Hype is ever a part of beer. In a world where light beers are unrecognizable from each other in blind tasting, it’s the only way one brand sets itself apart from another one. In craft beer, the ballyhoo comes from the other end of the room: the drinkers themselves. It’s an inherent part of craft beer culture: faced with subject matter that’s miles away from objective, drinkers’ opinions are often shaped by discussion with their friends in person and strangers in online forums. The force of this spoken and written opinion, as a result, tends to morph from asking the question to providing the answer.
Which is a long way to explain that Maine Beer Co.’s entered a strange new dimension with the release of their first double IPA, Dinner: the world of hype and mysticism. To hear them explain it, the beer, which comes in at 8.2% ABV, sounds pretty run of the mill. “Color: Yellow-Orange”, their website explains. “Dry, refreshing and hoppy. We really focused on hop flavor and aroma here. To maximize hop character, we dry hopped Dinner twice with over 6 pounds of hops per barrel.”
Beer enthusiasts, not universally but without many disagreements about it, tell the story a little differently.
“Aromas of cat piss, fresh cut PVC pipe, clementine, lemon, pineapple, and pot”, writes mikeyv35 in a review on Beeradvocate.com. “The flavor started off w/ light clementine and pineapple and a touch of malt sweetness, transitioning to a blast of grapefruit and pine, finishing w/ a nice herbal hop tingle.”
Mikeyv35 might seem a ham, if this sort of thing weren’t the general consensus among the beer world. Dinner has a perfect 100 score on both Beeradvocate and Ratebeer, two review forums that are the Colossuses of the craft beer quantification world. When the beer was released for the third time this year in July (it was first released in March, then re-released in May), hundreds of people lined up at the brewery’s facilities in Freeport, Maine to buy it for $8 a bottle. The beer beat writer for Maine Today, Dave Patterson, admitted in an article that he has dreams about it.
Most importantly, it’s being compared to the greats, like Heady Topper, made by The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont, and Pliny the Elder, made by Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California. Heady Topper is currently ranked number one on Beeradvocate’s top 250 beers list; Pliny the Younger is fourth; dinner is 42nd. (It also has 400 reviews to Heady Topper’s 8,000 and Pliny’s 2,000.)
Dinner’s compared to the two for its rare qualities, but also because it’s a similar type of beer. Double IPAs tend to be harsher in their hop bitterness, malt backbone and alcohol heat than other beers, which makes sense: they are brewed with more hops and malt and are roughly double the alcohol of single IPAs. Dinner, Pliny and Heady are all more “bright” than they are “bitter”, in tasters’ words, and their tasting notes run similar gamuts: tropical fruits like grapefruit, mango and passionfruit; the pleasant pungency of hops that so often is compared to the smell of marijuana; and a smell that the dreamer, Patterson, describes as a “tropical fruit salad aroma”.
“A lot of people chalk this up to the ‘Heady Topper Effect’ or ‘Pliny the Elder syndrome'”, says cicerone and ABC Beer owner Zachary Mack, “where the beer is just so damn fresh and consumed so damn quickly that it will clearly taste amazing, so people will rush to buy out the next lot as quickly as possible, which means they have to brew another fresh batch.” Mack has tasted the beer twice, once on tap during a private event and once fresh from a bottling. “But I think the recipe itself proves that it’s a well-crafted beer”, he says.
But regardless of assurances from both experts and enthusiasts, judging the beer hinges on hype until you try it in person — which we haven’t. It’s been sold out and nearly impossible to find all year. In this case, we’ve just had to rely on word of mouth, which feels better than usual because there just aren’t any naysayers. Also reassuring: the beer consistently gets the highest possible form of praise for something that’s been put on a pedestal. “Overall, worthy of the hype and accolades”, mikeyv35 concludes in his Beeradvocate review. Until the end of November, when the newest batch finishes brewing, we’ll have to take his word for it.
Malt: 2-Row, CaraPils, Caramel 40, Dextrose
Hops: Citra, Falconer’s Flight, Mosaic, Simcoe