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Dawn Patrol Dark

It started out innocently enough some 4 years ago. I was bartending on Thursday nights at the Pizza Port in Solana Beach in order to stash some money for a new condo. After many weeks of getting the inevitable question from our patrons “do you have anything that tastes like Newcastle?” I had to do something about it.

Almost every brewpub makes some variation of a Brown Ale. Pizza Port Solana Beach was no exception. The only problem is that before we released the Dawn Patrol Dark, we were brewing our 101 Nut Brown Ale- an American Brown Ale weighing in at 6.0%. This was not exactly a session style brown ale. It most certainly did not share the same attributes as Newcastle other than being brown (don’t even get me started about the color of that beer). We also had another beer called Boardwalk Brown Ale but neither of these beers would qualify as a flavorful lower alcohol ale.

So I set out to create a session style full flavored brown ale styled beer. I wanted to emphasize the sweet malt flavors, a deep chocolate middle and a finish that screamed “don’t put down that glass.” I watched that summer as Dawn Patrol Dark sales took off with each simple question and response “Do you have Newcastle?” To which I would reply. “No we do not have that beer on tap but we make this beer in house which you should try.” Every single time, they would be sold on the beer and forget that Newcastle was the beer they had come looking for.

I have now poured myself a Dawn Patrol Dark. It is in a shaker pint as that is how we serve them at the pub and I figure should have the same drinking experience. This batch is a bit hazy (chill haze that goes away as it warms). The beer is a burnt orange color with some brown highlights. It’s somewhat lighter in color than I remember it being. I should probably pay the boys in Solana Beach a visit to check the recipe notes.

Sitting on the top of the beer is a whispy white head. It’s never a dense head. The beer is force carbonated and usually on the low end of CO2 Volumes. The initial aromas are malt- focused mostly on dark malts with a nutty like overtone. I don’t use much Munich malt but this could be the result of a kiss here. The second fly-by reveals peanuts. Fresh Roasted no less.

The first sip is a bit prickly. Curiously the beer slides down my throat in a dryish manner yet at the same time, it surrounds my taste buds and won’t let go. I immediately sip again. The beer does the same. There is a faint malt sweetness. This is not as intense as you would find in an English style brown ale. It’s followed by a malt and hop dryness that clearly ends in a smooth expression of a balanced palate. It resonates. I want more. And so I drink three more sips and it is gone. A five sip beer. Well done. Bravo! I’ll have another please.

We are now making Dawn Patrol Dark at the Pizza Port in Solana Beach on a year round basis. We don’t call it a Dark Mild even though that is exactly what it is. I doubt very much that we would sell enough of it to keep making it if we called it a dark mild. But this is the type of beer that I had in mind when I thought of storming the mighty Newcastle.

The beer is brewed from a blend of 6 malts including Crisp Crystal and Chocolate Malts. It is lightly hopped with Challenger and East Kent Golding hops. We use a proprietary strain of ale yeast and ferment at a cooler temperature than our other beers. It is filtered and typically goes from tank to glass in less than 12 days. It weighs in at a whopping 4.2% ABV and is one of the best cask Dark Milds I have ever tasted. With no apologies for my ego.

I chose to write about Dawn Patrol Dark because for the last three years, it has been on a killer winning streak. In 2005 it won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival. We entered it as a Dark Mild. In 2006 it was sent off to the World Beer Cup in Seattle. When the awards were announced, it earned a silver medal for English Styled Mild Ales. Last fall, Dawn Patrol Dark won the Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival as a Dark Mild.

In less than three short years, we have gone from not having Newcastle to having one of the most decorated Dark Milds on the market. I am very proud of this. At Pizza Port, we have a reputation for Big Beers and Big Flavors. Yet, we also have a couple of amazing low alcohol beers that our brewers love to make and drink. Seaside Stout won three GABF medals in a row for Dry Irish Stouts and it clocks in at a massive 4.0% ABV. It’s brother Dawn Patrol Dark is on the same sort of streak. Maybe we should give up brewing the big boys and focus on session beers? Nah, that would take all the fun out of brewing.

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