There’s a lot of fondness for Dogfish Head among the founding fathers of Paste. I dare say, as a 30-year-old writer who came into the company in 2014, that there are few American breweries that the O.G. founders of Paste have more respect, admiration or nostalgia for than Dogfish. It’s something I’ve observed over the last few years, as we’ve had many conversations about beer. These are guys who have been following the American craft brewing revolution considerably longer than I’ve been. I got deeply into craft beer for the first time around 2006 or 2007, but these guys have been seeking out local beer far longer. They still have vivid memories of days in Georgia when the restrictive ABV limit meant that some of the bigger beers from Dogfish Head or from classic Belgian monasteries had to be brought in like smuggled goods. These crystallized memories are powerful things—get one of these guys started on a beer like Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra or 120 Minute and they’ll have quite a story to relate.
World Wide Stout is no exception. Dogfish’s classic, yearly imperial stout, thanks to ABVs that have swung between 15-20% ABV over the years, was one of the key beers of the 2000s “extreme beer” movement. It was a right of passage—often the most powerful, bracing beer that a drinker had ever encountered. It’s probably the first beer stronger than 15% ABV that many East Coast craft beer geeks ever sampled as a result. It may also be one of the first 12 oz bottles that many beer geeks purchased individually—for an unheard of price of $5 or more!
That makes it a pretty big deal when Dogfish Head decides to tinker with the central concept for the first time since 1999. The NEW version of World Wide Stout will not replace the old one, so never fear—that original version will still be released in November. But the version hitting shelves now is turning up the flavor threshold even further, with the addition of oak-aging and vanilla beans. At 16% ABV (although curiously listed as 16-17.5% on the DFH website), it’s still a monstrous beer that won’t be legal on the shelves of several U.S. states—including Paste’s home in Atlanta. Thank god for shipping services, right?
On the nose, this wood and vanilla-infused version of WWS leads off strongly with a huge waft of vanilla, with fudgy cocoa following immediately behind. I’m immediately struck by the absence of overt booziness on the nose—I put it to my nose expecting at least a hint of rocket fuel, but the alcohol is quite well hidden in terms of aroma. Instead, we got tons of dark fruit and cocoa—like chocolate-covered raspberries. It’s massively rich, quite sweet, and fairly subtle in terms of the wood aging. Of the new components, vanilla comes out as by far the most assertive of the influences.
On the palate, my first thought was “Okay, there’s the booze.” It’s explosively flavorful, and quite hot as well—the alcohol is slightly overwhelming on the first sip, before one’s taste buds adjust and it becomes merely “very boozy” rather than “TOO boozy.” Flavors of sherry, creme brulee, dried fruit and dark chocolate syrup are standouts, chased by vanilla, alcohol and a bit of oxidation. As on the nose, the oak is more on the subtle side, or perhaps it’s just swept away in the richness of the malt base and vanilla, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is truly decadent stout, but although it’s very rich, it’s not overwhelmingly sweet. For lovers of boozy, dried fruity stouts, this version of World Wide Stout is both the alpha and the omega.
The brewery has implied that this release is a one-time deal, at least until they gauge reaction. It will be interesting to see, in a time when “prestige” stouts are a dime a dozen, if a brewery like Dogfish Head is capable of producing a new wood-aged stout that commands increasingly difficult to achieve hype. Regardless, this seems like a beer that will be greatly appreciated by those who, like the Paste O.G.’s, have loved World Wide Stout all along.
City: Milton, DE
Style: Oak-aged imperial stout, /w vanilla
Availability: Limited, 12 oz bottles
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.