Once upon a time, there was a beer-lover named Goldihops, and she went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a converted gas station that was serving the New Belgium brewery’s Cocoa Molé…
Mole is a traditional interior Mexican sauce that employs roasted peppers along with bittersweet chocolate that serves to enrich the body while tempering the heat. New Belgium’s brew includes an accent over the “e” either as an unnecessary hyperforeignism, as when Adam Richman of “Man vs. Food” insists on pronouncing habanero as habañero in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable, or because they want you to pronounce it like ¡Olé! as in an enthusiastic bull fight or football match. Whatever the case, it parallels the over-promise and under-deliver I found in this beer, despite it being part of the more esoteric Lips of Faith series and having an “exceptional” rating from users on Beer Advocate. As I noted with pumpkin beers, I find stouts to be able to bear the weight of spicing agents better than lighter bodied ales. I’m interested to see how the Jalapeño Ale from Katy’s No Label Brewery pans out this week. So here I found the thinner body, while still dark with some ruby, less appealing, and I got more “heat” from the 9% ABV than I did from the blend of ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers used. I got the chocolate notes but not the hint of spice I would expect from a purportedly mole beer.
Next I tried the Chocolate Sombrero from Clown Shoes Beer, a Massachusetts brewery that has taken the Lone Star State by storm with our insatiable, Texas-sized thirst for craft beer. Clown Shoes is apparently hop-obsessed, with a lineup that includes an IPA, a Double IPA, a Belgian IPA, a Black IPA, and a Double Black IPA – even their Amber Ale has a hop bitterness. It’s no wonder then that they’ve found a special place in the heart of Ben Fullelove at the Petrol Station, whose Brash Brewing brainchild will collaborate with Clown Shoes to blend a Belgian Brown. The label, featuring an arachnid 8-limbed luchador who would find a loving home at El Gran Malo, calls the beer a “Mexican Style Chocolate Stout” and certainly exhibits the attributes of mole I expected from New Belgium’s effort. The dark malt body is able to support the ancho chile and cinnamon spices that accent the chocolate of the rich Mexican sauce. The heat of the peppers wasn’t immediately apparent, but built up to a slow burn that stood on the shoulders of the 9% ABV and, typical of Clown Shoes excess, set my mouth alight and firmly planted its memory upon my palate.
The third chili brew I sampled in the name of research was the Chipotle Porter, aka Texas Ranger, and it was just right. From the highly regarded Mikkeller, a Danish brewery whose brewmaster Mikkel Borg Bjergsø swept through town during Houston Beer Week, The Chipotle Porter was brewed at De Proef Brouwerij, a Dutch “trial” brewery that enables groundbreaking third-party brewers like Mikkeller to ply their trade. Mikkeller produces a dizzying array of beer, with a great number of experimental and collaborative efforts. This poured a deep black with a tan head thick enough to fully reveal the cheeky image and leave a nice lacing on Petrol Station’s faux-British pint glass, which is actually 16 oz. instead of 20. This was just a perfectly balanced beer, full-bodied without being syrupy, chocolatey but not cloyingly so, with a piquant spiciness that wasn’t overwhelming – all borne on the back of a more modest 6.6% ABV. While they produce perhaps more sought after brews, even here with Chipotle Porter, Mikkeller reaffirms Bjergsø’s status as a sort of wunderkind in the brewing industry.
The robust backbone of a stout beer is asked to carry the load of a variety of spices from vanilla and chocolate to espresso and pumpkin to pecan and hazlenut. Typical of the experimental craft beer community, it is further asked to bear the onus of a host of chili peppers and proves it is up to the task. I think at this point it’s fair to say Houston’s winter, such as it was, is behind us, the mercury nevermore to plunge past 60°, but I find excuses year-round to have a stout, and you know you’ll have at least a Guinness this Saturday. These chili endeavors just bring that additional note of agreeability to the Texan palate.