Dogfish Head Alehouse
6220 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA
Look, nobody is more excited than me about the renaissance of good beer we’re all enjoying right now in America.
It seems like every city across “fly over” country, no matter how blue collar, unhip and unsophisticated, is bragging about at least one or two new start-up microbreweries. (I’m talking about you — Cleveland, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City.)
Where once a trip to your corner bar meant listening to your waitress list off all the mass-produced urine water most Americans are still addicted to, I can now almost always count on at least one or two decent locally-brewed craft beers.
And I’m happy about that. I’ll take a clever-named “Fill-in-the-Blank” obligatory Brown Ale, Red Ale, IPA, or Stout over a Bud Light every time.
But let’s face it, some of these brew masters could use a little more imagination.
They should take a trip out to the Delaware coast and pay a visit to The Dogfish Head Brewery, which is constantly pushing the boundaries for even the most adventurous beer drinkers in America.
Those guys at Rehoboth Beach are nuts!
They brew beers with raisins, Gesho root, cilantro, ginger, honey, blackberries, blueberries, kumquats, maple syrup, black tea, toasted amaranth, even fungus-infected grapes.
You can get Dogfish beers aged in exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. Or brewed from a recipe on a 2,700-year-old beer jug found in King Midas’ tomb.
In other words, don’t bring your girlfriend or wife who “only drinks Bud Light Lime” to this place. She won’t be happy.
Which might explain why Dogfish Head decided to open a small cluster of alehouses in the Washington, DC metro area – almost 200 miles from their birthplace on the Delaware coast.
Dogfish beers are for manly men who can lift their glasses to their lips with sturdy wrists. Clearly, there aren’t enough of them around the Rehoboth Beach area.
If you’ve ever been to Rehoboth Beach, you know exactly what I mean.
Dogfish Head makes high-octane, high-alcohol muscle beers that really put hair on your chest.
And I couldn’t be more excited to check the place out.
For me, a journey to the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church, VA is like Moses climbing to the summit of Mt. Sinai.
The anticipation was almost too much to bear.
What if they have the mythical 20% ABV 120 Minute IPA on draft? What if they serve all kinds of crazy beers I’ve never even heard of before?
Should I try something completely different? Or reacquaint myself with my rare favorites?
What if I drink so much high-octane, double-digit alcohol beer that I don’t even know what I’m drinking anymore?
As I walked to the bar, my apprehension only increased. The place had standing room only – on a Wednesday night!
Mounted above the bar was a huge chalkboard listing all the beers available that night.
I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming.
It was like walking into a room with all your heroes there—Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, Nigel Farage, Robert E. Lee, John Wayne, and Jesus.
Now what do I do?
I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment. I don’t want to screw it up.
Almost immediately, a female bartender asked me what I wanted.
Like Ralphie on Santa’s lap, my brain froze.
Eyes darting up and down the chalkboard, I was looking at the white words – 60 Minute IPA, Indian Brown, Chicory Stout – but it wasn’t registering with my brain.
So much great beer. I wanted to try them all.
But, no! I had to choose. But how?
Oh, the cruelty.
After some interminable number of seconds passed, the bartender decided she had better things to do in a jam-packed bar than watch my eyes glaze over and my mouth hang agape while I stare at the chalkboard above me.
She kindly handed me a detailed beer menu and said, “I’ll check back with you in a minute.”
As I clutched this laminated document, explaining in exquisite detail all the available beers, I felt myself beginning to calm down a bit.
Okay. I can do this.
I began to formulate a plan of action. I knew that I needed to go with the high alcohol beers early in the evening – when I could still appreciate them.
I definitely wanted to try some of the experimental crazy Dogfish beers I’ll never find at home.
But not right off the bat. Nope. Let’s start with something I know is good. And strong.
Confidence restored, I strode to the edge of the bar and ordered a Burton Baton, a kick-ass 10% ABV hoppy dark beer. The hops are muted a bit by a sweet vanilla flavor acquired from aging the brew in oak barrels.
I doubt you’ll find anything this good at your local microbrewery. Beer doesn’t get much better than Dogfish’s Burton Baton.
One of my dining companions is — let’s just say — a little less adventurous when it comes to beer.
I noticed apprehension in his eyes too as he gazed at the blackboard.
But for completely different reasons.
He asked the bartender, “Do you have anything like a lager?”
Translation: “Which of these beers is closest to Bud Light?”
“Go with the Shelter Pale Ale,” she said.
The menu defines it as their “most approachable beer.”
In other words, safe for girlfriends and Rehoboth Beach bed and breakfast owners, if you catch my drift.
To be honest, the Shelter Pale Ale is a tasty brew. I would expect nothing less from America’s greatest brewery. But at 5% ABV and no discernable hop bite, I wouldn’t even consider wasting one of my beer choices on it.
On my second round I opted for a My Antonia, described as an “imperial pilsner”.
An “imperial pilsner?” That’s like “jumbo shrimp”. Or “Civil War.”
It’s an oxymoron in a glass.
The menu labels it, ironically enough, as “a lager for ale lovers”. In other words, my lager-loving buddy would probably hate it.
My Antonia is a light colored lager with lots of hops. Crisp, refreshing and delicious, I found My Antonia to pack even more of a hop wallop than the Burton Baton.
At this point I was ready to just go crazy.
Unfortunately, most of the off-beat experimental beers on the menu were not available on draft, including the 120 Minute IPA, Immort Ale, and World Wide Stout, which dashed my hopes of an over-the-top flight of four different mind-blowing beers.
Rather than go with a sampler of stuff I’ve tried before, I decided to get creative.
As a proud American of Irish descent, I’m usually morally opposed to contaminating a perfectly good Guinness with a repugnant British lager, aka a “black and tan.”
But the Dogfish Head version of a “black and tan” intrigued me. I mean, when else will I be able to mix multiple Dogfish brews on tap?
My Dogfish black and tan was a sight to behold. A dark layer of Dogfish Chicory Stout layered over a base of 90 Minute IPA.
Now that’s a union I can drink to!
In all this excitement, I almost forgot to tell you about the food.
Yes, they do serve food at the Dogfish Head Alehouse. Good food too.
After all that high potency beer, I might not be the best one to judge, but I really liked my cup of crab soup.
Generous clumps of crab floated in a thick, hearty stew. It was a good taste of Delaware.
The calamari appetizer we all shared was excellent also. Tender pieces of crispy fried squid came with spicy banana peppers, adding an interesting twist.
Unfortunately, the standard issue cocktail sauce did not work with the peppers. I think a nice aioli or remoulade would’ve really brought it all together.
For entrees, the menu listed a variety of options, from wood-oven baked pizzas to ribs to sandwiches to pastas to burgers.
Perhaps because I was just exhausted from all the evening’s gut wrenching decision making, I opted for the ten dollar bratwurst — the first thing I looked at.
The sausage was dense and full of flavor and came served in a hearty pretzel roll, but the banana peppers and sauerkraut overwhelmed my brat.
Like the calamari, the brat had the wrong companion. Personally, I think some grilled onions cooked up in some Dogfish Head beer would have been outstanding! Not to mention entirely appropriate considering this was an alehouse!
On the side came a small dish of meaty chili and a whole pile of tortilla chips.
The tiny portion of chili was good enough to make me want to come back and order a whole bowl next time.
Ah, next time.
The Dogfish Head Alehouse is definitely a place you want to come back to. Again and again.
Next time I’ll try one of the pizzas. Or the firewood smoked ribs.
And can you imagine what other crazy beer concoctions those boys in Delaware will come up with by then?
My head’s already swimming with anticipation.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.