Meet Randall

Lookie here! It’s my latest Gourmet column, about insanely flavored beers. Read it here, or look below.

On an average day, Manhattan’s Blind Tiger Ale House pours 30-plus unique beers on tap, from dark stouts to pumpkin ales. But few are as weirdly wonderful as the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA—a highly hoppy, malty ale—that will soon be infused with lemongrass, tropical fruits, pine and spruce tips, fresh hops, or leafy mint and bourbon ball candy.
“It’s all thanks to Randall the Enamel Animal,” says Blind Tiger owner Alan Jestice.

The Randall, Jestice explains, is essentially a sealed, cylindrical water filter filled with loosely packed flavoring agents and connected to a keg line. When beer is drawn, it passes through the Randall tube, picking up aromatic oils and flavors. The secret is using snifter-worthy 90 Minute IPA, which contains 9 percent alcohol by volume. The alcohol strips off flavorful oils, essentially instant-infusing the beer. (The “Enamel Animal” sobriquet references the fact that extremely hoppy, resinous beer often feels like it’s dissolving teeth enamel—the pungent resins can taste gritty.)

Dogfish Head’s gonzo device is a technological twist on brewers’ centuries-old tweaks: Porters and stouts have long been seasoned in oak barrels, while Hefeweizens and Belgian ales are often re-fermented with additional doses of yeast. These flavors can be subtle and nuanced, but not so the tastes of bourbon ball candy and fresh mint. They’ve transformed the IPA into an ersatz mint julep. Several mint leaves tossed on top provide an herbaceous nose, but the flavored beer is almost oppressively sweet.

“The beer washes the sugar directly into the beer,” Jestice explains.

It’s difficult to drink a full glass, so I switch to the lemongrass-infused Simple Thai. The citrusy herb counteracts the hops, resulting in an almost vegetal quaff. Sometimes the sum is not greater than the parts. Same goes for the Summer Fresco. The dried-melon-and-pineapple barely magnify the IPA’s fruity essence.

More successful is the Northern Winter. Pine and spruce tips imbue the beer with a Christmas-tree nose, and an evergreen-fresh flavor that’s a perfect accompaniment to the already piney IPA. However, my favorite is the Hoppy Giant. A strong dose of whole-leaf hops gives the IPA heady aromatics, resulting in a smooth, delicious flavor. It’s the difference between eating a beefsteak tomato and a farmers market heirloom.

“That’s what’s great about a Randall,” Jestice says. “It’s not meant to transform a beer. It amplifies beer’s natural flavors.”

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