It's difficult to define the beers that brewmaster Alan Sprints and his team at Hair of the Dog turn out of the four-barrel brewery they constructed out of converted dairy equipment in Portland, Oregon. They specialize in high-alcohol brews that stretch international styles like triples and barleywines in ways so unusual that they're difficult to define. Their Fred is a perfect example.
They call this deep copper ale with a fine white head a Golden Strong ale, but it has none of the peppery, fruity traits associated with the Belgians' Golden Strong style. Instead, it's a full-bodied, rich malt bomb akin to an American barleywine with caramel character and nuttiness that hints at a Scottish ale. To cap it off, there are 10 – count them, 10 – hop varieties in the beer. The result is one of the most interesting brews in the world, one worth lingering over and geeking out on with enthusiast friends.
Like most Hair of the Dog beers, the Fred is strong at 10 percent alcohol. Brewers face a tough task when making beers this alcoholic. Yeast can be a fickle organism, and the more you ask it to ferment, the more likely it is to misbehave. If yeast gets too hot, it'll make the beer taste like paint thinner; if it gets too cool, the beer will be cloyingly sweet. There isn't much middle ground, but Sprints and his team have found it, and the clean, dry finish is a testament to their craft.
This beer's complexity and alcohol also make it a brew that is worth aging. Yes, a truly high-quality (and, necessarily, high-alcohol) brew can be aged like a fine bottle of wine. The brewery acknowledges this, labeling each bottle with a batch number so you know its age. The sample we reviewed had been bottled about six months earlier, which is still young for a beer of this heft. You could ostensibly keep this one aging for 10 to 15 years, mellowing out the hops. If you have the space to cellar it – and the fortitude to leave it alone – then you can expect Fred to age gracefully as the hop bitterness fades and the maltiness becomes more complex. Buy a case and open two bottles a year. In 2024, the 2012 Fred by Hair of the Dog might not fetch the same price as a 1982 Lafite Rothschild, but it will match the drinking experience, sip for sip. [Visit hairofthedog.com to find a distributor.]