Beer: Raison D'Extra Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale ABV: 18 percent
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery -- The Only Thing You Know About Delaware™ -- is perhaps best-known for its incredibly boozy imperial IPA/barleywine, 120 Minute IPA. The strong, celebrated ale is based on the brewery's flagship IPA, 60 Minute, and undergoes the same continuous hopping process. But try the two brews side by side and their resemblance is very slight. One's brightly hopped, crisp, citrusy; one's syrup-thick and sweet as honey.
The relationship between Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre, a regular-release Belgian brown ale, and Raison D'Extra, is very similar. Think of D'Extra as the 120 Minute to D'Etre's 60 -- it's bigger, bolder, boozier and nothing like its little brother.
Well, almost nothing like it. Raison D'Etre was one of Dogfish founder Sam Calagione's first brews -- he created the beer in 1996, designing it to be the perfect partner for steak by including plump raisins in the recipe to mimic the character of steak's other great ally, red wine. D'Etre also contained beet sugar, an ingredient traditional to many Belgian-style ales, which are commonly made with a unique type of fructose called Belgian Candi Sugar made through a secret process from caramelized beet sugars.
Raison D'Extra is made with similar ingredients -- it just contains more of them. A lot more. While Raison D'Etra regularly emerges from Dogfish Head's fermentors at 8 percent ABV, D'Extra weighs in between 15-20 percent. The variance, according to Calagione, is a result of the Belgian yeast used to ferment the beer. Sometimes they can handle the extremely alcoholic conditions of a 40-proof brew; sometimes they wave the white flag sooner. The first time Raison D'Extra appeared on tap in 2002, it was 20.2 percent ABV. The last time it was brewed, it was only 18 percent.
That was in 2007.
Eight long years it's been since bottles of Raison D'Extra, this boozy Belgian brown, have been seen on shelves. The newest release can now be found at bottle shops across the Valley. You'll know it by its label that features a country guitarist and was drawn by Jon Langford, lead singer and guitarist for the Waco Brothers and The Mekons.
Pour your bottle of Raison D'Extra into a snifter and watch the brown sugar-colored head pop away within a few seconds, like soda fizz. While a well-formed and long-lasting top layer is a sign of quality in most beers, its absence in high-ABV brews is forgivable. Alcohol reduces the surface tension of liquid, meaning the bubbles that make up a dense head will have a much harder time sticking to one another and sticking around. Once the bubbles dissipate, you're left with a glassful of murky maroon liquid that gives up notes of cloudy gold at the edges.
The aroma is rich and sugary, laden with alcohol, brandy, boiled sugar, maple syrup and some cooked-down dark fruits. The flavor's a perfect mirror: boozy brandy, maple, molasses, figs, prunes. Some bitter cocoa grips the sides of the tongue, and you may also pick up notes of oak. The finish is a sugary blast of raisin that reminds of those little packages I used to eat as a kid.
An alcohol level of this magnitude requires a substantial amount of malt, which means this brew's got a big, thick body, viscous like simple syrup. Slight, tingly carbonation excites the tongue while unavoidable booziness warms up the throat.
Raison D'Extra is very sweet; Raison D'Extra is very boozy; Raison D'Extra is very good. Fans of port wine will love the beer especially for its heavy dark fruit flavor and complexity. Grab a bottle to drink now and a few more for the cellar -- the beer's a prime candidate for aging, and you never know if you'll have to wait another eight years to have it again.