There’s a moment in the movie Risky Business where Tom Cruise out-drives Guido the Killer Pimp in his daddy’s champagne gold Porsche 928. After terrorizing the streets and alleyways of his affluent North Shore suburb, he pulls up to his parents house and proclaims to his escort girlfriend (in the douchiest way possible), “Porsche: There is no substitute.”
That line has been ringing in my head lately as I’ve been trying to find a replacement for my beloved New Holland Dragons Milk, which recently disappeared from the beer store shelves around here.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, Dragons Milk is an incredible Bourbon barrel aged stout that’s rich and boozy and sweet and nuanced all at the same time. It accounts for something like 25 percent of New Holland’s total output (give or take – I can’t remember the exact number their woodmaster Tim Faith shared with me) and every once in a while the supply dries up where I live, probably due to its ever-growing popularity. Which reminds me, I need to stop telling people how awesome this stuff is.
Anyway, I can make it a month or so before I start getting hardcore cravings for the beer. During the most recent dry spell, I decided to purchase every Bourbon or whiskey barrel aged ale I came across, determined to find a decent substitute for Dragons Milk so I have a go-to toe curler for the lean times. It didn’t have to taste exactly like my favorite beer, it just had to check most of the same boxes Dragons Milk does – rich, boozy, sweet, nuanced and satisfying. In the end, Dragons Milk makes me happy when I drink it; there’s a sense of occasion I feel when I curl up with a goblet full of the stuff. I needed a beer that did that.
And I found none. Zero. Nada.
I won’t list all the beers I sampled, but it had to be a dozen or so. There was a 2011 Widmer Brothers Brrrbon, which had a nice whiskey note but was far too thin on the tongue. There was Left Hand Wake Up Dead, which was a little too balanced for my liking and lacked the peppery heat sensation that Dragons Milk provides. There was something from Full Sail that reminded me of Popsicle sticks (too much wood), and there was even Uinta Labyrinth Black Ale, a rich and licorice-laced treat that has a wonderful hint of saltiness about it, but alas, no booziness, which makes sense because it’s wood aged, but not in used spirits barrels.
Try as I may, I couldn’t find a brew to replicate the happiness Dragons Milk provides. None of them made me want to slide around the living room in my tighty whities.
Perhaps the worst part is that these beers, all excellent or at least pretty good, suffered in my estimation because they weren’t what I wanted. They went from being well-crafted brews that I would have enjoyed under different circumstances to being failures because they didn’t deliver the sensations and flavors I was craving. It’s like thinking Gisele Bündchen is a skinny scrap of leather because you’re longing for Kate Upton. Ridiculous.
The closest I’ve ever gotten to replicating the joy Dragons Milk provides is Firestone Walker Parabola, which is way too rare and special to drink while binge-watching Homeland, and Goose Island Bourbon Country Stout, which isn’t distributed in my area and comes with an off-note of guilt for supporting the evil empire. I also love Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, but last year’s batch only shipped in kegs due to the chance that a bacteria might have wiggled its way into the mix and would spoil the beer under long term cellaring.
So the bad news is I failed to find a stand in.
The good news is that the Dragons Milk pipeline reopened last week, and I’ve been reunited with my darling beer. I had one last night, and it was just as good as I remembered it to be. I think I can come up with a viable alternative to most every other beer out there, from Heady Topper to Dogfish Head Theobroma, but not this one.
Dragons Milk: There is no substitute.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have misplaced the crystal egg that belongs on the mantle…
What’s your irreplaceable beer? Let us know below!