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Hair of the Dog | Don Barleywine: A Vertical for Alex

Modified Don label for special Alex Kidd feature article
Eric Griffin

Every now and then, when speaking with—or collaborating with—brewery staff, a truly organic opportunity blossoms. Those who have followed Don’t Drink Beer for a long time know that not only has Alex Kidd always championed Barleywine, but he also took opportunities to highlight the beers and breweries that were years ahead of their time as industry trends evolved. One brewery in particular that has cemented its impact on craft beer history is Hair of the Dog in Portland, Oregon. In a tribute to Kidd as he continues to fight his ass off to beat cancer, we collaborated with Hair of the Dog owner and founder Alan Sprints on a special vertical tasting.

Hair of the Dog

A legendary Portland brewery, Hair of the Dog has provided craft beer drinkers with new and unusual beer styles for 30 years. Raised in southern California, founder Alan Sprints moved to the Portland area in the late ’80s to attend culinary school. While never intending on putting down roots there, the city had other plans for Sprints.

The 1988 Oregon Brewers Festival lit the flame of Sprints’ fascination with brewing and connected him with the Oregon Brew Crew—one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the country. It was there that he explored craft beer for years, with the freedom to create the beers he wanted. He was president of Oregon Brew Crew for three years before going professional in 1991. Just two years later, Hair of the Dog was born, one of a motivated group of young entrepreneurs determined to ignite a revolution of independent craft beer.

Since 1993, Sprints’ passion project has evolved into one of the most influential breweries in the industry’s history. Creativity and originality have been cornerstones of the company’s philosophy since the beginning, and over the years its team has developed a reputation for strong and barrel-aged ales, dense and dank IPAs, and historic lagers. They have been pioneers in a number of unique brewing techniques and practices, including experimenting with the barrel-aging process since 1994. Not only that, but they are proudly one of the first breweries in America to specialize in the production of high-alcohol bottle-conditioned ales. Sprints retired from professional brewing in 2022, celebrating the taproom’s final day on June 26, 2022, after three decades in the business.

It’s no surprise that Hair of the Dog’s values and history meant it was one of the first breweries actively supported and highlighted by Alex Kidd, aka Don’t Drink Beer.

From the Wood

Alex has been supporting Hair of the Dog on his social channels for over a decade. A 2011 review of Matt was the earliest coverage we could scrounge up. But through the years, there was always one Hair of the Dog beer that Kidd had always hoped to hunt down. The No. 1 beer on the OG White Whale list: Dave. This massive 29% ABV strong ale is—to put it simply—a freeze-distilled, highly concentrated version of Hair of the Dog’s flagship Adam brewed in 1994.

Dave

Along with this beer came an insane price tag, at one point surpassing the valuation of even the infamous 23-year Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Kidd shot and missed at multiple opportunities to land Dave, and had resigned himself from it as the price continued to increase. In 2016, a $1,500 investment at the source allowed the opportunity to try the nearly-extinct Barleywine, but the bachelor party Alex was attending that weekend in Portland was not about to be convinced to make that split for the tick. At the point in which the Malt Couture podcast hosted Alan Sprints as part of their Malt-terrogation in August 2021, Sprints was only in possession of seven remaining bottles of Dave. Missing yet another opportunity at a $700 online cellar sale was seemingly the end of the road for Kidd in tracking down the beer.

Fast forward to Malt Couture’s Batch 131: Totally Eised Out, on Dec. 31, 2020. The team finally featured a review and breakdown of arguably one of the most famous and sought-after beers of all-time. What did it take? A little extra sweet-talking — and a $600 personal check to Sprints himself, something the significance of which Kidd didn’t take lightly.

Alan

I spoke with Alex briefly about Sprints and Hair of the Dog, and he had nothing but high praise. In short, Sprints influenced the path and palates of many American brewers. His experimentation with things like ice concentration and smoke profiles, as well as his revival of old styles and consistently incredible examples of Barleywines and old ales is unmatched.

“What [Alan] did for strong ales globally cannot be overstated in both complexity and accessibility…. [His] influence extends far beyond the Pacific Northwest, making the old brewery by the Portland train tracks a beer mecca for many over the decades.” 

Alex Kidd

Don

Labels for 3 vintages of Don Barleywine
Front labels for each iteration of Don Double Barleywine.

Don Double Barleywine first made its appearance in 2018. When discussing possibilities for the article, Sprints described the idea for this beer as being his attempt to recreate the infamous Dave without all the baggage and unreasonable price point.

The other major influence for the beer was Portland publican Don Younger. The owner of the Horse Brass Pub passed away in 2011, and the first batch of Don was dedicated to him and his vigorous support of others.

Don Barleywine has seen three iterations since 2018, with the Hair of the Dog team releasing a second batch in 2022, and then a final batch in 2023 after the brewery taproom had closed. Each version is a unique blend of spirit barrels, experimenting with everything from port, Madeira, and Calvados to rum, bourbon, and rye. A unique expression of the Barleywine style, Don is bottled still and challenge even the most avid beer drinker with its distinct complexity. In an ode to Kidd and his love of both the OG Dave and Hair of the Dog, Alan sent us all three vintages of Don to review and share on PorchDrinking in dedication to Alex as he continues his fight with stage 4 cancer.

The Reviews

Review Imagery for Hair of the Dog's full Vertical of Don Double Barleywine
Photo by Eric Griffin

2018

For the first iteration of Don, the team at Hair of the Dog aged the beer for 18 months in port, Madeira, Calvados, bourbon and rum barrels. Finishing ABV: 15.2%.


Upon the pour, it is noticeably the lightest of the three vintages; a deep ruby with surprising clarity. As noted on all three iterations of Don, it does not have any carbonation.

The port barrel is really what hits on the profile of the nose first. Stewed cherries and apricot bolster the fruit-forward entrance, with just a touch of rum raisin and milk chocolate to round out the profile and add some complexity.

The palate comes forward with spiced pear and a bittering nuttiness. Following closely are notes of Raisinets candy and caramelized honey. As it settles on the palate the initial bitterness lingers, but the heartier notes dissipate and leave a trail of grape brandy and canned peaches.

The mouthfeel begs for more weight, and we agreed that based on the overall profile of the beer, it would benefit from a carbonation treatment. That said, sip this one slow. It’s undoubtedly complex, almost riding a line we didn’t even know existed between Barleywine, mead and Port wine. The finish initially trails with too much bitterness, but closer to room temperature it settles down and is replaced by more pleasant esters, ethanol warmth and drying fruit.

2022

The second vintage of Don was aged for at least four years in rye, bourbon, port, and rum barrels. Finishing ABV: 17.8%.


The pour still has ruby hues reminiscent of the OG 2018, however this batch is considerably darker. While it’s not opaque, the clarity is unlike its predecessor in that there’s nothing discernible on the other side of the glass.

It’s immediately clear on the nose that this vintage saw whiskey treatment. There’s an exceptional balance of each spirit barrel used; hints of vanilla and oak from the bourbon, spicy rye, caramelized fruit coming from the rum, and deep, silky notes of fortified red wine from that port treatment. Undertones of walnut, brown sugar and fig add complexity and connect the dots between the unlikely yet successful marriage of so many individual components.

The 2022 Don is immediately sweeter than its 2018 counterpart. That said, it’s similar in that initial punch of estery, drying, slightly buttery walnut component right out of the gate. Following quickly we get notes of red vermouth and rye, with subtler nuances of dried apricot and molasses. The richness settles on the tail and gives us old fashioned cocktail vibes, with black cherry, orange zest, and boozy bourbon.

Still fairly thin, but with a definitively weightier feel than the first batch. The marriage of barrels continues to develop with time, bringing port and rum to the forefront of a profile that initially highlighted whiskey. There are similar esters to the 2018 batch, and understandably goes down with a bit more heat given the 2% boost in ABV. The finish is long and without too much residual bitterness; stone fruit and nuttiness trail well into the next sip.

2023

Like with the 2022 vintage, the final vintage of Don was aged for over four years. The combination of spirit barrels included rye, bourbon, port, Calvados, and maple. Finishing ABV: 17.1%.


There’s a very similar pour to this as with the 2022—maybe just a touch darker, but almost identical coloration with obviously no carbonation build-up upon the pour.

The nose is bursting with black cherry. Quick to follow are notes of chocolate plum pudding, orange zest, apricot jam and marzipan. Early on it’s already incredible to see the clear and studied changes Sprints put into this beer with each release.

The palate—well-contrasted from the nose—verges away from the fruity predominance. Instead, it switches gears to make the barrel character the focal point. Rich with dark chocolate and boot leather, undertones of vermouth and cocoa powder allow for a balance of rich and sweet with dry and robust. With time in the glass the profile gives us flavors of date and walnut, adding even more depth to the layers of this most recent (and final) Don vintage.

The mouthfeel is neck-and-neck with 2022, but arguably the strongest between the two. 2023 felt to us to be the most put-together; it oozed synergy. Any esters are subtle, and the booze is noticeable but smooth. Any bitterness works to complement the nutty, cocoa-heavy notes trailing into the finish.

Stay Strong, Alex!

As so many of us continue to follow Alex Kidd’s journey to a hopeful recovery, we realize how fragile life can be, and the importance of never taking it for granted. Much like Alex was endlessly determined in his decade-long hunt for Dave, he now shows his endless fight and determination in an exponentially different fight. The fight for his life.

Alan Sprints and I want nothing more than for this article to continue to help spread the word; about Kidd, about his fight, and about everything he has done for the community. I’d like to also thank Sprints for providing the bottles of Don for review, as a huge part of these installments is to provide a sensory experience. Kidd may never be able to enjoy beer again, and these reviews are meant to serve as an homage to the greatest reviewer to ever do it. Stay strong, Alex!


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