Did you have any beer-related items on your Christmas list, perhaps something from my list of gifts for the 12 days of Christmas? If so did Samichlaus come through as hoped? I’m not sure how I ended up on the nice list, but I received more than my share of Christmas booty including a set of Spiegelau Stout glasses from my brother-in-law David who lives in Idaho. So as Christmas Day wound down I decided to try out my new toy on what may be the only Idaho brewed beer you can buy here in Ohio—The Dogfather Imperial Stout by Laughing Dog Brewing.
Laughing Dog is located in the small northern Idaho town of Ponderay (population = 1137), which in turn is located on the northern shores of Lake Pend Oreille not far from the Canadian border. Although their dog-themed, hop-forward IPAs (Laughing Dog IPA, Rocketdog Rye IPA, Alpha Dog Imperial IPA, …) are easier to find in Idaho, outside the borders of the Gem State you are more likely to encounter The Dogfather than any other Idaho-brewed beer. I once had a pint on draft at World of Beer in Alexandria, Virginia and I’ve seen it featured in Draft Magazine. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to find (not even in Idaho), so when I came across several 22 ounce bombers at Weiland’s Market a few days before Christmas I didn’t hesitate to pick up a bottle.
- Brewery: Laughing Dog (Ponderay, Idaho)
- Style: Imperial Stout
- ABV: 10.85%
- IBUs: 60
- Price: $8.99 for a 22 oz bottle
Cleverly named and packaged with a label that is sure to catch the eye of fans of the Godfather movies. The label tells you this is no ordinary imperial stout but one “aged in old bourbon barrels.” A little more information can be found at the Laughing Dog website where one can find the following two sentence description of the beer:
“This year’s Dogfather Imperial stout will all be aged in charred bourbon barrels. Seven malt varieties and subtle hop additions give it a complex flavor profile.”
The Dogfather is jet black and as opaque as beer comes, with a small beige colored head. As I bring the beer up to my face I’m greeted with a big whiff of rich aromatic vanilla, no doubt from the bourbon barrels. The stout glass is clearly doing its part to collect and concentrate the volatile components of the beer. Once I acclimate myself to the vanilla and look for other scents it’s not hard to find expresso and bourbon playing supporting roles. If I could take the smell of a beer and put it in a candle this would be the one. For a beer aged in bourbon barrels and pushing 11% abv the taste is remarkably smooth. For the better part of each sip the smell and feel of the beer dominate the senses, a perfect union of vanilla and expresso delivered in the form of a velvety smooth beer that washes over your tongue. Only at the finish do the flavors of bourbon and bittersweet notes from the roasted malts come out. It is neither cloying nor particularly boozy, an impressive feat for such a big malt-forward beer.
I don’t know how much can be attributed to the Spiegelau stout glass working its magic, but I am seriously impressed with The Dogfather. The brewers at Laughing Dog have managed to make a beer that expresses all of the rich flavors of bourbon without letting it overwhelm the beer. Vanilla forward beers are hard to get right, but here the rich flavors come out in a way that would be difficult if not impossible to get from any other method than aging in oak bourbon barrels. The flavor combination of vanilla and expresso are reminiscent of Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea. All of this at a price point of $8.99 for a bomber, which is pretty attractive for a barrel aged imperial stout. I’m heading back to Weiland’s Market today to pick up another bottle or two before they run out. Central Ohio stout lovers you can thank me later for alerting you to this masterful beer from the land of potatoes and lentils. For my friends and family in southern Idaho I’d be curious to know if you are able to track down The Dogfather in its home state.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.