Wood. What would we do without it? Besides the basic essentials of life – water, air, food, Kardasians; one could make an argument that the most important substance to our very existence on this planet is wood. After all, what would the ancient cave men burned once they discovered fire? And what would maritimers of old build their ships from? What would the second little pig have built his house out of? What kind of nickle would we have ended up being warned not to take?
No, wood in its various uses is like sign posts for the evolution of the human species. There isn’t an aspect of our lives that it doesn’t touch, or hasn’t touched in the past, only to make way for more modern, practical man-made substances. We build our shelters out of it, use a form of it in daily correspondence, and make sporting equipment, musical instruments and hell, just about everything out of it. It seasons our food (cinnamon), is an essential part of Tabasco and Balsamic vinegar production, and of course puts the cue in barbecue.
So it should be no surprise that along the way it’s become an integral part of the production of alcoholic beverages, including bourbon, scotch, sherry, brandy, port and of course wine. But beer is not to be left out of this company. Storing, aging and serving beer in wooden barrels was common before the advent of metal kegs.
Of course as stainless steel became more available and more practical, wood began to take a back seat in the beer world. But modern brewers have a strong sense of tradition about them and so many have begun to look at wood again and the awesome influence it can have on their beers.
Dogfish Head is no stranger to the marriage of wood and beer, producing several that are aged in one type of wood or another. The one I want to look at today is Palo Santo Marron. Let’s Taste.
THEM: PSM is an unfiltered brown ale. That’s pretty much it. There isn’t a lot else said about it, or to say about it. Twelve-percent ABV, 50IBUs.
But the real story behind PSM isn’t in the grain bill or hop schedule anyway, it’s in the wooden 10,000 gallon tank that it ages in. Of course Sam does nothing conventional so you can expect that this isn’t just any old wooden barrel. No, the barrel is made out of Paraguayan Palo Santo wood that is more commonly used by some South American wine makers. Palo Santo (which in Spanish means “Holy Wood”) refers to Lignum vitae a trade wood from the genus Guaiacum, or either Bulnesia sarmientoi or Bursera graveolens.
Santo Palo wood is known for its density and is used in many hard wood applications such a construction, cricket bats, and, mortar and pestles. In one telling of the Arthur Tale, Merlin’s wand was made out of Lignum vitae because it was believed to have magical powers.
The wood is credited for the “caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer”.
But the wood isn’t all, the 10,000 gallon tank (which stands fifteen feet high and measures ten feet in diameter) was the largest wooden barrel produced in the US since prohibition. DFH currently has two other tanks of the same size sitting next to it, both manufactured from oak.
Marron? Well according to my research, it’s either a species of crayfish, or a French description of a certain variety of chestnut. Knowing Sam, it might just go either way.
ME: I’d love to try this beer without the wood aging because I think it would be an excellent comparison to demonstrate what the Palo Santo wood is bringing to the party. First, there’s an ever so slight roast in the nose, and the slightly darker than tan color of the head is definitely influenced by dark grains. I’m also getting touches of caramel, chocolate and a light spice in there as well. The flavor is owwww so smooth in the front with an amazingly silky mouth feel delivering caramel, chocolate, a nondescript woodiness, vanilla and perhaps a touch of coffee . For all the flavor in the front, the back is surprisingly clean with just a little stickiness left coating the mouth and not a whole of bitter. I can sense the booze in this. It comes at the end like the lingering reminder of a shot or sip of bourbon. Especially when you burp. Maybe 12%ABV is a little too much to ask of this beer to hide. You wouldn’t think so though, because this isn’t no mamby-pamby beer. It’s packed with all kinds of things that your mother told you were good for you. Ok, maybe not, but she SHOULD have.
I’ll admit I ended up liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. I liked the smell, and loved the flavor and mouth feel, but the alcohol on the back end made it finish a little harsh for me in the beginning (I got used to it). Still, not a bad beer. Let’s give it a 4-PACK, although I have no doubt some of you out there will really enjoy this one.
Time for another beer….