Brew Review: Dogfish Head’s Sixty-One Minute IPA, and Mine as Well

For those who don’t know the genesis behind Sixty-One, the first new addition to DFH’s core line up since 2007, it derives from a moment of experimentation when owner Sam Calagione poured some of his favorite red wine into a pint of 60 Minute IPA, and apparently fell in love with the combination.

Sixty One

I find that interesting as I’m sure more than a few brewers/owners would cast a raised eye-brow my way if I informed them, “I love  your IPA!  Do you know it’s really a lot better if you add half a glass of Zinfandel to it!”  Yeah, I would think that might be a good way to get tossed from some breweries.  However if your name is on the bottle (well not really, but you know) I guess you can do whatever you want without fear of reprisals.

Anyway, apparently falling in love with the combination, Sam decided to introduce Sixty-One, a version of his continually hopped 60 Minute IPA with a grape component in an attempt to duplicate it.  Did he succeed?  Let’s taste.

THEM:  Sixty-One IPA is combination of two brewing techniques that DFH has a good amount of experience with: continually hopping, and beer/wine hybrids.  The beer is described as being 60 Minute IPA with one more ingredient, but Sixty-One does differ in that it clocks in at 6.5% ABV vs 6.0% for 60 Minute.

The one ingredient that puts the “One” in Sixty-One is Syrah grape must from California.  Syrah is a primarily red wine grape used as a stand alone varietal and in blending.  In France, the grape plays a major role in wine styles from the Rhone region such as Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While in Australia, where the grape is marketed under the name Shiraz, it is a common blend component with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Must, is an ambiguous term, that usually refers to freshly pressed grape juice that still contains all the pomace (solid material such as seeds, stems, skins) but is sometimes used to describe pure freshly pressed grape juice alone.

ME:  I’m tasting this next to 60-Minute to see what the differences there are between the two beers.  The beers pour almost identically, the first standout differences being that 60 Minute is a touch more cloudy and Sixty-One is darker.  Sitting on the table, a casual glance would lead me to believe that it’s an amber type ale, but once a good source of light hits the beer it is obviously (here come some words I never thought I’d type in a beer review) a pleasant, light shade of purple.

This is an interesting comparison.  Sixty-One definitely has a whole other layer of complexity in the aroma and flavor.  The predominant hop profile in 60 takes a back seat in 61 (you don’t mind if I call you that do you?) to a generous amount of grape, but it’s not grape as in Welch’s Grape Juice (after all DFH didn’t us Concord grapes) but the type of grape flavor you’d expect out of a quality wine making grape.  The grape really shines in the flavor, replacing the malt back bone in the 60, and really twisting the beer down a different path.  Dont’ get me wrong, there’s still some hop in there, but the grape just seems to smooth everything out, almost to the point where it takes the beer’s overall profile away from its continually hopped roots.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  The finish is clean, with a  little cheek bite and slightest touch of tartness that reminds me a bit of what I might expect from a rose champagne.

It was at this point that an inspired need for experimentation took over.  I was wondering just how close this beer came to  hitting it’s intended target.  Adding fresh grape must to a fermenting beer is not the same as pouring some of your favorite wine into it.  The difference being that a wine is processed through different yeast, a lot of times a blend of different grapes, and may have some flavors added from aging (sometimes in oak).  I decided to try this for myself and poured a shot or two (ok, maybe three) of one of my favorite under $10 Zins into a beer glass and filled it with 60-Minute.

My 61

I have to admit, this is pretty neat.  The aromas are pretty darn close, even with the different grape varieties but as I suspected, the beer with my Zin in it has a more rounded, fuller flavor where the 61 definitely has a more simplistic grape flavor.  And just as in the 61, the wine addition definitely seems to have suppressed the hops to a fair degree.  I also believe the finish of mine is more in the ballpark of 60, as I’m getting more hop bitterness from it than I did from the 61.   To be honest, at the risk of having my Delaware Craft Beer Card revoked (and my decoder ring repossessed), I have to say that I’m actually enjoying my mix better.

I’ll be interested to see how Dogfish Head fans will take to Sixty-One.  To be honest, it’s not a beer I will gravitate to, although I will grab it on draft one time if I get the opportunity.  Having said that however, this has been a fun little experiment and I do have one more 60-Minute and almost a full bottle of wine still sitting on the counter.  So you all know what that means….

Time for another beer.

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