Brew and Booze News

Brew News: The Randall Jr. – Is Sam Calagione Possessed By Billy Mays?


Let me preface this post by saying that I know this is the guys at Dogfish Head (DFH) doing a goofy, spoofy video, and if it was a fictional product, it would be a good laugh, but this is for a real product, and I think Sam Calagione, in his quest to sell “Slightly Off-Center Products”, has gone too far and actually become possessed by the ghost of the late, slightly off-center infomercial king, Billy Mays.

The genesis of this post was G-LO emailing me the YouTube video posted below to provoke a response, because he knows that I have a Hate/Love relationship with Dogfish Head. In fact, it would be better to characterize it as a Hate/Respect relationship. I respect DFH, because it’s hard to argue that they’re not an important brewery in the growth of the craft brewing marketplace, and that their core beer offerings are some of the best out there. The hate comes from my suspicion that many of the big bottle brews they make are just a gimmicky attempt to part me from my money for an odd product, rather than a superior quality product that I would gladly pay more for.

The Randall Jr. is the latest product offering that confirms my suspicion that DFH is just try to sell me junk, be it brew infused with blueberries and monkey ass, or this portable “flavor infuser”. The Randall Jr. is a “mini” version of the Randall the Enamel Animal hops infuser that DFH started offering back in 2002 so that drinkers could “over hop” draft brew by running though a hop packed filter. The Jr. is nothing more than a DFH branded tea infuser that allows you to pour your bottled or draft beer over an infusion of hops, berries, peaches, beef jerky, or anything else that you can think of to ruin a perfectly good beer.

Check out the video:

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Hey! That was funny. You need to lighten up Wookie!”. I’ll agree it was funny, and I love a little goofiness, but that $20 brew infuser looks a lot like the $6 tea infuser that my wife has, and I am pretty certain my $10 French press coffeemaker would do the same job just as well, if not better. The price and DFH money grab is not my only objection. I question the need to “infuse” (read: fix) any well crafted beer!

I judge brewers against the standard set by one of my favorite chefs, Chef Franco Lombardo of Sapori in Collingswood, NJ. Years ago, at one of early dinners in his restaurant, I asked him for some grated cheese to add to my dish. The Chef politely responded that he would be happy to bring me some, but that I should try the dish first, because if it needed cheese, he would have added it in the kitchen. The dish was perfect and needed nothing.  I have never had to add cheese, or even salt and pepper, to any of his dishes because they are always what they need to be when they leave the kitchen.

Brewers should think the same way. If a beer needs more hops or coffee or berries, add them during the brewing process. Drinkers should expect nothing less than this attention to detail from the brewers as the highest standard. If you drink a brew and think, “This could use more hops.”, then the brewer either made a bad beer, or you are drinking the wrong beer for the occasion.

It’s not that I have a personal objection to wanting to add flavor to what you drink. I love a good spiced rum, limy margarita, or an infused Bourbon cocktail, but spirits are intended to be melded with other ingredients to make something new. Beer, and wine for that matter, is intended to be a completely crafted drink when it hits the bottle.

So what do you think? Is the Randall Jr. something for you? Let us know in the comments below.

44 replies »

  1. Your comment “If a beer needs more hops or coffee or berries, add them during the brewing process” is prefect (with the exception of a Berliner Weisse). Why would I need to fix someone’s lame beer when there are a million good beers already out there. If I want to make a beer better I’d start home-brewing again (which is a good idea anyway).

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  2. I agree with what you’re saying, for the most part, but I do think it would be a good educational tool for someone just starting to appreciate beer. If you can get your hands on a variety of hops, it would be interesting to put them each into a pale ale and see what each hop tastes like, how bitter it is, how floral, etc. This would save you the trouble of A. tracking down different single-hopped beers to try all the different hops or B. brewing your own.

    Other than that, I wouldn’t have much use for this thing.

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      • I think it was a limited release. I haven’t seen it anywhere for months. The beers were OK, and it was an interesting concept, but similar to the idea behind this post – the brewer blends everything together in proper proportions for a reason and that is his job. Taking it back apart is just as bad as requiring me to add something after the fact. Do I need french fries without salt to appreciate them with? Do I need Pizza without cheese to see that it should have cheese? Laphroaig without peat? Nooo! If I can’t appreciate a Latitude 48 IPA on its own, then it just isn’t good. But the hop lesson was fun, once… Once!

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    • I’d suggest that tracking down Mikkeller’s Single Hop Series beers would work better for that. But if you can’t get them, or all of them, the Randall might be useful to a degree for aroma and flavor.

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    • And then there’s the BlackSmith (sp?) which is just delicious! But you’re talking about blending two different beers, not adding a plethora of ingredients. Don’t need no Randall Jr. to do that!

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  3. The beer bar by me does a Randall every week and if I’m there that night, I always try it just to see what’s going on. I find it interesting to see some of the interesting ingredients they come up with: Rum soaked prunes, chocolate cherries, hot peppers, shaved white chocolate, even gummy bears. But that kind of curiosity leaves the minute I walk out the door. Do I want to do this at home? No. I want to drink the beer I bought.

    What’s interesting is that I know of two breweries that have asked them to not use their beer on a Randall anymore. Apparently some brewers do have the similar outlook to their beer as Chef Lombardo does to his food.

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    • That brewers have asked a bar to not “Randall” there brews is interesting. Most of the brewers I have engaged with care so much about their product I could see a brewer getting offended. It’s a bit like walking up to the Mona Lisa with a paintbrush because you want to see what she would look like with glasses and mustache.

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      • No need to deface the real Mona Lisa. That’s why they invented Photoshop.

        As far as doctoring up a beer goes, do you think we can figure out a way to improve a BLL or maybe even a Coors Light? Or are they beyond hope?

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      • It is easy to make either BLL or Coors Light better.

        Step 1) Mix with any other beer
        Step 2) Drink

        BTW, that is also the exact same recipe for making any other beer worse.

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  4. I like your thought on the comparison to cooking. I have spoken to many chef’s who are offended when someone goes for the salt before they have even tasted something. Why throw something into a person’s creation that wasn’t really meant to be there? I did have one person’s comment on my post about buying beer you know doesn’t have a taste and having fun with it that way. I guess that would be the main reason to use this, but I think you should just start homebrewing then

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  5. It is overpriced junk. Here is part of an email I sent to DFH…

    “Now I started using the Randall Jr. Here’s the first design flaw I encountered. The strainer insert fits in fairly snugly into the glass vessel which is a good thing. However, the metal handle is way too flimsy (about as thin as an average paperclip) and is only attached by the pressure provided by the handle. The strainer takes more pressure to pull out than the handle can take. So most of the time the handle becomes detached from the strainer, leaving the strainer stuck inside the device. The answer–the handle needs to be of a much thicker gauge and it needs to be more permanently attached…i.e. pop rivets. This was an annoyance I was willing to overlook.The second MAJOR flaw I can’t live with. After using the Randall Jr. ,I soaked it in warm soapy water for a few hours. I went to pull out the glass vessel and most of the logo and lettering had come off in the water. Really? For $20 I can’t even get a painted logo? I am really disappointed in Dogfish Head. Your company prides itself on being socially conscience and “off-centered” yet you try to maximize your profit margin by having a low-quality product built in China then overcharging your loyal customers. Basically I could build the same product for half of what you’re charging by purchasing a mason jar and a strainer. If you had any conscience you would pull this product off your website immediately.Once again, I am requesting a full refund and more importantly for have lost a once loyal Dogfish Head customer. I cannot support a company that has some Chinese factory build a crappy product. I would have no issue paying $20 for a quality product built in the USA. ”

    And please go visit the Randall Jr. page. After receiving this email DFH put disclaimers on the site instead of fixing the flaws.

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    • Thanks for the consumer report. I don’t think any of would have gotten past the “$20 to do what to my beer” shock to try it out and, as I mention in the post, I think my wife’s tea infuser or my french press coffee maker could do the job just as well.

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      • And you are correct…it is a cheap tea infuser that carries a “Made in China” label. And after I informed DFH are the major flaws I figured they would do the right thing and suspend sales until they could speak to their suppliers. Instead they added the following disclaimers to the Randall Jr. store page:

        **Please hand wash only! The Randall Jr. and the dishwasher do NOT get along well. He actually doesn’t like long soaks in the sink either so we suggest a quick wash with soap and warm water and then call it a day.**

        **You won’t need your superhuman strength for this lil guy! The strainer fits snugly into the tumbler opening, so just gently pull on the basket handle with 2 fingers and it’ll pop right out.**

        People are reporting leaks, glass breaking during a hand wash, letter and logo coming off and the handle popping off the strainer basket. Yet, the selling of the Randall Jr. goes on.

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  6. I totally agree with you Wook, you couldn’t be more right. The only time I could see using anything like the Randall is what Bull & Bush here in Denver do; they give you a base beer and then let you pick which hops you want to infuse it with, and how long. It’s more of an educational thing letting experience what each variety of hops adds (or detracts) from the taste of the beer.

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    • If DFH was selling this as an “educational” piece, similar to the Sam Adams Lat 48 Deconstructed pack I could get more behind it. If the Randall Jr. was solid product offered in a pack with 6 light pilsners and a bunch of different hops with a tasting guide that’s one thing. But it’s a cheap plastic tea infuser sold at a premium because it has DFH logo on it and really intended to let people “infuse” a good beer with things like peaches and mangos. If you want a beer with peaches and mangos just buy one. St. John’s Brewers makes a kick ass mango pale ale.

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    • Will — BTW — I had a great trip to Denver / Vail. Thanks for the tips. We hit Crazy Mtn and Gore Range Breweries and tried brews from Oskars Blues, Breckenridge, ODell’s, and Durango. Also had a great lunch at the Cherry Cricket in Denver. Posts to recap the trip are in the works. Stay tuned.

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      • Sounds like you had fun. The Cricket is an institution, can’t count how many times we’ve been in there over the decades (it’s owned by the same group that owns Wynkoop). I’ll be interested to hear your take on Gore Range since they changed hands last year and we’ve haven’t been in since they changed.

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        • The Cricket was awesome. My wife plans to return to Denver just for the guacamole and burgers. Gore Range was pretty solid — good beer, good apps, average main dishes. I’ll post a full recap on both.

          Loved the trip. Your got a damn good beer scene out there!

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  7. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….

    Any beer in need of a garnish is probably not worth drinking…

    Now I need an infuser and more ingredients that probably should have just been in there from the start?

    I’m not a big fan of DFH. If I’m visiting somewhere and its available, I might give it a try, but for the most part, their stuff doesn’t appeal to me.

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  8. Oh wow. This is hard Wookie. I appreciate quality as much as the next person, but as a self-proclaimed mixologist, variety is the spice of life. I like to experiment, and if I drink something I don’t care for, I will try to improve it rather than suffer through the remainder. I do fruit my beer in the summer – not for everyone – and from a home brewer’s standpoint, some pre-experimenting with flavors prior to brewing a 5 gallon batch is a smart idea, and this method is a good way to do that. If you’d ever experienced Dogfish’s Aprihop Randalized with dried apricots and fresh hops, you might reconsider. Aprihop alone is outstanding in my book, but the randalized version is sublime. Like him or not, Sam has issues. You can’t him seriously because he doesn’t take himself seriously (at least not in public). But his spirit of experimentation is the reason I choose craft beer over the crap beer. Because it is different and offers variety. They’ve had some stinkers for sure (Wrath of Pecant tops my list), but that’s why they’re released in small batches. Gives the public a chance to voice whether or not they should be released on a larger scale.

    On the other hand, I don’t disagree with anything in your post. In fact, it’s quite conflicting, which is why its a good post. Rest assured, when I drink a beer I love, I am a purist. Same goes with food. Although I can never turn down more cheese. I do have my limits 🙂

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  9. Well I’m bringing one with me to Dark Lord Day, I’ve got various soaked oaks, nibs, fruits, coffee, vanilla beams and jasmine. If it works great! If it doesn’t, I’m sure 3 Floyd’s has garbage cans. 2nd reason I bought one is to test some infusions for my homebrew casks. Sure I knew I could build something, but went for this branded thing

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  10. I think a lot of people are bringing down DFH for this product a little too strongly. It’s really easy to see that, even though many beer drinkers swear that they are full of gimmicks, DFH is passionate about beer. They take risks. They fall short sometimes on some weird beer creations. But they’re creative and original about what they do and I, for one, respect that completely. Love or hate the idea of the Randall, they originated a really interesting concept for beer drinkers so how can you blame them for making it more accessible? Maybe they could have used better materials but they’re only selling this thing for $20 – hardly overpriced in my opinion. As for the idea of infusing beer, I get the purist view and everything, but it’s not like DFH is suggesting using this ALL the time. An occasional experiment can be fun. Let’s leave it at that.

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    • No one said DFH isn’t passionate about beer.That’s a whole different matter.Taking a risk in pursuit of excellence is one thing…taking a risk on making money off the backs of your loyal customers is just plain stupid. What was to be gained be taking a cheaply made Chinese tea infuser, slapping a DFH label on it then associated it with a previous successful and unique product you developed is nothing short of a GREEDY MONEY grab. I made a better performing and higher quality for less than DFH is charging for the Scandal Jr. Guess that makes me really off-centered? DFH should focus on making great beer and leave the selling of low-quality crap to Walmart.

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      • The reason I brought up their passion for beer is that I view this move they made as genuinely trying to sell an interesting beer tool to their fans. I don’t see it as greedy. Did they maybe make a mistake with the product they used? Perhaps, but a lot of the faults you pointed out are typical with a french press or a homemade tool for the same purpose.

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        • Well I’m not sure how I can apply the faults of a cheap tea infuser to a french press since they are constructed completely differently and operate differently. But if you want to make that comparison…my Randall Jr. lasted one day…my Bodum french press looks and functions like new and it’s over fifteen years old.

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    • In case you missed it here is my hands on review:

      Issue #1 – The lettering and logo comes off in water

      I used it once and put it warm soapy water to soak for an hour. When I came back, most of the DFH logo and lettering had come off and was floating in the water. I was really surprised the logo and lettering were only cheap, water-soluble decals instead of being applied with enamel paint.

      Issue #2 – The strainer handle pops off when trying to remove strainer basket

      The strainer handle is no thicker than an average paperclip and is not permanently fastened to the basket. Hence, when you try to remove the strainer basket, the handle pops off in your hand, leaving the strainer basket stuck inside inner glass chamber.

      Issue #3 – Poor fit of strainer gasket

      I seen a few reports of strainers either too tight or so loose it falls down inside inner chamber.

      Issue #4 – Rusting of stainless steel strainer basket

      There was at least one report of a rusted strainer basket upon delivery of their Randall Jr. which leads me to believe we may see reports of rusting in the near future as owners use their Randall Jr. more and more.

      Issue #5 – The glass window insert leaks and is not airtight

      The glass window on top off the lid lacks a gasket and therefore will leak and lets essential carbonation escape while beer is being infused.

      Issue #6 – The device is made of a thin and fragile glass

      A strong unbreakable polymer material should have been used inside of glass. And if they wanted to use glass, it should have been far thicker.

      Issue #7 – The inner glass chamber is prone to fail and break during hand-washing

      There is a well-documented weak point prone to failure at the neck of the vessel where the inner glass chamber is attached to the outer glass wall. It is so fragile; many Randall Jr owners have reported the inner glass wall breaking off while washing.

      I contacted DFH customer service will my issues and they thanked me and said they would be in contact with their suppliers in China. But instead of addressing the issues openly and honestly, they chose to put humorous disclaimers on their store site.

      After my negative experience with Dogfish Head regarding the Randall I did two things. (1) I researched the Randall Jr. and found out it is made in China as a tea infuser. It costs DFH about $3-$5 for each Randall Jr. which is a nice little mark-up (2) I started documenting every tweet and Facebook post of owners concerns. (3) I demanded and received a full refund and made my own infuser:

      http://itsmedoublee.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/beer-culture-beer-infusion-at-home-made-easy/

      I am not selling this product. I am simply and freely sharing all the information you need to make your own. My infuser is made of a double-walled, high-impact polymer that carries a lifetime guarantee. It’s airtight. It’s 24 ounces It has a pouring spout. And the advantages go on and on.

      Please don’t make the mistake of labeling me as some DFH hater. I love their beer and spirit of experimentation. However I feel they made and mistake with the Randall Jr. and refuse to admit it. Just recently they stop selling the Randall Jr on their site, claiming it was sold out. Do you honestly believe that every single Randall Jr in stock was sold in 7-10 days. Not very likely. Please continue to monitor the site for two things (1) Does Randall disappear for good or an extended time (2) if Randall comes back on line, is it the same exact product?

      If anyone needs assistance in making your own Randall Jr., please do not hesitate to contact me. I also have beer infused creations with directions and photos on my blog. Please enjoy. And please keep making excellent beer Dogfish.

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