Monday, December 29, 2008

New Holland Dragon's Milk

Sometimes it can be difficult to review a beer, especially one that receives a good amount of hype. The first thing that goes through my mind is how can I, who have only been brewing and drinking craft beer regularly for only the last 2.5 years even begin to have the credentials to critique the product of someone who has been producing a commercial product or homebrew for years. Obviously they know what they are doing and someone likes what they are brewing, because they are marketing it. I'm relatively limited in my knowledge of brewing and still have a long way to go before I'll consider myself any sort of expert. Regardless of my lack of experience, I try to judge every beer fairly and if for some reason I totally despise it I typically won't review it. If I think it has potential I'll usually do a write-up.

The first issue I have with Dragon's Milk is that I can't find any real definitive answer on what style it is supposed to be. While I'm not a style nazi by any means, I still haven't gotten into the subjective part of reviewing yet (but I'm trying) and I like to base my impressions on some sort of standard. Even if a beer doesn't fit a style, sometimes the name will clear it up as in Black IPA. In that case I would expect a dark, hoppy beer. The closest thing I could find was references to it being an American or English Strong Ale on BA and ratebeer.

I can tell you that Dragon's Milk pours looking like a stout/imperial stout. Dark brown with a tan, quickly dissipating head with minimal lacing. The aroma is strong with bourbon with chocolate, caramel, vanilla, and floral hops having a battle with eachother in the background. The bourbon dissipates some and the battling scents acheive parity with the whiskey. Based on what my nose is telling me, I am expecting something strong and stouty and the first few sips seem to hold true as I drink a chocolate vanilla espresso infused with Tennessee whiskey. A prounced hop bitterness numbs the rear roof of the mouth.

The issue I have is that as the beer warms more, the bourbon masks out everything. It goes from being a semi-enjoyable experience to a night of doing shots. I'm not a big whiskey drinker, and after a shot or so I am done, unless it is mixed. This beer lacks a strong malt backbone to stand up to the whiskey, which is probably why most bourbon beers are strong stouts or porters. It lacks any sort of balance whatsoever and quickly becomes a real dissapointment. I poured the second half of the bottle out and it's a very rare occasion when I pour a beer out.

A year or two in the bottle might make this beer a bit more enjoyable, but therein lies another issue I have with certain beers. It's one thing if it gets better with age, but if it needs to age before it can be drank, I'd like to know beforehand. In my opinion though, this beer with age will still be a watered down version of whiskey and not much else.

This beer didn't get rave reviews on BA either, but even so it has a B overall even with some of those reviews saying that it wasn't good. If I were going to assign it a letter score, I'd give it somewhere between a D and a low C.


Mike said...

You make mention of bourbon a few times, but I don't believe this beer contains any bourbon and I can't find any mention of bourbon on their website. As far as I know, it's just an oak aged beer.

Sickpuppy said...

I would tend to disagree on this one, just goes to show you that beer taste is definitely defined to ones palette! I think the BA reviews are good considering a B+ with 354 reviews. The bourbon hints would come from the oak barrels so I can understand that reference completely. With that said I tend to get more vanilla and malt/coffee tones. I for one love this beer and probably should add my review to BA soon!

Anonymous said...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion for sure. I can tell you that my bottle definitely was the equivalent of strong whiskey. While New Holland's site doesn't specifically mention it, several websites allude to bourbon barrel aging, and New Holland also operates a distillery, so the probability that they use those barrels for beer is high.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite beers of all time. There was a clone recipe in Zymurgy or BYO recently and this is one complex beer to brew. It has some sour notes to it and obviously the oak barrel character. It's too bad it didn't grab you, but like I always say, more for me! :D

Anonymous said...

I really don't know. I might have just been a bad bottle, or it wasn't my thing. If I run across it again, I'll give it another go, but like I said I rarely pour a beer out, esp one that costs $10 a bottle (even though I didn't pay for this one, I still felt bad).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this classic. Edegra I never heard the radio show. But Straight Arrow was my hero and formed my character... for what it is worth.
Caverta Kamagra

Suzi said...

There is no bourbon in Dragon's Milk. It is aged in Oak Barrels, and has 10% ABV, which would make it "20 proof". Bourbon is typically 40% ABV, or "80 proof".
By my calculations, Dragon's Milk is more equivalent to a weak wine than a strong whiskey, alcohol wise.
It's an ale, as indicated by the name "Dragon's Milk Ale". It is listed as a stout on their pub menu.
According to the brewer, "Dragon's Milk" is a centuries old scots term for private stock held for royalty.

Try some on tap sometime, you'll be blown away.