The Story Behind Dogfish Head’s Latest Musically Inspired Beer
“This one is on the house; this one is better than ever,” Robert Pollard warbles as his song “Hot Freaks” hisses toward its conclusion, about 10 minutes into Guided by Voices’ classic 1994 album Bee Thousand. As a fan of both beer on the house and Guided by Voices, I was extremely grateful when Dogfish Head’s founder Sam Calagione offered me a bottle of Beer Thousand, his brewery’s forthcoming release celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Guided by Voices LP.
Beer Thousand, which should hit stores this week, is the latest brew in Dogfish Head’s Music Series, a somewhat sporadic group of releases that has paid tribute to artists including Miles Davis (Bitches Brew). Besides the new Guided by Voices homage, Dogfish Head’s Faithfull Ale salutes another ’90s icon, Pearl Jam. But unlike those chart-topping Seattle superstars, Guided by Voices is a smaller outfit from Dayton, Ohio, with a cult following.
That background seemed to hit home for Dogfish Head, which started out home-brewed in an apartment, and has earned a nationwide army of fans despite production levels that just barely place it among America’s top 20 brewers by volume. Not to mention that Guided by Voices is one of Calagione’s favorite bands.
With such a strong attachment to its source material, Dogfish Head found a number of ways to accurately craft this particular tribute. During its heyday, Guided by Voices was notorious for slamming through domestic lagers between the 40-plus songs they’d play during epic live sets. So Beer Thousand finds its base in a light lager recipe. But much like the band itself, the brew is plenty boozy—Calagione and company cranked up the ABV to 10 percent. Next the brewery tossed in 10 kinds of hops and 10 kinds of malts. A little multiplication (10 x 10 x 10) gets us to Beer Thousand.
Despite all those malts, the beer pours a beautiful gold that’s surprisingly transparent, fitting its light lager DNA. The appearance makes the nose unexpected: light strawberries and cream mingle with banana notes, all wafting on top of a more standard lager scent. The taste is sweet and round, before disintegrating into a sharp, pleasant bitterness on the tongue. At some shows, Guided by Voices’ front man Pollard would polish off nearly a case of lager on stage: Beer Thousand tastes like Dogfish Head attempted to condense all those beers into one bottle.
Beer Thousand isn’t a perfect beer, but much like Bee Thousand, it’s not supposed to be perfect. Crafting what is essentially an imperial light lager is so contradictory by nature it’s almost insane. And dumping in 10 types of hops is the kind of wild card move you’d expect from someone with a mad scientist–home brewer origin story. But that’s the point. The beer is meant to embrace the DIY spirit that can turn a band recording at home on a 4-track into rocks stars, or turn a onetime home brewer into an international beer icon.
Discussing Beer Thousand with Calagione, he told me the story of Guided by Voices’ visit to his brewery. “Pollard was grabbing the beer off the bottling line,” he said. People at the brewery were legitimately worried something could go wrong. And yet, as Calagione spoke, he broke into a giant grin. It was the kind of freewheeling, boozy move that made the Guided by Voices singer famous, reflecting a personality perhaps not that dissimilar from Calagione’s.