Beer: Indian Brown Ale Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Style: American Brown Ale ABV: 7.2 percent
The Beer Judge Certification Program (the major authority that certifies and ranks judges for homebrew and commercial brewing competitions) currently recognizes 79 distinct beer styles, the specifics of which are outlined in the organization's style guidelines. These parameters are a convenient tool for brewers and drinkers -- they describe how a historic style should look, smell and taste, allowing anyone tasting or describing a beer to approach the process within a common framework. Style guidelines are a standardized set of descriptions that ensure a beer is properly labeled so drinkers know what to expect.
But these rules aren't set in stone. Brewers love to experiment, blending aspects of several different styles to develop new, exciting flavor combinations. Many brewers treat style parameters like I treat stop signs: a suggestion, easily ignored.
Perhaps no brewery is more unconcerned with sticking to traditional styles than Delaware's Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. From continuously adding hops to a brew over a two-hour boil to using human-chewed corn as malt, Dogfish's blasé approach to style guidelines results in some interesting creations.
In Indian Brown Ale, the brewery melds three standard styles: American brown ale, Scotch ale and IPA. Aspects of all three emerge throughout the process of drinking a bottle.
First, the Brown ale third. With its deep burgundy hue, Indian Brown is most like this style in appearance. Poured into a standard pint glass, the brew grows a fluffy tan head with the consistency of cotton balls. Brown ale notes dominate the aroma with toasted nuts, baked bread, crumbled chocolate and a touch of coffee.
The Scotch ale third has more impact on the flavor -- caramel, bitter dark chocolate, smoky peat, very subtle hints of raisins. Extra sweetness comes from the organic brown sugar brewers added to the beer, and this aspect grows as the beer warms. Along with flavor, this sugar contributes to the body, which is velvet-smooth, with tingly carbonation.
The IPA third is potent, as it should be -- the beer is hopped and dry-hopped with a regimen similar to the one Dogfish uses for its 60 and 90 Minute IPAs. Hops are earthy in the nose, but lend pine and grapefruit -- as well as 50 IBUs of bitterness -- to the flavor.
Indian Brown Ale isn't new; the style-bending brew was originally released in December 1999 and has seen Arizona shelves before, but has only been seasonally available. Dogfish Head recently announced the beer would become a year-round offering in Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona starting mid-July. The beer is one of Dogfish Head's more staid offerings and might be less sought-after because of it -- even Dogfish founder Sam Calagione says he thinks IBA is the most under-recognized beer in the brewery's portfolio -- but its flavors and quaffability are impressive no matter which style it does or doesn't fit.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.