Last night I fixed one of my favorite sandwiches, blackened tofu. Yes, all you meat-lovers out there, don’t laugh–I’ve actually converted a few folks with this one (slabs of tofu with chef paul’s on it blackened on the cast iron, topped with caramelized sweet onion and poblano peppers, melted mango-habanero cheddar cheese, and a datil pepper mustard and mayo on a homemade kaiser roll. The inspiration is from the Top in Gainesville, but my version is much better if I do say so myself. Throw some sweet potato fries on the side and it’s a killer dinner). Anyway, the point of this entry isn’t the sandwich but the fact that the sandwich begs for a good beer on the side. It was also our first fire of the season, first fire in our new house, so we were celebrating a bit. I thought it was a perfect evening to open up the Dogfish Theobroma I picked up on a recent trip to Maryland. So this is really a follow-up to my last post.
I was looking forward to this beer and it certainly started off well–a different color and body beer than I expected, a fairly light color, small white head, and pretty effervescent. A slightly sour aroma and the flavor had a nice bit of honey flavor with just a bit of dusty cocoa to it. Unique. As it warmed it went downhill, though, and in the end I’d say it was an interesting but disappointing beer (I always have high hopes for Dogfish Head’s beers). Worth trying, glad I experienced it, but the thing is that in the brewpub it was going for $24 a bottle. I picked it up in a store for $12 a bottle. This makes it a really disappointing beer to me, a unique but average beer going for these kinds of prices?
In my last post I was troubled by beer venturing into wine territory. The problem is not increasing prices, nor increasing experimentation by brewers (even though I wasn’t really thrilled with the Theobroma, I certainly respect Dogfish for attempting beers like this and want them to keep pushing on). But with wine, I can at least comprehend some of the pricing. I know that some grape varieties and harder to come by, and some vintages are going to demand a greater price, and some wines are much better able to stand up to cellaring, etc. (and I know this is also becoming more so true with beer but still…) I generally know beer ingredients, too. Yeast costs are slightly variable between strains, but not that much. Malt and other grains can vary year to year as grapes do, but here, too, the difference is negligible–and grain can be stored in ways that grapes can not (the big difference is the amount of grain used in a beer, but there doesn’t seem to be anything extravagant about Theobroma’s grain profile). The real price variable is hops which in the case of Theobroma is negligible since there is almost no hop character to the beer whatsoever (the dearth of hops in recent years and the resulting price increases are the understandable reason for the expense of styles like double IPAs). This beer does make use of ingredients I know less about such as cocoa nibs. Here, too, though, the flavor of these ingredients is slight enough that I can’t believe they were a huge component of the beer. I found myself asking what makes this beer worth $24 a bottle (again, I did get it for less, but DFH certainly feels it’s worth that price). Is there anything really that different in the cost of production–I can’t see it. Is it just the “exotic” quotient and the fact that beer hunters will pay that amount?I have to believe this is the case and as much as I love new, interesting beers, I see this as a troubling trend. I’m not sure who to blame here or what to do about it (I mean, am I going to stop spending good bucks for, say, Lost Abbey’s? I don’t think so) but I certainly don’t want to see us become a culture of collectors who tout the value of mediocre beers simply in the name of uniqueness.
I guess that’s enough–I sound like a crotchety old man who simply doesn’t want to pay for his beer. Not so. I do want some correlation between a beer’s ingredients and production costs and its price, but that’s not my point. I just expect a lot of my beer I guess. So this evening I’ll dip into my stash of Founder’s Breakfast Stout and remember why I hunt beer in the first place.