When There is No Substitute for Your Favorite Beer


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!



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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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37 Comments on “When There is No Substitute for Your Favorite Beer”

  1. September 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Well, um, I can’t think of one. Perhaps due to the image of you, in tighty whities, dancing about the house. Is 11AM too soon for a beer?

    • September 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      Yeah, sorry about that, Norm. Sometimes a theme will take us to dark places…

  2. September 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    I feel your pain Jim!! When I left Indianapolis and came to VT, I was the same way. 3 Floyd’s Alpha King. It was my go to beer. I love it. Alas, in VT, no AKing. No no. However, though they are not remotely similar, it has been replaced. Heady Topper. I am lucky. I know a store that always gets some on Thursday. I get my 4 pack for the week and I am a happy man. Nothing can replace it. Honestly.

    Second runner up is Edward from Hill Farmstead. It is just. So. Good. Though truthfully, All Day IPA from Founders is close.

    Dragon’s Milk. Hmm….Barrel Aged BORIS from Hoppin Frog…or their Doris even.

    • September 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      D.O.R.I.S. and B.O.R.I.S. don’t do the trick, either. And you might be the only person to ever move to Vermont and complain about the beer! 🙂

      • September 11, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

        Oh don’t get me wrong. I am spoiled. 100%. I just miss my Alpha King. That is it. I have Rock Art, Heady, Hill Farmstead, Lost Nation, Long Trail, Wolaver’s, etc etc etc. I am a happy man.

        • September 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

          I know what it’s like to miss your go to beer, that’s for sure. But I’m still jealous that you have a Heady pipeline!

        • Greg H.
          September 16, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

          Don’t forget Lawson’s Finest.

  3. September 11, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    “None of them made me want to slide around the living room in my tighty whities.” (Jim, please spare me the mental image.)

    • September 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

      I just love that old time rock n’ roll!

  4. September 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    BTW: My “irreplaceable beer” was lost back when Heavy Seas bought out Clipper City.

    • September 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

      Lost at sea as it were? That sucks. 😦

  5. Michael
    September 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I will never be able to reproduce the Scotch Style Ale I made. Changed the recipe a little with some molasses and OMG it was good. I gave some away as gifts, finished the rest and I fear it is irreplaceable.

    • Dan
      September 11, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      Better brewday notes!!!!

      • September 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

        I agree, Dan, and another round or two of experimenting!

    • September 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

      So in essence you’ve stopped producing your favorite beer? How could you do that to yourself?! 😉

  6. Bobby
    September 11, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    For me, Bell’s Oberon is that beer. After moving from Indiana to California years ago, I’ve looked high and low for a replacement – a nice, quenching wheat beer with just the right amount of Orange tartness that was born from summer to serve the summer. There’s nothing out here like it. Hangar 24’s Orange Wheat gets extremely close, but the second I have an Oberon to remind me how exceptional it truly is, it just ruins Hanger 24’s efforts.

    Also, I do know that feel – I LOVE Dragon’s Milk, and it is nowhere to be found on the West Coast :/

    • September 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      I had Hanger 24’s Orange Wheat and it’s really nice – they do subtle flavors very well. At least Oberon is distributed widely enough that you can find it if you travel to more than a few states. Imagine falling in love with New Glarus Spotted Cow…

      • September 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

        Oh god Spotted Cow is so good. I’ve really ruined myself 😦

        Fortunately I travel to Michigan/Indiana 4 times a year, so I do get to stock up on Bell’s while I’m there. I have a buddy who hooks up the New Glarus, so it could be worse.

        • September 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

          It’s nice to have something to look forward to. When my folks lived in Milwaukee, my first trip after hitting their house from the airport was to Ray’s Liquors to load up on Wisconsin beers!

  7. John
    September 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Bells Oberon is easily replaced by Blue Moon… duh! (cue laugh track). For me the irreplaceable beer is… Mortlach 13 yr. When it comes to beer I prefer whisky and can not find this one as it was a special release by Gordon and McPhail.

    • September 11, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      You fell in love with a limited release? McFail indeed! 🙂

      • John
        September 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

        Damn you Jim! I shall revel in the fact that YOUR favorite is readily available at MY local grocery store ALL THE TIME. So Na-Na-A-Boo-Boo :-p

        • September 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

          Well my buddies Gordon and McFly..uhh…McPhail are always dropping that Martiraich stuff off at my house by the case load. It’s totally crowding my Lamborghini out of the garage, bro. So..umm..right back atchya!

  8. Diss Content
    September 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Being someone who experienced the cruel surplus of indistinguishable American beers from the 70’s, where a fist fight could break out over the superior virtues of Pabst versus Hamm’s; I’m still a kid in a candy store. That is if the kid is middle aged, and candy is code for craft beer brewed in the USA.

    In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have imagined the quality, quantity, or variety of world class beers available today. When Sam Adams began commercial sales, I purchased a ‘special’ virgin bottle opener, which was not to be soiled by any Beechwood aged fluids, and could not be gazed upon directly by anyone in the household but me. If the supply of Adams was disrupted, then it was back to Stroh’s, Falstaff’s, or Schmidt’s offerings. It was like having to choose between Janet Reno, Hillary Clinton, or Marilyn Manson to replace Scarlett Johansson.

    But not so today as evidenced by the voluminous list of potential substitutes, even if they are slightly inferior (Christina Hendricks-esque). Just try to imagine a world where one goes from Dragon’s Milk, to Budweiser (the Janet Reno of beers) in one fell swoop.

    • September 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      As a man, I can admit that if Janet Reno was the only option, she’d look good enough, especially after a few Janet Reno’s.

  9. parkercorey
    September 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Dragon’s Milk is superb, but I’ll take a KBS every time instead.

    • September 11, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

      I know KBS has more hype behind it, but I appreciate that Dragons Milk is a bit richer and smoother. But I’ve never said “no” to either!

  10. September 12, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I have never seen Dragons Milk for sale here in Ontario, but I will now be on the lookout. I gotta say, at this point-I have no particularly strong allegiance to any beer, as I purchase a different type each time. I have not repeated a beer within a year of trying it for quite some time now-there are so many different varieties available! I could see myself returning to Mill St. Cobblestone Stout as a staple sometime in the future though-it is magically delicious!

    • September 12, 2013 at 10:23 am #

      I’ve always alternated between periods where I’d only drink new beers to times when I just wanted what I wanted, which was something I’d had before. Nowadays it’s a mix; a handful of favorites and a constantly rotating selection of new stuff.

  11. September 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Jim! Emily from New Holland here – if you ever find yourself in a drought again – you can check with one of our online distributors who ships to most states – http://bruisin-ales.com/

    Awesome blog, by the way. Hope you’re having a great day in your shades, oxford, undies and socks!

    • September 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      Good tip, Emily, but I’d rather bug Rich Blair or Tim Faith for whatever goodies they have laying around! 😉

  12. September 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Hey you’ve been nominated for A Liebster award!
    the official rules can be found there and be sure to hit up my page for the questions for your post

    • September 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks for thinking of us for this. So it’s like the chain letter of awards – did I surmise that correctly?

  13. September 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    I got a bottle of Fear & Trembling (Baltic Porter from Hill Farmstead). Didn’t do a taster and bought just one bottle. Best beer I’ve ever had. Asked Shaun Hill when he was doing it again. “Probably not for a couple of years,” he said. Even then I’d have to drive 3.5 hours to get it. Sigh.


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