25 Beers of Christmas: #16

Dogfish Head – Palo Santo Marron

American Brown Ale

12.0% ABV

Dogfish Head Brewery – Milton, DE


For the tenth entry in the countdown, we’re staying in the realm of the strong and dark, but with a big change from our previous two entries.  Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron is an American Brown Ale, which typically signifies a brown ale similar to a porter that is enhanced with obvious American hops, of the fruity, citrusy, or piney variety.  The twist is that this particular beer is aged in new Palo Santo wood barrels, originated from Paraguay.  Unlike a bourbon barrel, the fresh wood infuses much more oak spice and vanilla character without the influence of the previous inhabitant.

Palo Santo Marron pours brown, nearly black, with no head at all, just a remnant of brown lacing on top of the beer.  The nose is of oak, vanilla, chocolate, sweet espresso, and toffee.  A coffee impression without the usually associated bitterness.  The flavor profile is similar, adding a strong spicy note from the oak here as well.  The fresher the beer is, the more bitter it is up front; I have aged a bottle for over a year and alleviated some of that.  The hops mostly contribute the aforementioned bitterness at this point; due to the wood-aging most of their flavor has dissipated, and will continue to do so as the beer ages in the bottle.

I recommend pouring this beer into a tulip glass or snifter at about 50-55 degrees.  It’s one where I like to start out a little cooler and then see how the beer develops as it warms.  As noted above, this one can be a bit harsh when fresh, and it’s well worth aging a bottle or two so you can taste and see how it evolves over time.  I tried mine once right after purchasing, once about five months later, and then another after eighteen months.  Somewhere in the one year range is probably the sweet spot. (And I have no idea when I drank the 4th bottle… maybe gave it away?)

Palo Santo Marron, along with other American Browns, is a fairly bold beer, and will need food that can stand up to it.  Smoked / barbecued meats, steaks with a Montreal-type seasoning, and Mexican dishes with roasted/smoked chili peppers, like chipotles or adobos, will all be a great match.  A chocolate dessert with incorporation of vanilla will also pair well.

I consider Dogfish Head Brewery to be one of THE gold standards for other breweries to emulate.  They are creative beyond belief, seeing no boundaries to what “beer” can be, and it shows in their most popular products.  Sam Calagione, much to his dismay probably, is an all-star of the old guard of craft beer, and could not be a better representative of the movement, from its quiet beginnings to the explosion of the last few years.  Dogfish’s 120 Minute IPA, a long-boiled, malty hop bomb (if there was a quintuple-IPA, this would qualify), weighs in at 18% ABV, and is fantastic at every measured sip.  World Wide Stout, also an 18%er, is a massive Imperial Stout.  Their 60-Minute and 90-Minute IPAs (all named based on the duration of the wort boil) are fantastic, often cloned by homebrewers.  Theobroma, a strong ale featuring chocolate, honey, and chili peppers, is a revelation, as is ApriHop, an IPA brewed with apricots.  One of the brewery’s most interesting beers is one I actually hate, but totally respect: the recipe for Midas Touch is based on ingredients founds in drinking vessels in King Midas’s tomb, and is somewhere between a pale ale and chardonnay.

Dogfish Head’s distribution is not national, yet anyway, but their beers are widely available in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and of course Delaware, among others.  Sadly, they have not made it to Arkansas yet.  Palo Santo Marron should be available where the brewery’s other beers are sold.

JAB – 12/10/1