[Written in 2009 for a friend’s beer blog. The TV show whose impending premiere I describe in this piece was cancelled after five episodes. When searching for a photo to illustrate this article, I discovered that Calagione has the unique ability to make every photo look like a stock photo.]
I was recently in a stark white room, somewhat sparingly decorated with photos of chefs and their various ingredients and spaces (wheat, pork, kitchens, dining rooms, etc), blown up several feet across. I was reclining on a couch, a bit soggy from spilling free beer all over my sweater and not one but two brand new pairs of pants I had dangling from my arm in a shopping bag. I was nibbling some cheese, arguing (sorry, discussing) with my girlfriend whether or not the particular cheese we were eating was “waxy” or “flaky” and whether or not wax itself could be flaky, when more or less out of nowhere owner of Dogfish Head Brewery and host of Discovery’s new beer reality show Brew Masters Sam Calagione stood up on a box and began speaking. Well-built and genuinely enthusiastic about brewing beer, drinking beer, and talking about beer, he only mentioned his brand-new, soon-to-premiere TV show in passing before excited moving on to taking audience questions, which he seemed a bit disappointed there weren’t more of. He said he hoped some of his beers would offend us. He called the suddenly-controversial 4Loko “the opposite of a roofie,” not entirely disapprovingly. He then spent the next hour or so personally pouring beers for anyone who wanted any and chatting about basically anything with anyone who cared to talk to him.
The event, at the Levi’s-sponsored space in SoHo, was titled simply “Beer and Stinky Cheese.” It was billed as a tasting of some rare and potent Dogfish Head beers, to be served with a selection of cheeses and chocolates, a sort of beer appreciation party, encouraging the masses (or at least the few dozen people who were able to RSVP) to think of the new crop of flavorful and potent beers being brewed by Dogfish and others more as drinks to be sipped, savored, and paired with an appropriate food than guzzled and forgotten. I’m not sure if Calagione’s appearance was exactly a secret, but it certainly wasn’t being publicized in advance. More on him later. This is a beer blog, after all, so let’s talk about beer.
There were four on offer that night: Burton Baton, Fort, the 120-Minute IPA, and the World Wide Stout. Each was paired with its own cheese; a smoked forgia for the Burton, a creamy local cowsmilk Hudson Red for the Fort, a stilton for the IPA, and a plate of chocolate for the stout. I’m a sucker for IPAs, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the 120-Minute IPA, billed as “the world’s strongest IPA,” was my hands-down favorite. It was full-bodied as the best IPA, with a flavor that’s more about jaw-tingling than “notes” of anything particular (my notes from that night call it “a mouthful of carbonated mouth pain”). The Burton was also good, a dark beer with as much barley as an IPA has hops, making it less spicy and giving it a rounder, more refreshing flavor. The Fort was my least favorite by far. It’s a raspberry beer (again, “the world’s strongest,” although I wonder how much competition there is on that front). It smelled of cheap vodka and tasted like cough syrup, and was so cloudy that it looked as if someone had poured dirt in it. I guess what I’m saying is, mission accomplished on the offending me front, Sam.
As for the stout, well, I don’t exactly remember drinking the stout. Here is where I should perhaps mention that all of the beers were 18% ABV (about 3 times as strong as a regular beer), except the Burton Baton, which was “only” 11%. I was at the event for about 2 hours, and about 20 minutes after leaving I found myself standing in the street with my shirt off and yelling at the top of my lungs. I think I was yelling about how amazingly I had proved to my girlfriend that I was not constrained by the shackles of society, and, yes, I would take my clothes off in the street if I felt like it. It could have also had something to do with not really considering that each of the tiny plastic cups I had stacked in front of me by the end of the night basically contained a full beer due to the exceptional ABVs. Possibly.
In closing, I would just like to add that Sam Calagione is a very nice man. His show has the same producers as the obscenely watchable Anthony Bourdain vehicle No Reservations, and if watching it is anything like getting plastered on delicious free bottles of $20 beer, then it will be a very, very good show, indeed.