Beer: Sarcosuchus Brewery: Dragoon Brewing Co. Style: Imperial IPA ABV: 10.5 percent
Hanging on a wall in Dragoon Brewing Co.'s Tucson tap room is a small chalkboard, and on this chalkboard employees have drawn a pair of animals: a hippopotamus and a crocodile. These creatures were drawn out of boredom, but rather they serve a very important purpose: helping the denizens of the tap room determine which one would win a fight to the death.
This animal death match debate has occurred many times before, but never has the debate been so heated. Some staff members are positive the croc's superior jaw strength would lead him to victory; others bring up the fact that hippos regularly kill crocs in the wild. Internet search engines are booted up. Stats are compared. Voices are raised. Tears are shed. Eventually, the deliberative staff comes to one conclusion: The crocodile would win, but only if it was Sarcosuchus -- a reptile the size of a school bus that lived during the Cretaceous period and regularly ate dinosaurs for lunch.
Around the same time this conclusion is reached, Dragoon's new, as-yet-unnamed batch of imperial IPA finishes fermenting. The name they have to give it is obvious upon first sip: Sarcosuchus.
See also: Lagunitas IPA and Destination Drinking
The name is especially appropriate, for after its first appearance, in June 2013, many thought the well-regarded brew had gone extinct. It's malt bill consists mainly of Gambrinus pale malt with touches of Crystal, Carapils, and Munich -- all fairly easy to get. An addition of desert wildflower honey from Little Holly's Farm in Marana -- 63 pounds' worth per batch -- is more difficult to procure but not impossible. It's the hops that make things tough. To get its bite, Sarcosuchus is bittered with Apollo and Delta hops in the mash, then boiled and fermented with Amarillo, Simcoe, Calypso, and Sorachi Ace. The growing number of craft breweries -- and the rate at which the big ones are growing -- is making hops harder to come by. Many of these varieties are contracted out years in advance. Though they doubled the amount of Sarcosuchus produced this time around, Dragoon can get just enough of the less-common hop varieties to produce only one batch of Sarcosuchus per year.
In the glass, it's a liquid of outstanding clarity -- rarely have I even seen filtered water this translucent. Colored the bright gold of a piece of bullion, the brew's topped with a head of snowy white froth that quickly evaporates. Dip the nose near that fluff and you'll find an aroma that's at once sweet and resinous, as if you smushed a hop in a juicer. Floral honey, blades of grass, lemon-lime, and honeydew are all noticeable.
Sarcosuchus was a 10-ton super-croc, a massive yet ultimately unsustainable version of another beast. Many imperial IPAs attempt to replicate his enormity with over-the-top bitterness or colossal citrus flavor and are remembered as he is: badass at the time, but, in the end, dead.
The greatness of Dragoon's double IPA comes not from exaggerated flavors, but rather from the unique seasoning the hops are able to provide and the cleanliness with which they're delivered to the tongue. Blueberry, pear, green grape, vodka, wet grass, grapefruit pith, sticky icky weed -- all can be found within the viscous, medium-light-bodied liquid. A very berry-fruit hop character punctuated by ethanol reminds me of the blueberry vodka that gave me so many hangovers as a young'n. Bitterness is pretty mild for a beer of this much hop character, as is sweetness. The flavor of alcohol is just a bit too pronounced but is balanced somewhat by a dry, Chardonnay-like quality that becomes even more pronounced as the beer warms.
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Despite the booziness -- this is a 21-proof beer, after all -- Sarcosuchus is deceptively easy to drink. After two glasses, you don't know how much trouble you're in until you stand up. So you might as well just keep sitting and contemplate what sort of creature could possibly combat the super-croc. My vote's on Megalodon.