Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Indian Brown Ale

Dogfish Head
Milton, DE

Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 7.2%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

Let’s talk midgets. Giant midgets, to be specific.

On a recent camping trip, Senior Beer Review Correspondents Nigel Tanner and Franz Mueller heard a friend utter the phrase … and this is serious, mind you … “I just saw one of those giant midgets” upon his return from the restroom. He was completely straight-faced, and in vain tried to explain the phenomenon by saying “you know, one of those midgets that’s like 5’5” or 5’6” but has short arms and legs and a big butt like a midget?” Needless to say, we all had a good chuckle (read: laughed hysterically for hours on end) at his expense, and the summer 2009 camping trip will forever be known for the spotting of the giant midget (unfortunately, none of the rest of us witnessed said midget, thus leading us to believe he’s in the same cave as Sasquatch and Yeti).

This amusing anecdote works well for my latest review, which is a long overdue visit to Dogfish Head. You see, Dogfish Head remains a giant in the craft beer industry, despite being trapped in the midgetesty of all states, Delaware (yes, I know Rhode Island is smaller, but at least there’s a small city there). Lame analogy? Perhaps, but Nigel is comfortable with who he is. Dogfish Head has remained, often times under the radar, a leader in both innovation and output in the craft beer industry. Dogfish Head brews can be found coast to coast, and few craft beer connoisseurs haven’t sampled at least a couple of their IPAs, be it the 60, 90, or 120 Minute versions. In my opinion, the 90 Minute is one of the best double IPAs found anywhere and the 120 minute is an overrated, overdone monster, but that’s just me.

On top of their infamous IPAs, Dogfish Head brews a number of tasty, often unique brews. How about Black & Blue, an 11 percent ABV fruit beer? Yikes. That still pales in comparison to Fort, an 18 percent ABV fruit brew, one so powerful that raspberries are now extinct in Delaware. Midas Touch? That’s a 9 percent brew based on residue found in the drinking vessels in King Midas’ tomb. Pangea? It’s brewed with at least one ingredient from every continent, including fresh penguin doodie from Antarctica. How about Immort Ale, an 11 percent monster brewed with organic juniper berries, maple syrup, and vanilla? Top that off with a World Wide Stout, which ranges anywhere from 18 to 23 percent ABV, depending on vintage. I think you get the picture.

With all of those unique monsters floating around (admittedly, I’ve had very few of them myself), it’s easy to forget one of the old standbys, a year-round brew that is complex, balanced, and very, very tasty. Indian Brown Ale, in my opinion, is partially overlooked due to its genre (you kids like brown, don’tcha?), which isn’t terribly sexy. That’s a shame, because, alongside Tyranena’s fantastic Rocky’s Revenge, this bad boy is one of the elites.

The first thing anyone will notice about Indian Brown Ale is that it’s not your typical brown. The crack of the bottle cap reveals a noticeable hint of smoked peat, a sensation that increases on the pour. A solid, center-glass pour reveals a creamy, dark tan head about an inch that very slowly dissipates, leaving a surprisingly frothy lace at the top throughout with quite a bit of stickiness on the sides. As for the color … well, it’s not all that brown. Indian has more of a porter/stout hue to it, as it’s extremely dark with a touch of mahogany that is impenetrable to light. If I’m sniffing it, I’m guessing it’s a Scotch or porter; if I’m looking at it, I’m guessing it’s a barley wine.

Aromas do in fact lean toward the Scotch ale/porter category, as smoked peat hits the nostrils immediately. Up next on the aromatic journey is roasted coffee with a hint of nuttiness. Is that all? Hell no. How about some rich sugars, namely caramel, toffee and molasses. Add in a sprinkle of North American hops, and this mother has an aroma like no other. I can handle complexity, but each whiff of Indian Brown confuses the hell out of me, as I sense a variety of different aromas, many of which typically don’t go together. Pleasantly aromatic for sure, but nothing like any brown ale I’ve ever experienced. In a blind taste test, I’d bet dollars for doughnuts that I’m about to drink a Scotch ale.

And, honestly … I’m not that far off. It’s too sweet and a touch too hoppy to qualify as a true Scotch ale, but all the other necessary characteristics are there in full force. Initial flavors are a battle between the roasted/smoky profile that at times is peat, other times roasted nuts, and other times coffee bean, and a distinct, tongue-curling sugary flavor of caramel, dark brown sugar, and molasses. The smoke and sugar are always in the forefront, one eclipsing the other at various times but neither taking a clear advantage. But, alas, this isn’t solely a malt monster … hops will have their day. Though hard to detect at times, there’s actually a significant hop presence, as indicated by the 50 IBUs, very high for a brown ale, Scotch ale, porter … hell, anything outside of an IPA. According to Dogfish Head, Liberty and Goldings are the hop players, and they play quite well despite being relegated to mop-up duty. A touch of dark fruit is present as well, with hints of fig and raisin hitting the tongue at various times, capping off an exceptionally complex brew. All that flavor in a brown ale? You better believe it, but let’s be honest … this isn’t a pure brown. This is a hybrid ale, and again, if I was classifying it in a blind taste test, I’d put it as a Scotch ale, with brown or porter being a second option. Full bodied and smooth on the palate, Indian Brown Ale is likely too strong (7.2 percent ABV) to be a session beer, but the overwhelming complexity of the brew eliminates that option regardless of alcohol content.

Regardless of classification, Indian Brown Ale is a fantastic brew and falls right in line with the Dogfish Head mantra of creating unique, tasty brews that combine a number of different elements. Incredibly complex in both flavor and aroma, this is a must try … don’t be put of by the idea that it’s just a boring ol’ brown ale. Found just about anywhere with a nominal craft beer selection, it’s not one to be overlooked. Giant midgets may be a figment of our drunken imagination, but complex brown ales are not.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 10, 2009.
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