Theo Armstrong put a six-foot pine tree in his beer and it turned out magnificently. Dogfish Head made a fine beer that in reflection to what ZerØday has done only is lacking in its audacity.  Being the little guy has its difficulties and advantages. Dogfish Head can’t put entire trees in their brews; they can’t really crank the dial to 11. ZerØday can and did.  D.T.F. Saison’s execution and flavors are outlandish and audacious; and it paid off in spades and you have to give it a try.

When Big Beers and Big Brewers Go Big

Arrogant Bastard Ale will always hold a special place in my heart when it comes to beer drinking.  It was an early influencer in developing my appreciation for the Strong/Ole Ale style and eventually Barley-wines.  As a friend of mine stated on Untappd “[This is] the beer that made me fall in love with craft beer.”  I think that is probably true for lots of today’s craft beer drinkers.  Still, it is often easily dismissed by beer snobs who are frequently chasing the new styles or most limited of releases.  But Stone never disappoints with this ale; it’s truly a world class American Strong Ale.  Further, Arrogant Bastard has been the base for a number of other fantastic beers over the years.

It has provided Double Bastard, a winter release that takes all the flavors of the “lighter” ale and goes to 11.  I once split a three year old magnum of this crazy brew with some friends and needless to say it got us all absolutely wrecked. Be careful with that one.

Lukcy Basartd Ale (not a typo) married the two above with Oaked Bastard which showed off the ability of Stone to blend various beers and marry them together in such a way as to take an already exceedingly complex ale and give it enough personalities to require institutionalization.

In 2013 Stone released Crime and Punishment.  Crime was a cork and cage bottle of Lukcy Basrtd aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels with an assortment of hot peppers.  Punishment was Double Bastard given the same treatment.  Stone basically took the two ales and drove them off a cliff in a burning car.  They were amazing even if the mere thought of them still gives me heart burn.

Oaked Bastard, my favorite of the lot was a beautiful beer that poured a deep rich mahogany color with a bright white head.  Its subtle wood notes in the nose and finish were glorious and refined.  But it was sadly discontinued last year to make way for Arrogant Bastard Bourbon Barrel Aged.

Recently I procured a 22oz bottle of Arrogant Bastard BBA and after the news of Sepp Blatter stepping down from the head of FIFA, I felt there was never going to be a better opportunity.  In case you are unaware Sepp Blatter is an arrogant, evil, bastard of a man but this is a beer blog so I will just leave a link.

Arrogant Bastard BBA was a good beer but when held up to its kin I am a little worried. The beer pours a dark mahogany color as is true to the lineage.  The head was nearly nonexistent but that is not unusual for BBA beers.  Nose was malty, sweet with a bit of rye. Only the faintest hint of Kentucky bourbon could be determined in the nose.  The mouth feel is medium bodied and not adversely affected by the time held in a cooper’s handiwork. The changes to this great beer by the barrel aging though are in a word… underwhelming.  It is welcome to have a BBA beer with no astringency but it also came without the bourbon.  I regularly praise brewers on their ability to deftly evoke subtly in flavors.  To play at the edge of a flavor profile and not to go crashing through. But this one just never showed up.  It is kind of sad. Look, this is a good, tasty beer but it just never lived up to its pedigree.  It just makes me feel sad that Oaked Bastard is gone.

Postscript – I wonder if volume is the issue with this beer.  Black Note, KBS, Bourbon County and other BBA beers are in such short supply finding just one bottle is often enough.  Arrogant Bastard BBA is being sold on tap, in 22oz bombers and six packs.  It appears to be pretty widely available as far as I can tell.  Stone is a huge operation with nationwide distribution (and sights even further).  Kentucky bourbon barrels are 53 gallons and used barrels are in high demand.  To my mind there is an interesting question:  Is Stone going high volume with what is by nature a low yield product thus resulting in an underwhelming beer?  I can’t answer that specifically that but it seems like it could be the issue.