This essay is part of a series this month, coinciding with the concept of Flagship February, wherein we intend to revisit the flagship beers of regional craft breweries, reflect on their influence within the beer scene, and assess how those beers fit into the modern beer world. Click here to see all the other entries in the series.
I can remember, somewhere back in the mid-2000s, the first time I had the gimmick at the heart of 60 Minute IPA described to me. This was somewhere around the heyday of what we might call the “extreme beer” era, during the IBU arms race, in which many American craft breweries were seeking to outdo each other on the hoppy beer front in terms of sheer bitter bombast, as opposed to the way they’re currently trying to out-sugar each other’s IPAs, and the idea of a “continuously hopped” beer fit in perfectly with the zeitgeist of the age. Here was an IPA whose marketing promised the in-your-face hop flavors that many drinkers were just learning to seek out, complete with a proprietary technique that made for an excellent conversation piece: An IPA with 60 separate hop additions, spaced out over its 60 minute boil. It’s an embarrassment of hops!
The reality, of course, is that Dogfish Head was simply trying to brew a solid IPA, and as in so many other ways, they hit upon a clever device to both achieve their flavor profile and create beguiling marketing. The 60 hop additions were never intended to create a beer that was massively bitter, extreme or truly unbalanced—that beer never would have sold, and certainly not as a flagship! What they created instead was a standard-bearing IPA that featured the most popular and sought-after flavor notes of the era, with just enough smooth bitterness to get the point across. And lo and behold, the beer was a success, becoming the product that funded so many other, crazier Dogfish Head experiments over the years. Are you a fan of Midas Touch, or Raison D’Extra, or Noble Rot? Then thank the existence of 60 Minute IPA, and America’s thirst for hops.
As the years passed, however, the position occupied in the beerscape by a beer like 60 Minute IPA began to shift. Whereas it might once have been viewed by beer geeks as a strong, heady or novel brew, we slowly became accustomed to bigger flavors, higher ABVs and the continued evolution of IPA itself, which pushed ever in the direction of more intensely citrusy or tropical fruit flavors, and away from any semblance of malt balance. 60 Minute IPA, meanwhile, became increasingly likely to be lumped in alongside the stalwart, aging IPA flagships of other regional breweries such as Lagunitas, Stone or Deschutes—beers that still sold a ton and paid the bills, but were perhaps less likely to attract the attention and hype they once did. It’s the same story experienced by so many of the older regional breweries—for years, they instructed drinkers to value novelty, freshness and the thought of “drinking local,” but those very values have now made the market that much more challenging for the old guard, with more than 8,000 (largely younger) competitors.
Perhaps this was a factor that played into Dogfish Head’s eventual acquisition last year by Boston Beer Co., in a shocking deal that saw the makers of Samuel Adams bring DFH into the fold to seemingly bolster their ability to provide more relevant, cutting-edge beers. Regardless of reasoning, though, it meant access to brewing facilities and distribution networks the likes of which Dogfish Head had never seen before, which ultimately has resulted in bringing beers like 60 Minute IPA into markets where it’s never been before. There’s never been a more apt time, in fact, to revisit the venerable Dogfish Head flagship, so let’s do just that.
Tasting: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
First, here’s how the company describes 60 Minute: “60 Minute IPA is continuously hopped — more than 60 hop additions over a 60-minute boil. Getting a vibe of where the name came from? 60 Minute is brewed with a slew of great Northwest hops. A powerful but balanced East Coast IPA with a lot of citrusy hop character, it’s the session beer for hardcore enthusiasts!”
It’s sort of funny to see “East Coast IPA” in there as a descriptor, given the way that the idea of “east coast” and “northeast IPA” has evolved in more recent years. Suffice to say, when those words were originally used in the early 2000s, they were in no way referring to hazy juice bombs—rather, it was an intentional counterpoint to the dry, bitter, pithy expectation people had for the term “West Coast IPA,” and an implication that this was a beer with perhaps a bit more balance. And that’s exactly what I now find 60 Minute IPA to be.
On the nose, one of the first things I register on 60 Minute is actually malt, rather than hops. There’s a biscuity, slightly toasted bread crust note that is warm and inviting, followed by the more expected floral and citrus hop dimensions. Grapefruit zest/pith is what I pick up on first, followed by a surprisingly floral presence—there’s a real “hop flower” quality here that just makes me think of whole cone hops in general.
On the palate, there’s a mild, malty sweetness that is slightly honeyed in nature, but again segues back into that hint of toasted bread crust, once again chased by florals and grapefruit citrus. Bitterness is mild to moderate; lower than you might have expected to see in comparable west coast IPAs of the day, which lends itself to a very easy to drink beer. Perhaps this is what leads DFH to label it as “session beer for hardcore enthusiasts,” but it’s certainly far easier to drink in quanity than modern, saccharine IPA. 60 Minute, despite all the bombast of the concept, isn’t truly an explosively hoppy IPA—it’s a balanced one.
That is, no doubt, what made it such a rock-solid flagship to build a brewery around. And with Dogfish Head expanding in a wealth of new markets as part of Boston Beer Co., this may well be the moment when a lot of us are rediscovering 60 Minute IPA.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.