RAISON D’ÊTRE’S raison d’être, if you will, is to be a dinner complement to steak. Founder Sam Calagione cites Bordeaux as a particular point of inspiration and also included green raisins, beet sugar, and a Belgian yeast in his recipe. The resulting beer surely has some grape tannins and a high ABV (8%) that will bear comparison to wine. But whereas a fine Bordeaux will flatter and tease out new depths from grilled beef, Raison D’Être would rather throw a body blow and stand its own ground. That’s not to say that it’s overpowering–in fact, it’s a little flabby overall. But that girth is still sufficient to push other flavors around the palate instead of mingling with them.
Leaving wine aside, Raison D’Être’s blueprint in beer is the Belgian-style strong dark ale: layers of bready sweetness, spicy phenols, and complex fruit overtones from a distinctive and prominent yeast strain. Hops are somewhere in the mix (it is a beer, after all), but their 24 IBUs have only a minor late presence and do not linger. The use of beet sugars creates an interesting and slightly tricky texture akin to a vegetative molasses. Carbonation is finely articulated and apparent early on the palate and also clears up some of the finish, though not enough to dispel the sweetness or cloak very much of the alcohol. Head retention is sub-par for a beer in this class, but at least the mahogany color is clear and enticing.
Amidst the caramel in the aroma and raisin sweetness on the palate (slightly nutty, too, almost as if deliberately oxidized), the Belgian yeast manages to poke through. It contributes fewer spicy phenols to the finish than would be best, though, and thus Raison D’Être’s final impression is considerably less ‘digestible’ than the Belgian ideal: full flavors up front and dry crispness in the back. A bit stolid all around, Raison D’Être lacks the nuance and lightness that makes true dark Belgians such a delight. Overall an uncommonly common effort from the oft-outré Dogfish.
Served: 12 oz bottled 1/8/13