I’ll never forget walking across the Royal Gorge bridge in Canon City, Colorado when I was a kid. One of the highest suspension bridges in the world at over 1,000 feet, the bridge provides something both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. As you walk across the broad wood planks looking down, the Colorado River looks like a back woods creek. I’m not a fan of heights, so visualizing a 1,000-foot fall made my legs wobbly the entire time, and getting to the other side gave me a sense of accomplishment.
That’s the function of a bridge essentially: to get from one side to another in the most efficient way possible. Otherwise, one has to meander hundreds of miles out of the way in order to get to the same destination. I typically have this same meandering, wobbly experience every autumn as the hot summer months of drinking citrus-infused saisons or west-coast hopped IPAs give way to changing leaves and rich, dark seasonal beers.
Beer drinkers need a bridge that allow us to make the connection seamlessly. Thankfully Dogfish Head Brewery has provided the necessary infrastructure with its Burton Baton, a self-described “oak-aged marriage of an Imperial IPA and an English strong ale.” In doing so, DFH has created the perfect hybrid beer, merging the beset of both seasons together in one pint.
In the initial pour, its deep copper color, clear body, and medium head resemble its English ale roots. The Baton has a sweet, bright nose of dried fruit, peppery spices, rounded out with a smoky wood finish. It’s a worthy opening salvo, a beer on solid footing.
The pleasant aroma gives way to rich, complex body centered around the oak-aged barrel taste, reminiscent of a bourbon-barrel-aged beer. At the same time, it has a mellow feel in the mouth, with only a hint of alcohol. The hops come later, not as the star of the show but a vital supporting actor giving credence to the IPA moniker.
The beautiful part of the beer is that the hops continue to radiate on the palate, like a fine wine, allowing all the notes to marinate and work together like an orchestra. It’s stout enough to pair with a spicy Indian food, smoked meat, or even a hearty cigar if one is so inclined.
Dogfish Head has managed to take the Imperial IPA & English strong ale, keep both intact, & create something altogether unique at the same time.”
Now a year-round beer because of increasing popularity, the beer is fermented in separate, stainless steel tanks before it is combined for a month into a 10,000 gallon wood barrel to incorporate the oak and vanilla notes and mellow the alcohol flavor. At 10% alcohol by volume, the Baton goes down more smoothly than other beers with half its alcohol content, so imbibe carefully.
For those seasonal drinkers, Burton Baton allows an opportunity to have our cake and eat it too. The dry, northwest hops are present and active, but the darker, richer English ale characteristics also vie for attention.
Therein lies the bridge between summer and fall. Rather than meandering around trying to find the off ramp of fruity sculpins, sour beers, and crisp, unfiltered wheat beers onto the crossroads of toasty, warm porters, browns, and stouts, Dogfish Head has done us a service by connecting the dots seamlessly.
Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, mentions the Baton as one of his favorite beers, and it’s quickly become one of mine as well. Hybrid beers are tricky, as they sometimes have trouble accentuating the defining characteristics of the two beers that they are trying to merge together. Thankfully in this case, Dogfish Head has managed to take the Imperial IPA and English strong ale, keep both intact, and create something altogether unique at the same time.
It is this season's bridge in the truest sense of the word.