Dogfish Head is famous (or infamous, depending on your tastes) in the craft brewing world. Founder and President Sam Calagione is credited by many for leading the “extreme” beer movement with his unique concoctions, brewing “off-centered ales for off-centered people.” I’d be willing to count myself among the brewery’s most enthusiastic supporters, and am always delighted to find a brew from Dogfish I haven’t tried yet.
Midas Touch Golden Elixir is one of Dogfish Head’s limited monthly releases, and should be available throughout the brewery’s distribution area. Dogfish releases around 1,700-1,800 cases of the brew per month, so any decent beer shop in your neighborhood should have it in stock. Like most of Dogfish Head’s beers, Midas Touch runs a bit more expensive than your run-of-the-mill brew; I found it for 3.50 per 12-oz bottle, and just shy of $10 for a four-pack.
The story behind the recipe for the beer is fascinating. Dogfish Head uses the second-oldest known recipe for a fermented beverage in the world, based on chemical analysis of residues found in clay vessels used in the 8th century BC. A National Geographic article, Recreating King Midas’ Golden Elixir, goes into further detail.
Originally discovered in Gordium, Turkey during a 1957 dig by archaeologist Rodney Young, the content of these vessels was left unknown for 40 years. In 1997, molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern received a phone call from a former student of his informing him of a residue on clay jars from the tomb of King Midas. Dr. McGovern quickly did chemical analysis finding all aspects of the drink except for the spicing agent but made an assumption of saffron due to regional availability.
McGovern met with Sam Calagione in 2001, and Sam recreated the recipe as accurately as he could. The result is “Midas Touch Golden Elixir”, which is brewed with the known ingredients of barley, white Muscat grapes, honey and saffron. The Dogfish Head website boasts that “somewhere between a beer, wine and mead, this smooth, dry ale will please with Chardonnay or I.P.A. drinker alike.”
I’d certainly agree that Midas Touch is a pleasing brew, although I’d place the taste closer to a braggot than beer, wine or mead. Pour was a light, lager-y yellow, with about a finger’s width of head. The nose is mostly sweet and floral, with saffron and honey coming to the fore. There is also a hint of alcohol in the aroma, which reminds me of the smell of a white wine. Flavor was spicy and bracingly sweet – again, fits the profile of a braggot almost to a T. The barley gives the taste a nice malty biscuit quality, and in the finish you really get a Chardonnay flavor, which I’d attribute to the white grapes in the brew. Mouthfeel is pleasantly fizzy from the carbonation, although there is a bit of the syrupy “stickiness” that comes with sweet beers. This is a highly drinkable brew with a nice kick at 9% ABV, especially if you like spiced or sweet beers.
Though sweet and spiced beer certainly isn’t for everyone (grades on BA range from A+ to F), I’d suggest trying Midas Touch Golden Elixir yourself to see what you think. This recommendation goes double for people who are wine lovers or aren’t usually beer drinkers, since this brew is probably miles away from any beer you’ve ever tasted (and is much closer to wine). Of course, it’s also fascinating to drink something that approximates a beverage from centuries ago. As a big fan of spiced beer and braggots, I’ll be having Midas Touch again very soon.
Oh, and fun fact; Dogfish Head also brews a beer based on the oldest known fermented beverage in the world. The recipe for Chateau Jiahu is based on residue found in Chinese pottery from 9,000 years ago!