Tasting Notes – The Classics: Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing Company

DragonsMilkCapFor this special edition of Tasting Notes, we take a moment to revisit and appreciate a true legend in the craft beer realm, Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel-aged Stout from New Holland Brewing Company (Holland, Michigan).

Introduced 18 years ago to be the modern-day equivalent of a “knight’s reward for slaying a dragon,” Dragon’s Milk is an Imperial Stout “with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath” sourced from time spent aging in Bourbon barrels. With just one sip of this “true legend,” it will become clear why New Holland always believed that Dragon’s Milk (11% ABV) would become “the finest liquid in [their] house.”

Dragon’s Milk is a Year-Round offering available in 4-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft.  You can expect to find this iconic brew at craft beer-focused establishments located in Alabama, Florida, Michigan and throughout the rest of New Holland’s distribution area.

Now that we are all a bit more familiar with the story behind the beer, let’s pop open a few bottles and slay a couple of dragons for the sake of these Tasting Notes!

Tasting Notes for Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel-aged Stout from New Holland Brewing Company

Appearance:  Dragon’s Milk pours an inky black in color and is capped with just over a finger of mocha colored foam.  When held to direct light, the extreme edges of the pour hint at dark brown tones but the darkness holds fast for the most part.  The beer is completely opaque, so there is really no visual indication of the carbonation level.  Head retention is good, slowly slipping down to a creamy ring at around the halfway mark of the experience. The foam attempts to leave spots of lace on the glass after each sip, but the beer coats the glass with an oily slick that forces any lace to retreat back down into the top cap.

Aroma:  The barrel character hits first with pronounced notes of bourbon-soaked grains, vanilla and wet wood/oak.  That grain character eventually emerges on the other side of the bourbon to offer tones of dark roast, toast, toffee, coffee and bittersweet chocolate. A hint of dark fruit sneaks in at times to round everything out.

Taste: High quality dark chocolate (bittersweet), sweet cocoa, deeply roasted grains, and black coffee smoothly slide across the palate at the start of the sip. This sets the stage beautifully for the bourbon barrel’s notes of vanilla, oak, char, caramelized brown sugar and a hint of coconut.  Just like in the nose, a slight presence of dark fruit, riding an extra wave of sweet vanilla, turns up to close the profile.

Mouthfeel: Leaning a touch toward the medium side of full-bodied with a medium carbonation, Dragon’s Milk has a wonderfully silky weight to it while the carbonation keeps the experience smooth by lifting and carrying away any residual sweetness.  That sweetness is further tempered by a gentle bitterness sourced from the beer’s notes of roasted grains, coffee and bittersweet chocolate. The 11% ABV is pleasantly present, supplying boozy notes and a gentle warmth that rises from the belly. Aftertaste is all bourbon soaked dark fruit and cocoa.

Final Thoughts:  There is absolutely no denying that Dragon’s Milk is a true classic in the world of craft beer.  From top to bottom, this brew is one of the lasting original examples capable of providing a template for the basic characteristics one should expect from a well-crafted and balanced Bourbon Barrel-aged Stout.  It has a solid Stout base that carries all the roasty, chocolaty goodness you could want while the Bourbon barrel is there to influence the experience – with deep notes of oak, vanilla and bourbon – in a way that complements rather than dominates. Although they both have an equal opportunity to show what they are all about, the base beer and barrel still come together to consistently provide a cohesive experience from sip to sip, pour to pour, bottle to bottle. 

This level of consistency and quality is what makes Dragon’s Milk the legend that it is. A legend that we should all experience and revisit from time to time so that we can appreciate the breweries and beers that risked everything and eventually went on to shape what we now know and love about craft beer.  It is part of American craft beer lore and should be respected as such.  Prost!