Adventures in CellarSitting Review: Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree

Dark Horse Says:

Have you read the description for the regular Crooked Tree yet? Well this beer is almost the same just double the flavor and alcohol. We actually took the Crooked Tree recipe and doubled all of the ingredients except the water, just the way a DOUBLE should be made.

Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree IPA
Double IPA, 13.6% ABV

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(Editors Note: We here it Guys Drinking Beer occasionally like to push the envelope of beer cellaring. IPA’s aren’t traditionally good candidates for the cellar. They are brewed to be puckeringly hoppy and, thus, designed to be enjoyed that way. But we thought it would be a fun experiment to see what happens to an overly hopped, high alcohol content Double IPA when it sits in the cellar for a year or more. Below are the tasting notes for Dark Horse’s Double Crooked Tree after one year, two years, three years and four years in the cellar.)

Just for fun, prior to the epic Kentucky Breakfast Stout Breakdown, we decided to take a quick look at how the aging process affects one of the most gargantuan DIPA’s we’ve ever encountered.

The whopping 13.6% ABV catches up quick, meaning that you’ve only got a few scant moments before this monster of a beer kicks your brain out of its moorings and starts in on your liver. Thankfully we kept each sample to four ounces per bottle a piece due to distribution, so we think our brains were clear enough to get our notes straight.

Knowing of what they speak, Dark Horse even adds some cellaring notes to their own page, saying “Although this beer is as cool as “The Fonz” when first purchased, it gets really mellow and smooth with some age…you’ll notice the heavy caramel and malt flavors are trying to sneak past the hops.” That’s what they’ve found. But what about us? What do lowly beer tasters like us uncover? Here’s what:

1 YEAR

Karl: With the two glasses side to side, I opted to start with the 2009. The older beer pours with less of a head to start, but I noticed that they both dissipated very quickly. Color-wise, it’s less of a deep red and edging more into the orange territory. Do beers tend to lighten or darken over age? The light exposure was presumably minimal but still, is this the hops losing potency or the malt just naturally maturing? Beyond that, the first thing I took away from the ’09 Double Crooked Tree was, “holy hell, is this boozy.”

As the beer opened up (even though it was only 4 oz. per pour, a beer like this takes a lot of time to handle properly – it’s like nitroglycerine) I noticed a tremendous amount of Malt. Malt with a capital M. So thick that it practically coated my tongue, and the hoppy character I was used to from a fresh Double Crooked Tree was nonexistent to my palate. Contrary to the Dark Horse description, I didn’t get any caramel on this, but I’ll let the other guys chime in on that.

Beyond that? Dry, dry, dry. To the point where I was almost considering using the term “cotton mouth.” And a little black pepper in there as well? I think so.

Onto the 2010: As soon as Ryan cracked the bottle, I could smell the ’10 from a distance, but interestingly it seemed as soon as it was poured the scent dissipated almost completely.

I’m not used to picking apart the fresh Double Crooked Tree like this , but as I put a little thought into it I got…melon? Yeah, a subtle taste of a green melon of sorts. Completely foreign to me until now – and I’ve had a few Double Crooked Tree’s in my day, including straight off the tap in Marshall. Interesting.

The 2010 is definitely a lot more fluid, and less thick than the ’09 while simultaneously far less dry than the older version. The 2010 did develop a certain dryness near the end, but nowhere near as pronounced as the aged Double Crooked Tree. As it warmed I developed a distinct and enjoyable taste of cinnamon, reminiscent of Red Hots in a way. In addition, the more you drink of the ’10 the more it builds to a certain piney-ness which isn’t unappealing, but tends to cover the other flavors, so certainly take your time with this beer, if we haven’t made that clear yet.

Ryan: I wrote this up in reverse, starting with the 2010, just a FYI.

My notes on the Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree ‘10:

There are boat loads of fresh hops in the nose of this beer. Lots of citrus.

“WHOA. This is what a double IPA should taste like.”

At first I was hit with an almost overpowering burst of citrusy hops; lemon zest, oranges and a bit of puckering grapefruit. Oh, what’s this? A bit of maltiness, slips in through the side door. Some plums and raisins. Very nice. As strong as this beer is, it is also well-balanced.

Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree ‘09

The nose of this beer is sweet; candy and dried fruits dominate. B-O-O-Z-E. It is very pronounced, and very strong, and it burns — in the best way possible.

Similar to the smell of this beer the dried fruits dominate the taste – plums and caramel dance across my palate. Oh, and this one is syrupy. In fact, the last note I took was;

“My tongue is going numb. Is this normal?”

This beer has gone from a hop monster to an English barleywine in a little over a year in the cellar.

What a contrasting difference between the ’09 and the ’10 versions. Three more bottles remain in the cellar. I am curious to see how this beer continues to age.

Andrew: I was rather astounded by how much this beer changed in only one year — it was like drinking an entirely different beer. The fresh Double Crooked Tree poured a more reddish color, while the 2009 was more orange and both had very little head. The 2010 was exactly what I was expecting — well-balanced, hoppy and spicy with some fruity undertones. I wrote down that this reminded me a bit of Christmas, in large part to the spices, no doubt. I then moved on to the 2009 and was shocked — the beer had turned very thick and syrupy, and the hops had completely faded, giving way to a sweet malt and booze that was not as present in the 2010.

Obviously beers change over time, we’ve seen that with some of the reviews we’ve posted here. But I’m not sure that I’ve experienced such a difference with a beer that has only been cellared for one year.

2 YEARS

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Karl: Much like the Dogfish Head 90 Minute, my first few Double Crooked Tree experiences took a minor hop appreciation and kicked it into high gear. How can you not like a Double IPA where they come right out and say “we just threw in twice as much stuff to this one”? The question with these, of course, is whether or not that massive hop infusion would stand the test of time. And, well, it sorta did, but it didn’t stand out very strongly.

Long story short, here’s how the experience of tasting a TWO year old Double Crooked Tree goes:

  • 1st taste: It’s a Crooked Tree, all right.
  • 2nd taste: WTF is that weird flavor in there?
  • 3rd taste: Wow, this got really watery.

This beer is capital-W Wet with a bit of funk and a good amount of alcohol. With some white grape flavors at the end, this will remind you of a good Crooked Tree you once had, but if you’ve got a few bottles hanging around right now you should go ahead and open ‘em up. Not much to be gained from the aging of this one.

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Andrew: Remember everything we said about the cellared Dogfish Head 90 Min IPA? Forget all of it with the aged Double Crooked Tree. I gotta agree with Karl on this one — aging it does nothing and it’s probably best fresh.

This beer really confused me. It look like it poured really thick and syrupy, but after drinking it that
clearly was not the case…it lost a lot of body. There were still the bitter hops that you’d expect, but
obviously not as intense as they once were. And then there were grapes, white grapes (where did those come from?), which led to a little bit of sour.

I’m confused, scared and ready to move on to another beer.

Ryan: I think both of you guys are nuts. Off your rocker. Bat-shi…well maybe I won’t go that far. But what else could explain comments like these? “Aging this does nothing,” or, “Not much to be gained from the aging of this one.” Maybe, MAYBE it was the 5 years of Bourbon County talking. But to say that nothing is gained from aging this is an egregious misstatement.

Yes this beer had changed drastically and yes it certainly wasn’t my favorite of the night, but I found it to be uniquely complex and intriguing to the point of baffling. The sweet potatoes on the nose, the white grapes and brown sugar on the palate and the dried grapefruit in the finish; all made for a dramatically different beer than what we first sampled two years ago. And that, friends, is the fun part of aging beer. You have no idea how it is going to turn out. And mark my words, I don’t think our two remaining bottles of Double Crooked Tree are done yet.

Maybe I have pie in the sky hopes for this beer. Maybe I want it to be better than what it was. Maybe I am being too much of a cellaring optimist. A logical person could say that we caught this beer in that sort of limbo period where a beer is a shadow of its former self but hasn’t fully developed in to a cellarer’s dream. A sophomore slump for you sports fans or the terrible two’s for you parents. Whatever the reason, I fully expect this beer to come out like gangbusters in year three.

So don’t f#$%ing let me down, Double Crooked Tree.

3 YEARS

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Ryan: Double Crooked Tree, I stood up for you last year when the other guys were bashing you. They said there was not point to aging you. That you were better fresh. Not me. No, I thought you still had something left in the tank. That you could still be something.

“I fully expect this beer to come out like gangbusters in year three.”

Vindicated.

The funk and oddities that made a two-year old bottle so polarizing were all but gone from a three-year old bottle. There was no white grape, no brown sugar, no sweet potatoes. Instead, the ’09 Double Crooked Tree was full of complex, dark fruits and clean, surprisingly crisp hops.

The nose of the Double Crooked Tree gave off a huge bouquet of dark fruits, plums and prunes along with a bit of allspice and cinnamon. Dig deeper and you’ll find a hint of grassy hops reminiscent of a freshly mowed lawn. Those dark fruits, dominate in the nose, were also prominent on the palate; rich and dark with touches of butterscotch and caramel – finished off by just a touch of citrus hops.

Despite clocking in at nearly 14-percent ABV, there wasn’t much alcohol heat to speak of.

It looks like year two for this beer is an off one, so if you’re sitting on any bottles feel free to take a pass on Double Crooked Tree’s “terrible two’s” and wait for year three; it will be worth the wait.

Karl: I gotta say, Ryan obviously loves this beer, cellared or not, far more than I do. Don’t get me wrong — as I’ve mentioned above, it’s a spectacular beer and hugely influenced my opinion on these gargantuan DIPA’s, but Ryan got a lot more out of this beer than I did last time, and the same holds true here.

Last time I couldn’t get past just how watery the brew had become, and there’s no change here — hard to go back to a heartier body when you’ve already stepped across that particular boundary. However, I didn’t expect anything other than that this time, which perhaps influenced my more positive impression of the 3-year aged Double Crooked Tree. Interestingly, while I didn’t get many of those fresh-mown-lawn grassy flavors Ryan mentions, I did get a real sensation of wood or oak, curious since I don’t think this saw any time aging in any sort of barrel. (Note to self: If a bourbon-barrel-aged Double Crooked Tree ever sees the light of day, leave no stone unturned to acquire it. That sounds awesome.)

Beyond that, some curious flavors of what I remember to be white wine, maybe even a Riesling, emerged as well. Sweet and tasty on the back-end, this beer benefits from a substantial amount of patience as a temperature just below room warmth aided the flavor of this cellared brew immensely. She’s definitely evened out from last year’s trials, but I’ll still personally opt for a fresh batch.

Interesting results and I wouldn’t call it a huge improvement – but there was indeed improvement nevertheless. I will say I enjoyed this more than the “Terrible Twos” this beer went through.

Andrew: So I’m going to flip-flop here.

Like Karl, I wasn’t a huge fan the last time we tried the Double Crooked Tree…”Terrible Twos” for sure.

But now, after three years, I find myself firmly in Ryan’s camp — big fan of this beer. I’m no chemist, and I’m not a homebrewer, so I can’t tell you what kind of magic is happening in these bottles as they age, but maybe we found the sweet spot with the three-year old Double Crooked Tree. It was thick, sweet, malty and the hops were exceptionally sharp and clean and definitely preferred over the two-year.

Even though I was a big fan of the three-year, I’ll still take a fresh bottle any day, but I have to wonder…what happens in four or five years?

4 YEARS

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Ryan: This is it folks, the end of the road for this particular cellaring experiment. We began the “Adventures in CellarSitting” series (a play off of the movie “Adventures in Babysitting“, which was filmed in Chicago) as a way to explore what would happen to a high-alcohol content beer that isn’t traditionally cellared.

The end result comes from four years worth of patience and diligence and not only shows the lifespan of the beer over those four years, but three different kitchens and dining rooms showing how frequently we have moved. We had ups (year three) and downs (year two) but most importantly, we had fun.

So what does the final chapter reveal about Dark Horse’s Double Crooked Tree?

The high-octane double IPA has successfully morphed into an English barleywine with barely a trace of discernible hops and heavy on the malty and sugary sweetness. The nose is chalked full of raisins, cranberries a bit of butterscotch with an underlying and hard to place herbal-ness.

The body is a bit thin, almost watery, but still packs a great deal of flavor: a touch nutty with some oak, a good dose of honey near the back-end with a shot of grapefruit rind in the finish — the last remnants of hops. The tail of this beer is long and leaves a slow, lingering alcohol burn between each sip.

This was a fun one, no doubt about it. And while year two proved to be challenging this was an enlightening cellar experiment. If you’re interested in holding a few bottles of this beer back — definitely skip the second year — but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be a bad time to crack open a cellared Dark Hose Double Crooked Tree.

Karl: It’s been so long since we gave this a look that I forgot it was a whopping 13.6% ABV. Wow.

This is a long time to set aside something like this (I imagine we continue to be the only weirdos to attempt it) and the age is starting to show on this guy. Out of the bottle it pours a thick, nectar-like syrup with white flecks floating about. Not sure what those are, but they take the appearance of stars against a pumpkin-orange sky. Aroma-wise, the Double Crooked Tree still sure smells hoppy, at least, along with whiffs of old candy like caramel chews or Werthers after a long time in your pocket.

As for the taste, the best way to describe it (for me) is that it’s taken on a distinctly herbal feel, with a long, long tail that is somewhat vegetal but not dry or astringent. Surprisingly, there’s still no real burn of alcohol, despite that massive near-14% ABV, which is impressive. Harvest apples and sweet cider roll around the palate long enough to let me realize this in a small but certain flash of insight:

At this point, we’re basically drinking wort.

This is really, really alcoholic sugary water. After this much time, the flavor of the hops has all but disappeared, leaving just the malts and latent sugars behind along with all that happy booze. As it warms, notes of tea (chamomile), mandarin oranges, white raisins and maple syrup emerge, making this a real different animal than where we started four years ago.

It’s a fun, experiment, but I think it’s come to its inevitable end — which is good, because we’re fresh outta this beer. Time to find a new DIPA to investigate, I think.

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