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Hair of the Dog Adam

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The case against Portland, Oregon's Hair of the Dog basically comes down to inconsistency across batches, especially when it comes to carbonation. That has certainly been the case in my (admittedly limited) experience, though I should note that I'm especially sensitive to carbonation issues. It's clear HotD makes good beer, and while consistency is admirable, inconsistency can be charming if you do it right.

Bottle conditioning of high alcohol beers can be uneven, and to HotD's credit, they will often reduce the price of their limited beers if they're having a lot of carbonation issues. It's also possible that bottles will get better over time, and while I am carbonation-challenged, the beers I've had from them seem like they'd do well in the cellar. Brewer Alan Sprints has commented on this in the past:

Each batch is a moment in time, unique, like we are. Some of the batches that I have not been happy with have turned into the most popular ones after a few years. Beer is more than bubbles.
Hard to argue with that. Adam was the first beer they made at Hair of the Dog, a recreation of the historical Old Ale style, and from what I've seen, it certainly rivals the best of them (carbonation or no):

Hair of the Dog Adam

Hair of the Dog Adam - Pours a very dark brown color with just a cap of slow forming head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Carbonation seems present, but clearly low. Smells great, lots of brown sugar and molasses, candy, dark fruits, cherries and the like. Taste is malt forward, brown sugar and molasses again, more of a crystal malt feel, less in the way of fruit, maybe a hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is full bodied and viscous, minimal carbonation (not completely flat, but still a little low for my tastes - keep in mind that I'm generally sensitive to carbonation issues), a hint of boozy heat. Overall, this is very nice, but once again, Hair of the Dog's infamous low carbonation tempers my enthusiasm for what would otherwise be a fabulous beer (even if it wasn't as bad as last time). But at least there was some this time, and by the end of the bottle, I was quite pleased. I'll give it a B+ for now, but this could easily enter A- or even A realms if there were just a little more carbonation...

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a teku on 4/18/15. Batch 93.

I'd be willing to take a few more fliers on this beer in the hopes of getting one that's better carbonated, and naturally, I'd absolutely love to score some Adam from the Wood (though I'd guess the higher ABV and aging process would make carbonation issues more likely, but then, I might be more amenable to that in a barrel aged beer...) Also, Old Ales are another style that I seem to mostly enjoy whenever I find one, so I should probably seek out some more (I'm coming for you, BB4D!)

Hair of the Dog Fred

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There's an old saying in the wine world: "There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine." Once a wine is put into a bottle, there are any number of things that could influence the taste when the bottle is opened. How old is the bottle? Where was it stored? What was the temperature? Did you have it shipped during the summer? What kind of light exposure is there? Even if you assume all that was fine, there are also cases of cork taint and other such unlikely occurrences. There's natural variation in bottles, and no one even pretends that different vintages are supposed to produce the same result. There's a million things that could lead to a bottle being great or a total bust, and that's before you start talking about subjective matters of taste and context.

If this sounds a little naive, that's because I don't know that much about wine. But I do know beer, and I know that the same thing applies here (as well as with other tipples, like whiskey). Many of the same caveats apply, some even moreso than in wine (for instance, because of compounds in hops, beer tends to be more susceptible to light than wine). Bottle conditioned beers can change significantly over time. Funky beers with Brettanomyces and other critters are wildly unpredictable (we could get into the whole consistency debate, but I'll have to save that for my next Fantôme review...) Highly hopped beers can taste differently from week to week, even if they're stored properly. Read about hops, and you can see that crops change significantly from year to year (and I'm not just talking about yield here, things like Alpha Acids and oils that drive aroma can vary from year to year).

This sort of pedantry can manifest in annoying, stupid ways, such as the continual insistence that this year's batch of Pliny the Younger/Hopslam/Black Tuesday/whatever is not as good as last year. They often aren't identical, to be sure, but such utterances seem driven more by hype or rarity or ego than anything more reliable. Likewise, I often see some folks who finally land that white whale beer, only to find that they don't care that much for it and wonder Did I get a bad bottle? Because surely a bunch of strangers on the internet couldn't be wrong, right?

But every once in a while, you will run across a genuine bad bottle. A "sick" bottle of Fantôme, an old IPA that was sitting in sunlight, or maybe a beer that has some off flavors (metallic or tinny beer, soy sauce stouts, overwhelming diacetyl, etc...) Some of this may be poor QA on the brewery's part, others might be a problem with shipping or storage. It's tempting to hold a grudge against a brewery or a particular beer if you've had one bad experience with them, and it doesn't help that we are so awash in great beer from all over right now because why try a beer you didn't like before again when you can just grab something new?

All of which is to say that I had an issue with this Hair of the Dog beer. I was wary from the moment I opened the beer to a practically nonexistent puff of carbon dioxide. When the pour produced absolutely no head whatsoever, I knew I was going to have a problem. I'm perhaps more sensitive to carbonation issues than most folks, and to be honest, I've been wrong about low carb levels before. However, in looking at other reviews of this, it seems that most reviews mention "ample" or "above average" carbonation levels. I got what I felt was a flat beer. So... bad bottle?

Hair of the Dog Fred

Hair of the Dog Fred - Pours a pale orange, light brown color with no head whatsoever. Almost no pop when I opened it either, which does not strike me as a good sign. Smells very interesting though, sweet, boozy, biscuity malt, maybe rye, some fruity hops, almost like a pastry with booze. Taste has a sticky sweetness to it, lots of hop character built on top of a biscuity, bready malt and well integrated. Alas, the Achilles heel is the carbonation, which is practically nonexistent... It feels medium to full bodied, a little syrupy and sticky, definitely boozy but not overwhelmingly so. If it were even a little carbonated, this would be a much better beer. Oddly, from looking around, it seems that this does normally have a medium to high carbonation factor, so I don't know what's up with this bottle! Aside from the carbonation, it's obviously a well crafted, interesting beer, and I can drink it, but this is ultimately disappointing. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/13/14. Batch 93.

Looking at the reviews a little more carefully, it seems like there is some variation between the batches. A couple of other people have gotten practically "still" bottles like mine, but most seem to indicate a higher degree of carbonation. So not a great first impression, but I'll have to give Hair of the Dog another chance someday...

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Hair of the Dog category.

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