Craft Brew Review: Dogfish Head's World Wide Stout

IMG_1544Last night marked the local release of Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout.  This beer is a highly rated and fairly rare offering from the extremely popular Rehoboth, DE brewery.  Yet given the often hefty price tag on a bottle of this high ABV beer one is left wondering if the beer is worth the hype and worth the cash.

The history of the beer is interesting.  In 1998-1999 Dogfish Head while a popular brewery did not have the intense cult following it has today.  In the less tourist dense months of winter their visitors to the brewery and restaurant were pathetic compared to the summer months.  In this quiet time the brewers had the freedom to create experimental, small batch beers that they wanted to make without the demands of high output or commercial viability.  They decided to craft the strongest beer in the world by creating, then, a stout with an obscene amount of barley.

In December of 1999 World Wide Stout was released to the world.  For a few months it was the strongest beer on record.  Until Sam Adams released its Millennium besting World Wide Stout by 2% points.

Since 1999 the beer has been released occasionally and has had a reputation that has grown insanely fast.  Fans of the beer are quick to point out that with it’s 15-20% ABV and 70 IBUs this beer is the perfect beer to cellar and will only improve in flavor months, if not years, after its release.

Dogfish Head describes the beer as:

Brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley, World Wide Stout is dark, roasty and complex. This Ageable Ale clocks in at 15-20% ABV and has a depth more in line with a fine port than with a can of cheap, mass-marketed beer.

World Wide debuted in the winter of 1999, and the staying power of this brew is undeniable. Like Fort and 120 Minute IPA, World Wide Stout only gets better with age (more on aging beers here). After some time in your beer cellar, the heat of the booze fades into the background and the port notes and roastiness take over.

World Wide goes great with (or as!) dessert. Share one with someone you love.

I was fortunate to get my hands on a bottle of this beer last night to try it for myself.  Local bottle shop The Fridge was hosting an event where buying two bottles received a Dogfish Head snifter to enjoy the beer.

The look of the beer was a typical stout.  It poured smoothly, like silk into the glass with very little head and next to no head retention at all.  It was an extremely dark beer, nearly as black as a Guinness and just as smooth.

The nose was overwhelmed by the smell of alcohol.  While there was a faint touch of stout beer in the nose it had more of the scent of a bourbon than a beer.  If you enjoy a bourbon barrel aged stout this nose had a lot of similar familiarity.  There was no disguising the high levels of alcohol in this beer.

Yet Dogfish Head embraced that alcohol burn in a way many other companies attempt to avoid.  The mouth feel was surprisingly mellow.  Rather than the traditionally thick, syrupy mouth feel of many extremely strong barelywines or just strong ales, the World Wide felt the same in the mouth as any other stout I’ve had.  It felt more like drinking a porter than drinking something so high in alcohol.

Similarly Dogfish Head decided not to attempt to mask that alcohol with an overpowering stout flavor.  While there was no denying that this beer was indeed a stout by flavor that flavor wasn’t oppressive.  There were burnt and coffee notes in the beer but they were subtle, especially next to high flavor of alcohol.  The strongest flavors were a malty sweetness and a complex, rich taste of alcohol offset slightly with the subtle flavors of the stout.  Rather than attempting to drown out the alcohol of the beer with a bitter coffee or burnt stout like so many other breweries, Dogfish Head has embraced the longevity of the beer and kept the flavors simple, subdued so that as the beer ages and the alcohol harshness mellows this beer will only become a more balance beer.  It will be an ABV monster without any of the harshness or intensity of flavor normally associated with the style.

As someone who is not a huge fan of the strongly coffee bitter or the strongly burnt flavors of many of the stouts on the market I went into tasting this beer expecting nothing but an intensity of flavor I’ve grown accustomed to with Imperial Stouts.  Yet what I found, from the brewery that only seems to offer big beers, was something subdued, sweet, with a high alcohol kick.  I was thoroughly impressed.  While drinking a full 12oz of it was difficult in a single sitting given the alcohol content, I predict the next time I sample the beer in a few months with a mellowing of the harshness of the alcohol this beer will be truly inspiring.

My only reservation is that this is a big beer.  If you are not a fan of high ABV beers and dislike either the harshness of alcohol in your beer or the back of the throat burn that comes from consuming high ABV beers you may want to avoid this beer, especially fresh off the bottling line.  But if you are a fan of more subtle porters but still want that strong kick of alcohol flavor in your beers I would rush to get my hands on a bottle or two, toss them in the cellar, and crack one open in a few months to truly enjoy this beer.  I know it is what I am going to be doing.

Overall this is an impressive beer that is worth the high price of admission.  I think anyone buying should cellar it for quite some time before enjoying but that is not a reason not to grab this beer while you can.

As mentioned above, I got my bottles from the Fridge and would highly recommend getting some while supplies last.  They won’t last long I’m sure.  Just prepare to be drunk after enjoying a glass of this high beer as it is stronger than most unfortified wines after all.