Sud Savant: Dogfish Head – Robert Johnson’s Hellhound on My Ale

This beer is being broken out for two reasons:

1. Fellow beer enthusiast Jason from mocked me for holding on to this great “super-hoppy ale” and not drinking it at its peak freshness. I must make amends. :)

2. 2011 marked the 100th birthday of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson and coincidentally, this post marks my 100th POST!

Now, certainly one of those anniversaries is much more important than the other (I leave that for the reader to decide), but in either case, due to the rare nature of Dogfish Head beer in my locale, this beer has been waiting for a special occasion. I’m very excited to crack it open and very excited that people continue to read and share this blog. Craft beer people ARE good people! I’ve found trading partners, met people in real life, discovered new festivals, shared opinions, exchanged laughs, partaken in lengthy conversations, and even found a free beer or two along the way. I’m proud to be a small part of such a great, growing community. Big thanks to my drinkin’ buddy and beer trading partner extraordinairre Keith for snagging me this bottle from 1200 miles away. Let’s pour!

“I got to keep moooovin, blues falling down like hail. And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail.”

Aroma 12/12: I keep coming back to the glass because the aroma seems to evolve by the minute. At first it was a fresh, crisp, lemongrass with lemon rinds to boot. Then it gave way to distinct grapefruit (as in, “you’d swear it was in a bowl in front of you”), but not with a grapefruit’s strength. After that a faint, bready sweetness was barely allowed to speak a word before being silenced by some bright tangerines. As it warms in the glass, all these aromas are being allowed to blend together with a sweet malt that brings more balance as it goes and even a little woody hop note. No noticeable pine or resin, though this may have to do with my tardiness with cracking open the bottle. This is a citrus cornucopia that is divinely conjured.

Appearance 3/3: This is a fairly opaque beer. While it tells me that this ale means business, it does not allow for many shades to shine through. As it stands, the color is a caramelized acorn squash shade that shows some pleasant peach and gold tints toward the edges. The head was fantastic to watch settle as it lazily lurched its way to the top of my tulip, keeping me guessing whether it would overflow or not. The beer swirls stickily around the glass, has superior head retention, and awesome lacing. Well, lacing infers that there are holes in it. This head whitewashed the inside of my glass. Impressive.

Flavor 19/20: This beer starts off with classic Dogfish Head characteristics: big, boozy, and a real smack to the tongue! The malts are molasses sweet and a bit of a surprise given their lack of presence in the aroma. The rich, dark, sweetness of the malts is both a nice compliment and contrast to the brighter citrus that makes up the other half of this balanced backbone. However the malts never seem to give the citrus a chance to shine as they do in the aroma. In fact, the majority of the backbone is dark caramel malts, thick with molasses with glints of the citrus shining. The finish will dry parts of your tongue completely like parched earth and leave other parts salivating like a Pavlovian dog. I’m not sure how this happens, but I can certainly attest to it. As the finish fades into the aftertaste, it’s more drying than wetting, but a neat sensation all around. The finish also includes distinct grapefruit flavors and deep bitters. The aftertaste is the sweet malts from the backbone being trounced by all that intense bitter goodness.

Mouthfeel 4/5: It is not a light-bodied beer by any means but lighter than one would assume considering the huge flavor. The carbonation is appropriate at first, but fades into nonexistence toward the end of the bottle. This compliments the malts and stickiness of the beer, but not the citrus elements. Despite the beer’s great stickiness in the glass, the mouthfeel s not slick at all. In fact, it is fairly drying.

Overall Impression 9/10: A damn good beer, plain and simple. Like its namesake: not gritty or simple, but still beauiful in its own way. The aroma is top notch and the I believe that the bitterness would be present no matter how long you left this bottle to cellar! It’s great body shies from being overly heavy, but still packs a ton of flavor. Now I’ll just have to wait to try a fresh bottle. Ed note: Mariah, the address those crates can be sent to is….

Total 47/50: A solid DFH offering and one they can be proud of. This beer stands on its own , not because it’s a palate-killer, but because of its own merit. I hate to mention the aroma again, but good gracious! It stands toe-to-toe with any beer I’ve smelled. The flavor stepped away from the aroma a bit, but I feel it did so for the sake of balance. It’s not “excessive” as Dogfish Head can sometimes lean toward, but is anything but small. Lots of great malt, citrus notes, hop bitter, and an appearance to beat the band all make this beer one of the better DFH offerings that I have sampled. Truth be told, I feel guilty for having finished this one all by my lonesome. This one deserves to be shared with friends that can appreciate a bitter beer. Extra music nerd brownie points are also issued to DFH for bringing what would be an otherwise unknown musician into the public vocabulary. I’ll end the post with the description from the beer’s label. Thanks for the reads everybody! Here’s to another 100 posts!

“2011 marks the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson who, according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads in a midnight bargain and change music forever. Dogfish Head pays tribute to this blues legend by gettin’ the hellhounds off his trail and into this finely-crafted ale. Hellhound is a super-heavy ale that hits 100 IBUs in the brewhouse, Alc 10.0% by Vol., 10.0 SRM in color, and dry-hopped with 100% centennial hops at a rate of 100 kilos per 100 barrel brew-length. To accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the centennial hops (and as a shout out to Robert Johnson’s mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson) we add dried lemon peel and flesh to the whirlpool. To read more about Robert Johnson go to”

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!