Through the ages beer has lubricated social functions ranging from the thick, heavy ploughman’s lunch of the middle ages to the ethereal champagne-like product served at royal funerals and re-created in Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch. Today ploughmen and the rest of us will more likely take a tuna salad on rye than a bucket of warm beer, but the principle lives on in cheap easy-drinking “session” lagers that you pick up in mass quantities at quitting time, during the game or to fill the cooler beside the barbecue grill. There’s nothing wrong with this variety of beer but at the very least you have a right to demand that they don’t sell you even less than you’re paying for, which is why I’m so big on macrocheap-but-drinkable varieties like Yuengling.
The Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s flagship brand, Iron City, competes weakly with other rice-based carb water such as Bud and Coors. Skip it. For not much more you can enjoy a bottle of their European lager, Augustiner.
This is pretty much the definition of a session beer. The thin amber color and receding head will look familiar to Am-lager fans and the carbonation makes more of an impression than the whiff of hops that balances the mild ABV and thin mouthfeel. You have to concentrate to notice the slight grassiness and the slight whiff of cheap beer, but at the end of a long day or sessioned with chips and a football game you won’t notice either. It isn’t insultingly bad like most of the stuff one step down but it also lacks the character of Yuengling, my personal favorite at this price level.
Now about Dogfish Head’s bizarre, extraordinary Immort Ale. Let’s say that you have volunteered to host a dinner welcoming your new boss to town. He/she has a beer cellar, writes a monthly beer column for the local paper and spends money on gastronomic travel rather than kids. I have no idea what kind of food you might want to serve but the beer will look something like this.
Immort pours a remarkable hue somewhere between mahogany and cherry wood and leaves a lingering sandalwood-colored head. Pay attention to where the label advertises ‘maple, vanilla and a bit of oak’ because oh yeah, that’s what you get. The first sip practically assaults you with a maple nose, like lightly carbonated maple syrup. Dogfish Head presumably used hops somewhere in making this beer but here the malt, and the extra sugar from juniper berries and Massachussetts maple syrup, win out big time. Fruit beers aren’t this sweet, in fact a good frambozen is usually relatively dry, with most of the fruit sugar converted to alcohol. Even my gold standard for sweet beers, Delirium Tremens, cannot really compare. Clearly the Boston Brewing Co. didn’t feel like loaning out their “ninja yeast” because the yeast in Immort could have gone a lot further than 11%. Next you will notice the phenolic nose from the juniper berries and a pleasant toastiness that helps out the overpowered hops in balancing the brew’s sweetness.
On the whole, kudos to Dogfish Head for blazing yet another completely untraveled path in the world of beer and doing it with characteristic elan. You probably won’t put this on your regular rotation, not unless you’re the kind of person who follows dinner with a cigar and two fingers of Laphroaig, but on the rare occasion when you want to completely flummox and/or impress a beer-philic guest this would make a great choice.