Sunday 14 October 2012

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

I’ve gushed before about how much I love the Mayor of Old Town and when I tweeted that I had arrived in Fort Collins it was very nice to receive a tweet back from the owner Kevin inviting me in for a beer, an offer I couldn’t refuse. To those who aren’t terribly into their beer I can imagine that the Mayor could potentially be a somewhat daunting place with one hundred immaculately lined up beers on tap how would you know where to start? Well there's no pretentiousness or snobbery to be found here with micro brews sitting comfortably alongside the likes the Budweiser and Coors Light and if you’re feeling more adventurous then the bartenders are well educated, will make informed recommendations and offer you a free taster before you place your order.

The illusive 120 Minute IPA
Two days before I was due to fly to Colorado the Mayor tweeted that they would be tapping a single keg of the
über rare and highly regarded Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA, a 15% ABV hop and malt monster. This elusive beer is only brewed a few times a year, and the ABV can often rise up to almost 20% depending on the batch, as the name suggests the wort is continuously hopped whilst being boiled for two hours before being dry hopped in the fermenter every day for a month and then aged for a further month on whole leaf hops, epic. I texted my Dad about this tapping immediately, he’s a huge fan of the 90 minute IPA and I know he’d been seeking a taste of the 120 pretty much since he moved to Colorado over two years ago. At 6am whilst sat in the Heathrow airport departure lounge I received a drunken phone call from my Dad, it sounded like he might have emptied the entire keg by himself and predictably the keg did not last the night so I assumed that I would not be trying this beer on this particular trip, oh well, there's plenty of great beer in Fort Collins I thought.

I was more than halfway through my whistle stop week in Fort Collins and Dad and I still hadn’t hit the Mayor for a few beers, we finally made it in on Sunday lunchtime and found ourselves a seat at the bar as we usually do. To my delight I immediately spotted Russian River Blind Pig IPA, a beer I’d been dying to taste for a while, suddenly not getting hold of any Dogfish 120 didn’t seem so bad. I enjoyed the Russian River IPA, it was tart and bitter with a dry citrus finish but it was a little underwhelming, I guess this is the danger of hype but it was at least very drinkable. My Dad, who had stated that he fancied a light lunchtime beer plumped for a Mad River Steelhead Double IPA which was the antithesis of a light lunchtime beer. It was rich, bitter, loaded with citrus and tropical fruits and had that signature chewy malt character that typifies the style, I enjoyed having a few sips of this beer before my Dad opted to add a little water. Amazingly adding the water brought all of the fruit and bitterness from the hops to the forefront of the palate, just like adding a few drops of water to a great scotch the beer came to life, this is definitely something I plan to experiment with again in the future.

As we finished our pizzas and decided on our next beer Kevin very kindly invited us on a tour of the cellar, Dad opted for a sublime Hop 15 from Port Brewing which was one of the best beers I tasted on the entire trip, in fact I’m kicking myself for not bringing a bottle of it back with me. I opted for a Great Divide Belgian Style Yeti, a version of one of my all time favourite imperial stouts fermented with Belgian yeast. It was certainly the most funky of all the Yetis I’ve tried but I actually found that the flavours from the yeast subdued the delicious chocolate and coffee rich malts and the bitter finishing hops and despite it being a great beer was probably my least favourite of all the Yetis so far. We followed Kevin down a set of stairs at the back of the bar as he told us a little about it’s history and gestured towards a long purpose built cold room where all of the kegs were safely stored. Before we ventured inside I was expecting a tangled, chaotic mass of pipework carrying the multitude of beers to their respective taps but what I saw before me was one of the most high tech, intricate beer serving and storage systems I had ever seen.

The kegs were lined up as neatly as soldiers with light beers at the furthest end of the room gradually getting darker in colour as it reached the porters and stouts at the end which we were standing. Each keg line was electronically tagged so they can see how many pints are being served from each keg and when it will need replacing. The Mayor has an impressive policy on it’s beer, when a keg is thirty days old it is taken off regardless of how much is left and the lines are cleaned every time a fresh keg is tapped, regardless of whether or not the same beer is going straight back on afterwards. When a new keg is tapped the giant projectors behind the bar automatically update with the beer that’s just become available and a tweet is sent updating followers in real time. It’s an incredibly efficient and clever system that was developed by Kevin himself, if this is the future of specialist beer bars then the futures a very bright one indeed!

The Mayors immaculately arranged guts
Near the end of the tour I mention to Kevin about how I was pretty gutted to have missed the tapping of the Dogfish Head 120 by a mere forty eight hours. As Dad and I sit back at the bar to finish our drinks Kevin disappears into the back and returns to present me with a bottle of beer with the only condition being that I have to drink it on the premises. It was of course a bottle of that elusive elixir, 120 minute IPA, predictably I struggled to contain my excitement and wanted to open it there and then but Dad and I sensibly decided to come back the following evening, which would be my last of this trip and toast the end of my holiday with this rare bottle.

So the very next evening we returned to the Mayor of Old Town and wasting no time opened the bottle straight away. We shared half of the bottle each and poured it into large brandy snifter style glassware. The hazy, auburn liquid lolled lazily around the glass, the consistency was viscous and the boozy aromas could be easily inhaled from more than a foot away. Despite the high alcohol content the beer still managed to produce a halo of foam which lingered for the entire length of time it took me to enjoy this beer. After giving it a good swill I stuck my nose in long enough for those high alcohol aromas to separate and evolve, sherry was my immediate thought but after another sniff I decided that it was more like a rich white wine mixed with stewed prunes and dates. The vinous aroma translated beautifully onto the palate but upon tasting my first thought was that I found it very difficult to describe this liquid as a beer.

It was more wine than beer with those sherry and white wine notes dominating but at the finish the hops kick in providing a huge tangerine tartness rather than a bitterness. The tart fruit flavours from the hops seemed to linger for an age after swallowing and a nice warm trail of alcohol lined my throat making it incredibly satisfying to drink. As a beer drinker, I immediately decided that the 90 minute IPA was more to my preference as in the 120 minute the huge malts and alcohol levels almost over saturate the natural bitterness of the hops but there was no doubting that this was a stunningly crafted beverage, however you choose to define it.

It was an honour and a privilege to try this beer especially as it was done in great company and in one of my favourite bars. Kevin, I’d like to thank you once again for the incredible hospitality shown by yourself and your team, the tour and most importantly the chance for this beer geek to try an incredible beer and boast about it on his blog, I’ll be back in the Mayor real soon!

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