East Meets West: Reviewing Dogfish Head’s Fort and Higher Math

DFH Fort and Higher Math

Craft beer is crazy, stupid, fucking beautiful — and it has been ever since Dogfish Head came on the scene in 1995. While famous across the country for IPAs like 60 Minute and 90 Minute, it’s the brewery’s “off-centered” offerings that set it apart and keep the Delaware-based craft beer pioneers relevant in a market dominated by West Coast IPAs. Perhaps you’ve heard it asked, “Wherez the hopz, bro?”

And despite our decidedly West Coast bias here (sorry for the shameless pun-based brand-awareness plug — we’ll be noting that in our next confession), we couldn’t help but wrap our lips around a pair of bottles from DFH when a colleague brought them back from a recent trip to D.C.

Presenting, for our discerning taste buds, Higher Math and Fort. The first is described as an “ale brewed with chocolate and sour cherries,” and tips the scale at a massive 17% ABV. The 20th Anniversary beer from Sam Calagione and crew is meant to evoke memories of his first home-brewed beer, but there’s nothing nostalgic about this forward-thinking ale.

With an abundance of sweet and sour cherry in the aroma and a huge, burnt-brown sugar nose right up front, this feels like a home brewer’s experiment right from the start. A very good, creative, inventive homebrew that feels like the fruition of a late-night, barleywine-induced brewer’s fever dream.

There’s more and more fruit in the initial sips, and enough alcohol heat that you can’t forget you’re drinking a 17% ABV beer (although drink a few of them, and you’ll forget a lot more than that).

If there are flaws, they’re covered up by layer after layer of flavor and alcohol. Is it stylistically accurate? Who knows. This beer defies classification beyond “interesting.” It’s hard to imagine drinking more than one (or in our case, half of a shared bottle), but that’s part of the beauty of this beer and Dogfish Head in general.

This beer would be just as good paired with short ribs (as DFH’s website suggests) or reduced and incorporated in the barbecue sauce itself. Like Kanye West, it’s a distinct, unique and brilliantly creative force — and like Yeezus, it’s probably not for everyone.

That doesn’t appear to be the goal of Fort, which is decidedly simpler and more drinkable.

A Belgian-style ale brewed with a “ridiculous amount of raspberry juice,” Fort is exactly as billed. The big fruit aroma smells like a smoothie, and it tastes like sweet fruit jelly. Each and every sip is a blast of raspberry after raspberry — did we mention this beer tastes and smells like raspberries?

It’s simple, straightforward and tart in comparison to Higher Math. Stacked next to the anniversary ale, it’s dull—but that’s not really its fault. It’s not fair to call it a beer for people who don’t like beer (because, um, it’s a beer, so that doesn’t make any sense), but you don’t have to like beer to like Fort. You do, however, have to like raspberries. Lots, and lots of raspberries.

Beer review: The Surgeon IPA (Institution Ale Company)

Institution Ale Company (Camarillo, CA) — The Surgeon IPA

Institution The Surgeon

The Surgeon operates in a rare corner of the beer world. Triple IPAs such as Pliny the Younger from Russian River Brewing Company and Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA have become craft beer-geek milestones and measuring sticks. Simply getting a taste of either is an important box checked in the beer-drinker’s bucket list.

Perhaps rightfully so, these beers receive ample amounts of hype and fans line up for hours to get a pour. The question becomes: is it worth it?

With The Surgeon available without a line in Camarillo, the short answer is: No.

The Surgeon poured at Institution Ale Company in Camarillo, Calif.
The Surgeon poured at Institution Ale Company in Camarillo, Calif.

The Surgeon is clearly brewed with Pliny the Younger in mind, as it should be. Russian River set the standard for the Triple IPA category, and The Surgeon meets and occasionally exceeds every mark.

Like Pliny the Younger, The Surgeon enters the glass as brilliantly clear golden amber nectar with a thin white head. Small bubbles stream steadily upward, pushing forward a rich hop profile in the process.

Pine, soil, orange, grapefruit and dank herbs take their turns filling your nose before a lingering pine and citrus aroma stick around for the lasting memory—as they should in an American IPA of any strength. There’s a large amount of malt used to balance out an even-more-ridiculous amount of hops used to make this beer, but little to none of the breadiness or caramel notes come through in the aroma.

Not so in the first sip, which presents itself as a remarkably dry and round beer. There is more orange, lemon and grapefruit, but only a touch of bitterness on the palate. The strong honey flavors of the malt meld with the citrus and combine to create a suggestion of mandarins — a welcome surprise in a beer landscape that often seems to embrace grapefruit flavors over everything else in hoppy beers.

There is a strong flourish of alcohol that reminds the drinker that he or she is drinking an 11% triple IPA, but not enough to be off-putting—and not out of line with the style. It’s warming, and it’s inviting.

Drinking, and standing in line for, Pliny the Younger is a beer nerd’s rite of passage. The experience of hunting down your first pour of that special whale will leave more memories than the beer itself. But once you’ve done it, and you’re ready to drink amazing beer without the fuss, then it’s time for The Surgeon.

From left: Sedation, Progress Pale Ale (Citra) and Ratched Rye Porter. Three other strong beers from Institution Ale Company.
From left: Sedation (Hoppy red ale), Progress Pale Ale (Citra) and Ratched Rye Porter. Three other impressive beers from Institution Ale Company.