120 Minutes of Pain

Every once in a while a beer comes along that becomes less a bottle of suds than it is an experience, something transcendent. The very thought of it actually makes one slightly nervous. This can only be explained in that there are some beers that attain a sort of legendary status.

Such is the legend of the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA. We are big fans of Dogfish Head around these parts. The 60 Minute and 90 Minute IPAs are all gold standards for the style. But the 120 is an entirely different type of flying, altogether.

First of all, there’s the alcoholic content. It is 21.00% alcohol. That is not a misprint. Twenty-one percent alcohol by volume. It’s 42 proof. It is listed as the fifth strongest beer in the world by BeerAdvocate.com. (The 60 and 90 Minute IPAs are 6% and 9% abv, respectively.) This means that drinking one of these beers is the equivalent of drinking between 3 to 5 “regular” beers, depending on alcohol content.

Then there is the price. One 12 ounce bottle of this stuff was $8.99. For one bottle. Now, this is just a little easier to justify given that I have plunked down $10 at bars before for beers that don’t have the kind of bang for the buck that the 120 Minute has. And if you follow the “3 to 5” beer equation (and you’re just looking to get lit up on the cheap), this is actually a pretty good bargain. It’s better than sniffing magic markers. I’ve spent $8.99 on a lot of crappy CDs and bad restaurant hamburgers, so a ten-spot isn’t really going to be a deal-breaker.

I consulted my personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this one, and he told me to go for it. So I found my cleanest glass and pulled the bottle out of the fridge. After having finished it, there is really nothing else like it (although Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton is the closest thing). I went down this frightening and lonesome road so you don’t have to. Here is what I found.

The color is gorgeous. It’s big, and it’s thick. It pours a huge, deep and dark orange color. It looks like apple cider, but somehow even thicker. There is a nice flat, half-finger of light brown head. The lacing is very minimal, which surprised me given the cloudy appearance of this sucker. There are lots of tiny carbonation bubbles skyrocketing from bottom to top, probably trying to find the escape velocity to get out of the muck. This mother is thick.

The smell is a very strong combination of flowery hops and a dark oak scent. The smell is very rich and very strong. The hops are strong, and yet they are completely overpowered by the combination of the oak, the dark berry/grape smell, and the massive grain alcohol smell. Anyone who says they can’t smell the alcohol should probably see a doctor, because they’ve probably had a stroke. Still, the smells of oak, pine and some nuttiness still managed to escape. The smell isn’t so much balanced as it just throws a lot of different scents in there, hoping one will stick.

The flavor is really the thing here, and it’s what I have been a bit scared of. I am a huge fan of IPAs in general, and not afraid of hops, but after trying the Burton Baton from DFH previously, I would never underestimate the lengths to which they will go to make something extreme. This is definitely no exception.

The first taste I noticed was a major blast of alcohol on the tongue. More than just a hint of it, or an accent. This was almost like gasoline hitting my taste buds. It is the single most definitive characteristic of the taste of this beer. Yes, there are some woody hops, yes there is an oak accent. But every sip is like an assault on the tongue. It’s less like a refined IPA than it is simply akin to licking a piece of fine wooden furniture (a dresser comes to mind).

I do give this beer points for sheer strength and power. And balls. But to me — and maybe it’s because my palate isn’t as attuned as many of you fancy people — this beer is less an example of a carefully rendered craft brewing and balance, and more an example of throwing a bunch of elements that people like in their beers (hops, alcohol, oak) and simply cranking up the volume. It conjures up the image of a mad brewer telling his reluctant assistants to throw each ingredient in the vat, and then yelling “More. More! MOOOORRRRE! BWOO-HA-HA!” (I am confident this image is not an accurate depiction of the beer’s actual brewing process.)

The feel of the beer is about as thick and chunky as a beer can get. It’s chewy. And in addition to its thickness, the feel of the beer is sandpapery, not even remotely smooth. Every sip is like choking down a thick, viscous shot of whiskey. And it burns the same way as whiskey, on the tongue, in the esophagus, and in the stomach.

As much as I will give credit to the pure chutzpah with which DFH made this beer, I will give even more credit to the alcohol content. I was plenty drunk after being only about 3/4 done with the glass. Luckily I was already in for the night. Do NOT drink this beer and drive anywhere for a few hours. Seriously.

My overall impression is this: I wouldn’t recommend this beer to anyone, because I think it’s a delicacy. Maybe if I drank one a day for six months I could begin to develop a palate for it, but why would I do that when I can enjoy the 60 and 90 minute varieties that DFH already offers? I would defy anyone to drink two in a row for pure enjoyment, and not as part of some dare or for charity.

I actually swished the last sip around in my mouth for a few extra seconds, knowing that I had finally come face to face with this mighty beast, and that it would likely never pass my lips again. I am glad, however, that I tried it that one time.

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~ by William H on August 6, 2007.

2 Responses to “120 Minutes of Pain”

  1. IPA? More like IP-HEEEEEEEEY! Am I right?

  2. Now I want to try it.

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