Dogfish Head is a brewery that should need no introduction among craft beer enthusiasts. Although its slogan is “Off-centered ales for off-centered people,” I would maintain that Dogfish Head is widely-known for its unique and very well executed American IPAs. The lineup consists of two year-round staples: 60 Minute (a standard IPA) and 90 Minute (an imperial IPA).
The naming convention refers to the amount of time during the brewing process in which the beer is boiled and hops are added. The longer the amount of time, the more flavor is extracted from the hops. In 2013, Dogfish added 61 Minute to their year-round lineup, adding syrah grape must to the 60 Minute recipe to create a kind of IPA/wine fusion. There is another IPA hybrid, 75 Minute IPA, which was originally released in 2012 and is a seasonal bottle conditioned blend of 60 and 90 Minute with the addition of maple syrup; and then there is the legendary 120 Minute IPA.
Originally released in 2003, 120 Minute is hopped for an outrageous two hours during the boil, dry hopped daily for an entire month during fermentation and finally aged for an additional month on whole-leaf hops. It is an exercise in creating the most extreme IPA imagined both in the amount of hops used and the alcohol content present. That extremism does not come without some setbacks, as Dogfish has had to dump more than one batch of 120 Minute due to things going awry during fermentation and aging, but such is the case when you are pushing the envelope of what is possible in a beer.1
Regardless, 120 Minute is highly coveted among lovers of big, bold, occasionally ridiculous IPAs and the demand is exacerbated by the fact that it is only released two or three times a year in limited quantities. I have to admit, it holds a special place in my heart as it was the first beer that I can recall spending some significant time and effort trying to locate here in Texas, only to be incredibly disappointed and a little dismayed to learn that Dogfish Head could not distribute it here due to the TABC and their rigid labeling requirements.2 Suffice it to say, I would not be swayed and eventually found a friend on the east coast with access to a few bottles and a willingness to ship. As an avid IPA fan and at a point in my beer journey where bigger was always better, I was anxious to get my hands on one of the biggest and baddest hop monsters on the market and 120 Minute did not disappoint. Fast forward three years, and here we are.
120 is lauded by Dogfish Head as being the “holy grail for hopheads” and is likely one of the only IPAs that actually carries a recommendation for aging right on the label.3 Since it is not really an every day drinker and I happened to have a few bottles, I intentionally set a couple of my 120 Minutes back to age and see how they would fare after a few years. My friends, that day of reckoning is now upon us.
The beer pours a dark, rich copper into a tulip glass with a surprising amount of carbonation for a three year old beer. There is a generous amount of head that gradually fades to leave a quarter inch of bubbles clinging to the edge of the glass and a thin film of foam on the surface. The carbonation is very active and keeps a steady stream of bubbles rising to the top.
The initial aroma coming from the beer is a little flat to be honest. There is a noticeable malt sweetness reminiscent of maple syrup with just a touch of piney hops in the background, but I really have to look for it. Other than that, there is not a lot going on and it’s now the moment of truth as I take my first sip.
The first taste of three-year-old 120 Minute is a liquid slap in the face. The flavors present can only be described as musty and stale with the hops hardly present. The booze is still heavily apparent, making its presence known with a detectable amount of heat. I pick up a little bit of unpleasant hop bitterness and a considerable amount of regret on the finish. Fortunately, the flavors do not linger too long on the tongue and I only have to take a few sips to get a good idea for where this beer is headed. The only redeemable quality in the beer at this point is the carbonation and mouthfeel, which is actually quite good considering its age.