First a brief profile of my palate when it comes to beer. I am a hop-head. Some of my favorite brews are Stone's Ruination, IPA, and Arrogant Bastard. I'm no fan of sweetness (in wine or beer), which is what keeps me from listing Dogfish Head's 90-minute IPA among my favorites, despite its beautiful aromatic complexity. I see beers as relaxing entertainment, with their clear-cut, bold, easy-to-identify aromas. When I'm looking for something serious, I go for the vino.
Last Saturday I popped a beer I'd been keeping for some time, the Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA. I was expecting an extremely hoppy, bitter brew, with more malt than suits my preference (from experience with Dogfish Head). Instead, I discovered a viscous, intense, fiery liquid that cannot be said to remotely resemble beer.
AROMATICS: This is when I knew it was going to be good, or at least interesting. Layers of caramel, wood, smoke, malt ovaltine, coffee, and the interior of a Pan de Coco (a Filipino bread). Also some dried oranges and apple cider (dried oranges in apple cider? That's how we do it at home). You can dive into this nose, layer by layer, and never come out of the bright, intense kaleidoscope of flavors. Don't get me wrong - this is nothing like a good wine. It is not subtle. The non-fruit flavors are many orders of magnitude more pronounced. But there is fruit, and it is WILD. Hints of lanzones.
FLAVOR PROFILE: Sweeeeeeet. Unctuous. Jammy. Honeyed. Syrupy. Luscious. So sweet, it osmotically burns your mucus membranes. We're talking dessert wine levels. Smoky caramel, spicy orange (even some acidity, unusual for a beer). Fine bubbles. Powerful hops finish that isn't naked like Stone's Ruination, but intermingled with layers of fruit and caramel. Holy $#!T this is good! A little lemon on the finish, along with figs, dates, and the top of a nice creme brulee. Explosive and creamy on the midpalate. The hops bear a striking resemblence to the liquor bitterness in creme brulee! The finish lasts years. Ok I exaggerate. Months. The finish lasts forever. The hops stay, the caramel stays, the orange and spice stays. At least 2 minutes on the finish.
PILLOW: One of the things I like to do when tasting beer is emulsify with air, like I would wine, and observe the "pillow" that fluffs up in the mouth. I've had some good pillows - Arrogant Bastard stands out in particular. This left them all behind. I didn't feel like a big pillow appeared in my mouth - I felt like I physically landed in a HUGE pillow. You could jump off the Empire State Building and land safely in this pillow.
This is indulgence. This is someone giving you a massage all day long. This is off the charts. If I found a 400-year-old Sauternes made by a crazed vintner and hopped like mad - this is what I might expect.
I'm no fan of dessert wines, but this dessert beer won me over completely. It blew the 2001 Filhot (Sauternes) and the 2005 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille out of the water. I recommend having it by itself as dessert - shared with two other friends as it's too sweet to finish on your own. Serve it very chilled and the nose will still be explosive. Too warm and the alcohol tears through, ripping it apart.
Warning: At $10/12 oz, 20% ABV (no that's not a typo), and 120 IBU's (International Bitter Units) this is not for everyone. Dogfish Head makes this only very rarely. If you see it in a store, buy it. It will age for many years.
(Note: Tasted a second time on 3/16/08 with consistent, if less detailed, notes!)