Robert Johnson was not a summery dude. Clouded by mystery and an early death, he made only a handful of recordings, but that high, lonesome voice (though it might not be how he really sounded) and his legendary deal with the devil for guitar-playing chops (though the dealmaker might have been somebody else) have left a deep, spooky mark on music history.
Which is why Dogfish Head’s Hellhound On My Ale—a commemorative beer released earlier this month on Johnson’s 100th birthday—seems like an odd match. Brewed with flowery centennial hops and a dash of lemon peel, it’s a bright falsetto of a beer—nothing devilish about it. But then again, it’s plenty strong. Let’s do the numbers: 100 kilograms of hops in every 100 barrels, 100 IBUs (international bittering units), 10.0% abv. While Johnson stuck to malted milk, most bluesmen weren’t afraid of a little kick. Tommy Johnson sang about drinking stove fuel and rubbing alcohol. They might not notice the lemon blossom, ginger, Tang, and honey notes in this bottle.
It might not be the blues-iest beer, but Dogfish Head doesn’t mind. Their Miles Davis-inspired batch of Bitches Brew, released last summer, was a blend of stout, braggot, and gesho root. Jazzy? As much of a stretch, perhaps, as Davis’s genre-bending album. The bottom line is, Hellhound is delicious, and the only thing to worry about is what the devil will offer for a taste.
Serve it with: Summer rolls, lemongrass chicken, jasmine rice, bok choy with ginger, and Johnson’s Complete Recordings, played loud, and late.