It seems weirdly fitting that in the same week as New Belgium announcing a complete overhaul to Fat Tire, effectively making that classic amber ale into an entirely new beer, another early craft beer stalwart announces their own twist on a prominent flagship. Like New Belgium, Newport, Oregon’s Rogue Ales has for decades been associated with an old-school flagship brand that drove sales through the 2000s when the company was growing into a regional powerhouse. That beer? Dead Guy Ale, originally brewed in 1990 as part of a Day of the Dead celebration, before going on to become one of the more ubiquitous craft brands of the 2000s.
Dead Guy has always been a fascinating beer to me, especially for a flagship, given its unique style among would-be competitors. Billed as a “Maibock style,” but brewed with ale yeast, there was simply nothing else on the market purporting to capture that same ultra-specific profile.
Now, however, Rogue is leveraging the Dead Guy name to apply it to the unflinching monolith at the heart of the craft beer industry: India pale ale. It seems almost absurd that it would have taken more than 30 years for a “Dead Guy IPA” to exist, but the brand has now gone ahead and done it. Note, however, that this isn’t a move to revamp the existing flagship, as New Belgium announced for Fat Tire. The original Dead Guy isn’t going anywhere. Rather, this is a line extension, connected to Dead Guy primarily through the use of that beer’s classic Pacman yeast strain. On top of that, Rogue layered Citra and Mosaic hops, though I’m not expecting a ton of “juice,” given that the brewery is describing the result as a West Coast IPA.
Granted, one has to wonder how different any “Dead Guy IPA” could possibly be from the other IPAs that Rogue has been producing for decades. Case in point: They already have not one but two other core beers described as West Coast IPAs, and that’s not even getting into the hazies. How distinct can they really all be? And why am I bothering to even broach such an existential question within the confines of a beer review, when I have no hope of answering it? Who’s to say? Suffice to say, I can be a little cynical about a “new” craft beer launch of this nature, but I’m at least excited to drink the stuff. So let’s get to it.
On the nose, Dead Guy IPA feels like a blast from the past, the type of perfumey and nostalgia West Coast IPA hit I haven’t come across in earnest for a little while. I’m getting bright citrus, with lemon peel and pink grapefruit juice, along with pine needles, sticky sap and perhaps a slight soapiness and florals. At the same time, there are hints of toasty malt as well, along with the slight suggestion of booziness that was once so common among beers of this style, but largely absent today.
On the palate, the bright lemon and grapefruit shine through again, a little sharp and piercing (as they honestly should be for the style), while contributing sturdy bitterness. Bread crust maltiness and light sweetness give way to more hop notes of rosemary, pine and juniper berries. A slight booziness suggests hints of red berries, while a long-lasting, lingering bitterness sticks around for a minute after each sip.
This beer is pleasantly familiar: A true West Coast IPA, like something that could have been any West Coast brewery’s flagship in the year 2010. It has genuinely been a while since I’ve tasted a beer like this, not because the beer world has stopped labeling things as “West Coast IPA,” but because the new beers today labeled as West Coast IPA are often being made in a style that is more akin to hazy IPA, without the haze. This beer, on the other hand, has hallmarks of the style one just doesn’t see much anymore—the perfumey resin and herbal tones, the (hints at least) malt balance, the impression of alcohol. It’s not necessarily the style of IPA I want to drink every day of my life, but it is a style I’d very much like to keep around. IPAs of this nature are perhaps more vital today than ever, offering a modicum of desperately needed balance to the omnipresence of sweet, juicy, ridiculously saturated IPA.
At the end of the day, I can’t really say for sure what aspects the “Dead Guy” treatment has afforded to this beer, but I can say that Dead Guy IPA was a welcome, nostalgic experience.
Brewery: Rogue Ales
City: Newport, OR
Style: West Coast IPA
Availability: 12 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.