Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Pilgrim’s Dole

New Holland Brewing Co.
Holland, MI

Style: Barley Wine

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Pair With:
Gobble, gobble—it’s time for a Thanksgiving review from the always festive Nigel. Nigel loves his turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie and can’t wait for the epic feast that will be put on this Thanksgiving at the Tanner family’s main estate, which will be attended for the first time by my lovely girlfriend, Danish Princess (I forget her real name, but it has a lot of “z’s”, “ø’s” and silent “h’s” in it). Due to family regulations, Nigel only has one holiday—and therefore one chance to gorge—per year (Thanksgiving or Christmas), so I’m currently fasting in anticipation.

As a Beer Dork, my fasting regimen still allows me to drink craft beer, as cutting that out of my diet would be sacrilegious. While refraining from solid foods in the days leading up to the great repast, some of my favorite brews have been providing adequate sustenance. I’m enjoying the 2007 release of Capital’s Autumnal Fire, although it’s not quite up to last year’s standards. I’ve managed to navigate through my Russian imperial stout faze without too much damage to my beer funds, and I’m still sucking up the remnants of my Oktoberfest collection, all while getting my daily recommended dosage of hops, which was prescribed to me by my beer doctor (the clinic may be in Tijuana, but I swear up and down this guy is legit).

Since there are no Thanksgiving beers (there should be, especially since some idiot is making money off that disgusting “pizza beer”) like there are Christmas beers, I selected New Holland’s Pilgrim’s Dole. As a “wheat wine” and another selection in the High Gravity Series, I thought it would be a perfect way to celebrate the one day of the year when we all wear buckles on our hats and shoes, black knickers with white support hose, a goofy looking too-short vest with a frilly white shirt, and carry a shotgun with a extra-wide barrel (tell me I’m not the only one that actually does this). Sometimes in this crazy, commercial world of ours, we get so caught with our turkey shopping that we forget the true meaning of Thanksgiving, which is celebrating the birth of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in Bethlehem. After the Pilgrim’s were born to the Virgin Mary and her baby daddy, Kevin Federline, they were sent to the New World to cruelly suppress the native population, after which they had a celebratory feast consisting of turkey, stuffing, and Indians. Check that … I meant “Indian corn.” Seriously, it’s in the Bible. Keep looking … it’s somewhere in the back, past that whole “rapture” thing.

In reality, New Holland’s Pilgrim’s Dole was named after religious pilgrims in Medieval Europe, many of whom were poor peasants. These devout (read: stupid) followers traveled hundreds of miles on foot to witness perceived holy sites and buy relics, all at the urging of the Catholic church, who somehow thought this was legit, likely due to the fact that they made money off of it (on the plus side, it was great cardio for the peasants). Along the way, these pilgrims were offered a ration of bread and ale as nourishment from local well-wishers. This ration was commonly known as the “pilgrim’s dole.” So, yeah … I guess this brew has absolutely nothing to do with the early 17th century English Puritan exiles that fled to the New World in order to escape persecution at home and established a colony near the shores of Cape Cod. Still, try to work with me here. After all, Thanksgiving is a time for forgiveness.

While Pilgrim’s Dole is described as a “wheat wine,” we here at do not recognize that as a legitimate category. We’re bitches like that. Unlike some “wheat wines,” Pilgrim’s Dole is actually 50 percent wheat and 50 percent barley malt, so it can legitimately fall into the barley wine category, unlike my last wheat wine, which I was forced to put into the barley wine category despite it being mostly wheat malt. Got it? Good.

Pilgrim’s Dole pours a nice, deep amber color with a decent, quarter inch fizzy head that dissipates almost instantaneously, leaving a nice creamy lace at the very edge of the glass. Very translucent despite lacking much sedimentation, it’s an attractive brew in the glass.

The aroma … whoa! This thing blew me away at the crack of the bottle cap. The overwhelming aroma of caramel malt and alcohol practically knocks you on your ass. The caramel is nice, don’t get me wrong, but DAMN! That’s way too much alcoholic zip, and it drowns out what could be a pleasant-smelling brew. The caramel is very strong and sweet, and other aromas, equal parts malty, fruity, and hoppy, are trying desperately to get through but are pushed back by the alcoholic bully.

The taste reflects the aroma in that it has the potential to be quite good, but is suppressed by the alcohol. Sugary sweet malt is on overload: mostly caramel, but also a hint of molasses and toffee. Dark fruitiness penetrates just a bit, but is again boxed out by the alcohol. Not much detected in the way of hops, which is a major disappointment considering the style. Hops are not meant to dominate a barley or wheat wine by any means, but they definitely should be more present than they are here; perhaps they could replace the alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad beer by any means; it just needs to be tweaked. Any thick, rich, high ABV brew like this is going to have a nice amount of that warming, alcoholic zip, and that’s welcome to a certain extent on a cool, late-autumn evening. This is just too much, and it hurts the overall flavor. All the ingredients are there to make this a fantastic barley/wheat wine (how about “grain wine”?), but the bite is just too severe. Medium to heavy in body, it’s very rough going down, as the alcohol burns the tongue and the back of the throat (hopefully not my stomach later tonight).

All in all not an awful brew, but a bit disappointing. Definitely not something I’d recommend with Thanksgiving dinner this year, as it’ll likely leave your palate numb and ruin the entire meal. The only thing I could see pairing Pilgrim’s Dole with would be pecan pie, as the alcoholic bite would actually mesh quite well with the overload of syrupy sugar in the pie. In true Puritan fashion, stay away from the alcohol and stick with the punch this Thanksgiving. On second thought, screw the punch; just find a better beer that jives with your bountiful banquet.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on November 20, 2007.
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