The Imbibing Scribe: On the Benefit of Proper Mixing for a Well-Made Beer

Dogfish Head has long been a favorite among the beer nerd community (and for good reason). The venerable Delaware brewery makes interesting beers, and generally makes them well. Several of their brews are staples for me: 60 Minute IPA, Indian Brown Ale, Palo Santo, Burton Baton, and more. However, in the last five years or so, I’ve grown weary of their more fanciful offerings. Their move seems to be, “Let’s take a Belgian-style ale, add some weird fruit and some savory spices you’ve never heard of and call it a day.” They all end up tasting the same. Not that they taste bad, because they don’t. But a Dogfish beer can sometimes leave me pining for the simple beauty of a well-made, straightforward beer.

So, as I was walking around my purveyor of potent potables, I saw “The Official Beer of Record Store Day,” and it seemed like an odd pairing. Record Store Day, to me, is the proper locale for cheap-ass beer, cool bands playing in-store shows, and vinyl. So, so much vinyl. It can be fun, but you would think the official beer of such a day would be pretty simple and inexpensive. That’s not Dogfish Head’s bag.

The specific beer is called “Beer to Drink Music To,” which is a cool name, and it’s a Belgian Tripel (9%).  I love tripels, so I was a bit excited. However, it is also brewed with sweet orange peel, green cardamom, peppercorns and vanilla, which sounds kind of like all of their beers. It sounds altogether too complicated, too powerful, too fruity, too much. But, I bought it anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised. All those frou frou flavors are there. You can certainly taste them. The cardamom and peppercorns add an earthy bass to the track, while the sweet orange and vanilla riff over the top. But, drinking this made me realize the issue I have with so many other Dogfish Head beers: the fruit and spices overshadow the beer. That is not the case here. Like a producer hunched over a mixing board, DFH backed off the spices a touch, and let the rich sweetness of the tripel come forward. Man, is this beer delicious.

The beer at the root is a well-made tripel: sweet, alcohol-forward, lightly carbonated, with honey notes that leave you with rosy cheeks. The other flavors here act as support and accent. The sweetness of the orange accentuates the malty sweetness of the beer, and actually mellows the alcohol flavor in a very pleasant way. The spices draw your attention to the wheat and yeast and make you really taste your beer in a new and fun way.

My only complaint here is that I still miss the connection between a bunch of sweaty, neck-bearded hipsters smoking American Sprits outside a record store with a punny name and this sweet, complicated, powerful deliciousness. I’ve paired it with punk records. I’ve paired it with afro-beat. I’ve paired it with soul. I’ll keep trying until I find the right vinyl to pair this beer with. But, really, if DFH simply put this out as their Tripel, it would be damn near perfect.

So, grab some of this. Enjoy it. Enjoy your records. Just, don’t expect to find a connection between the taste and the sound.