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Dragon’s Milk is perhaps one of the most revered beers brewed in America. The big, robust taste of a bourbon barrel-aged brew is defended by many in Michigan as the best beer in the country. Speaking from experience, I’ve known it to be just the ticket to warm up on a cold, dark January night in the Wolverine State.
When I heard that New Holland, the brewery that makes Dragon’s Milk, released a new version that uses a different aging process, I knew I had to try it. Instead of bourbon barrels, Dragon’s Milk Solera is aged in foeders—oversized wooden storage tanks—and uses a graduated criadera system so that the beer is produced using elements of freshly brewed beer, the original brew, and every generation in between as it graduates towards the solera. Each bottle includes elements of the past as well as influencing flavors from newer generations.
The result, based on the beer I tried that was brewed at the end of July, is phenomenal. As it warms on the tongue, notes of caramel and toffee emerge, while the robust flavor fills the mouth with joy. There are no sour or alcoholic notes that some barrel-aged stouts are known for, but the warming sensation is pleasant and daft, and there is just a hint of bitterness to keep things interesting.
The process used to brew Dragon’s Milk Solera reminds me of the ski culture that has come out of the western part of Michigan’s geographical mitten. Located less than an hour from New Holland’s production center, Bittersweet Ski Area is 350 vertical feet of skiing that has produced world-class freestyle skiers over the past 20 years. Guys like Greg Tuffelmire and Omar Otte all developed their skiing at Bittersweet on the Otsego Freestyle Team, and were easy to find in skiing media during the early 2000s. Tuffelmire and Otte even starred in a very memorable Copper Mountain segment in the 2001 Warren Miller Entertainment film, “Cold Fusion.” (Their segment starts around 45:20).
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In 2010, Michigan’s Spencer Milbocker made it to the finals of Level 1’s Super Unknown XII with an edit that features more than a few ski areas and rails not too far from New Holland’s brewery. His style was definitely influenced by Tufflemire and Otte, but Milbocker brought new elements and skill with him everywhere he skied.
Two decades after Cold Fusion was released, I found myself in Michigan on a cold January night, anxious to check out Bittersweet. There is still a strong ski culture there, and Tuffelmire has returned from Copper to run a nearby family-owned hardware store. Locals tell me he can still be seen on the slopes of Bittersweet from time to time.
Due to rain, the ski area was closed the night I planned to check it out. I drank my first Dragon’s Milk instead, looking longingly at the white slopes while taking comfort in the fact that this part of the country is capable of producing both great skiers and, at least more recently, great beer.
Ten years after Milbocker, Michigan is due to turn out some more great skiing talent soon. I can’t wait to see the next generation of talented skiers from the region and the rest of the midwest. Just like how I can’t wait to see how the aged beer used to make Dragon’s Milk Solera will influence future batches. And, luckily for all of us, there is a lot of great beer to drink while we wait for more talent to come out of the ski hills of Michigan.
New Holland Dragons’ Milk Solera Notes
- Beer Type: Foeder-Aged Ale
- Flavor Notes: Caramel, Toffee, Fig
- Pairs Well With: Waiting for better skiing weather, Ski Movies on VHS, flipping through Freeze Magazine
- ABV: 10% IBUs: N/A
- More info: DragonsMilk.com, Untappd Profile
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