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★★★✩✩

60 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head

Milton, Delaware

12 fl. oz.

6% ABV

$11/6-pack @ Supreme Liquors

★★★★★

90 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head

Milton, Delaware

12 fl. oz.

9% ABV

$11/4-pack @ Supreme Liquors

★★★★★

120 Minute IPA

Dogfish Head

Milton, Delaware

12 fl. oz.

18% ABV

$9 @ Whole Foods (2009)

What is an India Pale Ale, you ask?

Let’s start with Brewing 101: Most beers are made with malted barley, hops, and yeast. Malted barley acts as the sugar source for the yeast; hops acts as a flavoring, preservative, and aromatic element, and yeast converts the sugar to alcohol. Sugar is extracted from the malted barley by soaking in hot water, creating wort. The wort is then boiled with hops, which when added at the beginning of the boil confers bitterness, in the middle adds flavor, and when added at the end just gives the beer aroma. Finally, the yeast is added, and fermentation starts.

An India Pale Ale (IPA) is part of the greater pale ale genre of beers. Pale ales are lighter than most beers because they use malted barley that has been dried out at sufficiently low temperatures for the grain to not brown on the surface.

Where does the India part come in? Beer, almost as old as civilization itself, has a rich history. India Pale Ales are called such because they were produced by England in the 18th century and exported via the East India Company. British soldiers returned from wars in India with a taste for these brews. IPAs are known for their hops-dominated taste and aroma. Although hops are a preservative, historians dispute whether IPAs were highly hopped specifically to allow for their time spent in shipment. Regardless, IPAs today are a favorite of hopheads.

Three IPAs from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery are named after how long the sugary wort is spent boiling with hops: 60 Minute IPA, 90 Minute IPA, and 120 Minute IPA. The longer the boil, the more hoppy character the beer will have. Dogfish uses a unique continual-hopping system which slowly adds hops over the entire duration of the boil, instead of a few discreet additions, and their beers thus have a distinctive hop flavor profile.

Dogfish Head itself is one of the great innovators of the craft brewery scene in the United States, and is widely known for it’s charismatic leader Sam Calagione (who currently hosts the show Brew Masters on the Discovery Channel). Dogfish Head is also known for producing several of the most interesting beers to come out in the last 15 years — trying unusual ingredients and methods, and testing their beers at their pub in Milton, Del. before mass-distributing them across the globe. It is the favorite brewery of both my brain and my mouth, and I’ve tried every one of their almost three-dozen products that have made it to Massachusetts.

Why review three beers from the same brewery? Because even within a given category of brew, the products can be wildly different, and each brewery can put their stamp of uniqueness on a 300 year old type of beer.

60 Minute IPA

This beer is probably the closest of the three to the traditional IPA style. They’ve used less barley than the rest, and the beer is drier (less sweet). The wort is boiled for an hour, which, while normal for an IPA, indicates there is less hoppiness than its brethren. Because of the lower alcohol content (6 percent ABV), this is one of Dogfish’s most popular session beers, or brews meant to be drank in quantity over an evening.

My beer had a little bit of head, but lots of carbonation. The aroma smelled of pine. The taste on the tongue was very crisp, with the beer being only a month old. There was a lot of bite in the finish from the bitterness not being balanced by sweetness.

Despite the beer’s marketed sessionability, it is hard for me to drink in quantity because of its bitter finish. Despite this, I do enjoy this beer occasionally, as sometimes I’m in the mood for lots of bite. The idea of drinking tons of a session beer has never appealed to me, anyway, since I like trying several beers over an evening, and dislike being full and bloated … who does?

90 Minute IPA

This beer is often described as being an “unique American creation,” and routinely receives rave reviews by the toughest beer critics. Weighing in at 9 percent ABV, it is doubly as strong as a commercial beer, and can appropriately be categorized as a Double IPA. More barley is added than the 60 Minute, giving it more sweetness, and hops are added during fermentation, giving it more hop aroma.

There was little initial aroma on my beer, except for the hops. Everything opened up on the tongue. The beer is sweeter, but also more complex, with more oak and smokey maltiness. The aftertaste is much more balanced, and leaves me with a desire to have another sip.

This beer is much more drinkable than the 60 Minute. The alcohol is hidden well, and along with the superior taste, this beer is worth its price. The 90 Minute also helped put Dogfish Head on the map, and is still one of their best sellers as a moderately priced beer that you can have often.

120 Minute IPA

With a similar naming scheme to the 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs, it would be natural to think that this beer is simply an incremental upgrade from the previous two, standing atop the family as the big brother. Just taking the cap off the bottle (or looking at the price sticker) reveals this is not the case — this is the grandfather.

120 Minute IPA has its wort boiled for a full two hours, but just about everything else about its brewing is a non-incremental upgrade from the grandchildren. Tons of barley is used, gifting the yeast with enough sugar to create a lot of alcohol and still have enough left for sweetness on the tongue. After boiling, the beer is fermented for a month with daily additions of hops, and is finally aged for a month on a fresh bed of hops, creating an incredibly aromatic beer. Despite about two dozen times the amount of hops going into its creation compared to a regular brew, the hop flavor is not overpowering, and the bitterness is balanced well with the sweetness, fruity complexness, and high alcohol content (18 percent ABV).

Indeed, this brew has as much in common with brandy as it does with beer. At $9 for a 12 ounce bottle, it better be something wonderful and special, and it is.

Let the beer sit out of the fridge for a while and warm up, freeing the volatiles. Pour the slightly chilled beer into a brandy snifter and take a whiff. There are immediate notes of hops and the wood the beer aged on. You can tell the alcohol is there, but it is not unpleasant. Upon tasting, there are strong flavors of plum and mango. The beer doesn’t taste like it is half as strong as most vodka (35–40 percent ABV); the alcohol is hidden well and feels more like 10 percent ABV. The finish is super smooth, with little bite.

This beer is definitely a sipper, and worth sharing with a friend. Splitting a bottle between two snifters is a good way to spend a half-hour conversation with a friend from out of town. If your conversation goes long and your beer becomes too warm, drop in some whiskey stones from ThinkGeek.com; don’t dare put in ice.

Unfortunately, it is a bit hard to find this beer at the moment. Dogfish Head had a well-blogged-about failure last spring with a batch not fermenting properly, and they then spent the fall ironing out their production process to prevent costly failures in the future. It is difficult getting yeast to ferment a beer to 18 percent, and Dogfish poured a million bucks down the drain last year dealing with this issue. Alas, there is hope, and recent reports say that this beer will become available again in April. I expect it to be at Whole Foods on River St., where I’ve purchased it before.

The bottle I drank for this review was 1.8 years old, which is a slightly different experience than drinking the beer fresh. The aged beer is perhaps a bit more mellow with slightly more notes of fruit; the young beer is still pretty smooth and has a bit more carbonation and a stronger hop aroma.

Overall, the 120 Minute is my favorite beer from my favorite brewery. It may seem scary spending $9 for a single beer, and indeed, this beer should be saved for the right night. A budding beer enthusiast should try this brew to know what it’s like at the top. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to enjoy regular-priced beers after this.

Send agreements, disagreements, suggestions for future beer reviews, and offers for project management positions in the Boston area to dtemp@mit.edu.