By this time, Dogfish Head is pretty well-known around South Florida, mostly for its classic 60/90/120 Minute IPAs and its “Ancient Ales” series. Dogfish Head does brew plenty of other beers, however, and in my opinion, Indian Brown may well be its best. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but let me tell you, this 7.2% “brown ale” is loaded with flavor.
Let’s get this out of the way – the “Indian” in “Indian Brown Ale” doesn’t mean that this beer was brewed in Calcutta. It just means that this brown ale is hop-forward similar to the way that India Pale Ales are hop-forward. It’s a fancy way of saying “Hoppy Brown Ale here!” Per the classy, understated label: “A clean, well hopped brown ale brewed with caramelized sugar and hopped liberally and often.” So yeah – if you don’t get the point by now, you’re pretty dense.
The bottle neck gives me a date of 6/21/11, so this is a nice fresh beer. As you can see, after giving it a hard pour into an imperial pint glass, it’s about as opaque as you’ll ever see a “brown ale” get. The picture below makes it look darker than it really is – if you hold it up to the light you’ll see that it actually is brown – but otherwise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a porter or a stout. It’s the darkest brown ale I know of, which gives me a clue that this is going to be more roasty than most brown ales. This isn’t Newcastle, let’s just say that.
Dipping my nose into the glass, this is a big aroma featuring lots of citrus-y, leafy, earthy hop trying to muscle out the underlying dark roast coffee smells you get from all that roasted barley malt. Notes of spicy cedar, cured tobacco and maple wood in there as well – almost like one of those very manly colognes, it kinda smells like my Polo Double Black.
Dark roast coffee and burnt sugar flavors dominate the palate up front, while the bright, snappy hop bats clean-up, driving this to a rather bitter finish. I find modest carbonation here, as it has the viscosity and sticky-creamy feel of a bigger beer. There’s a long aftertaste featuring all of the above – this one gets around the palate so well, you’ll be tasting it a little while after you’re done, unless you pair it with food.
This is one of those beers that drinks “bigger” than it really is, due to its intense aromas and flavors. At 7.2%, it’s no weakling, but one 12-ounce bottle won’t make you a hot mess either. The roasted/sweet-then-bitter flavors might seem a bit discordant at first, but that’s only a clue that you’re drinking it too cold right out of the fridge. As it warms and opens up, it becomes very drinkable.
I’d have to say that this might be the perfect “hamburger beer,” especially a big juicy one topped with bacon and slightly charred, caramelized onions. The burnt brown sugar flavors in the beer are really going to lock on to the sweet onions and bacon, and it’s also “earthy” enough to match up with mushrooms and blue cheese. Brown ales are excellent with hamburgers in general, but this one has the extra muscle to make for an epic pairing.
Indian Brown isn’t a rare beer. Find it at nearly any Whole Foods or halfway-decent liquor store.