Beer Beer Beer

Beer of the Week: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

Unrepentant beer drinkers, rejoice! Each week, Short Order will select one craft or import beer and give you the lowdown on it: How does it taste? What should you drink it with? Where can you find it? But mostly, it's all about the love of the brew. If you have a beer you'd like featured in Beer of the Week, let us know via a comment.

Hot on the heels of last week's powerfully formulated Beer of the Week, The Reverend, comes another extremely aggressive brew, Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron. It's an extremely potent Brown ale, made all the more interesting by the fact that it's aged in a specially made brewing vessel crafted from Palo Santo, a tree of Paraguayan origin. Dogfish's claims their 10,000 gallon wooden vessel is the largest of its kind built since before Prohibition. But how does that translate in the flavor department? Read on to find out.

Palo Santo is referred to as the "Holy Wood," largely because the indigenous people of South America used it for all sorts of medicinal purposes. Even today, Palo Santo is used for many things besides aging wine and, in this case, beer: for aromatherapy, incense, as an antiseptic, for meditation, and as a sedative. That might be why Dogfish's brew has such a complex flavor.

The beer pours thick and chewy, with a robust head and an extremely dark, coffee-like color. It's mildly carbonated, with beautiful legs that crawl slowly down the sides of the glass. It smells of coffee, vanilla, and burnt oak. The taste is unreal. Because of the aging on wood, this brown ale has a broad depth of flavors that slowly emerge at various stages of drinking: there's a malty, molasses-filled sweetness on tip of your tongue, followed by a strong, woodsy bite. You'll get ginger, raisins, caramel, and a thyme - the last of which transforms into a smoky, incense-like aroma. At 12% ABV, the warmth of the alcohol is comparable to a sherry or glass of dark red wine. It never burns, but it definitely smolders on the way down.

Because of the rarity of a beer like this, it's hard to compare Palo Santo Marron to anything else on the market. It's a beer that drinks like a wine, forcing you to stop and really think about each sip. It's a heady brew as well - maybe it's the medicinal qualities of the wood, maybe it's the ABV, or maybe it's just placebo, but this stuff almost gets you high. A couple sips and you'll start to fall into your head and float around joyfully. I could see drinking this beer in a dim bar full of leather and wood, puffing on a cigar, playing chess, or discussing French philosophy. (After which you'd promptly pass out like the impostor you are - or maybe that's just me!). Whatever it is, Palo Santo is not a beer you're likely to drink more than one of at a time. The strong flavors of wood and smoke just take over after a while, overpowering everything else. Besides, one of these and you're likely to be shitfaced anyhow.

Pick up Palo Santo in 12 oz bottles at BX Beer Depot, Whole Foods, or Total Wine.  

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John Linn