Growing up, I was always amazed by my cousin Steve. My brother, Steve, and I usually spent our Sundays together growing up “shooting” each other with our cap guns, burying ants in a sandbox and using wood chips as grave stones, and sometimes I found myself fending off swirlies as I was the runt of the litter. But what I remember about my cousin growing up was his fascination with hot stuff. Hot sauce on potato chips? Yup. Pepper on fruit? Uh huh. Eating jalapenos as a snack? Why not.
I regressed to my childhood when I saw that the good people at California’s Stone Brewing decided to amp up their smoked porter by putting Chipolte Peppers in the brew. Peppers in a porter? I barely even know her! It’s a pretty big leap to do something that bold. Damn hippies. Although it seems a little far fetched, when you think about it many pints are consumed while engulfing wings, jalapeno poppers, or spicy chili. I think Stone’s philosophy on this one was that people don’t need any chicken standing in the way of beer and hotness. With that type of Wall Street efficiency, we have a beer that Steve would be proud of. But would it really pepper in some flavor? Let’s do the numbers…
Appearance: The peppery goodness cascaded into the pint glass leaving behind a captivating tan head with pretty good retention. The beer was jet black, similar to John Travolta’s awful looking head of hair – good for beer, bad for humans. The beer left a nice lacing as I drank and was as pretty as the garland on a holiday tree.
Smell: Dark chocolate was the most dominant first smell of this brew. Kind of surprising seeing that chipolte tends to be a pretty aggressive ingredient. I also got some great roasted dark malt, cherry, and even oak too. A lot going in in the nose, and of course I found the hot pepper, but I’m not so sure that if the label didn’t say it, I’d be looking for it. I was a little disappointed with this as I have had Rogue’s Chipotle Ale before and that was the first thing I noticed, however an ale compared to a porter is night and day. On second thought, I should have probably been happy that it wasn’t over the top because a porter should have an aggressive scent. I couldn’t wait to dive into the brew.
Taste: Roasted malt, dark chocolate, the slightest hint of pepper. The chipolte in the taste is similar to the chipolte in the smell as it really is the backseat driver in the brew. The pepper sort of scratches the back of your throat as you swallow and was most noticed after you had a sip; there was also no bitterness (besides that of the chocolate). Again, I feel that the taste is replicated by the nose. Nothing too complex, nothing too crazy. Pepper is so light that you begin to think that devil sneering at you on the bottle is probably overcompensating for something. The light flavor of the pepper balances nicely with the dark malts in the brew, so I would say it’s well balanced. It’s certainly not as crazy as it sounds. However, the pepper flavor is pretty understated beyond the scratchiness at the bottom of your throat. It’s actually quite annoying how that creeps up because the beer tastes pretty good, but you yearn for a Halls cough drop after every swallow.
As I drank the brew, I actually felt the pepper lingering on my lips. The pepper’s role in this beer is comparable to when you take a big wiff of a hot pepper and begin to cough just because of the scent of it. There is absolutely no heat on your tongue when you drink, but you do find it wondering around and cutting your throat, lips, and after a while your stomach too. Again, cunningly annoying. Mouthfeel is pretty rich and comforting, but I don’t know if I’d want to drink more than 1 of these in a sitting due to the Halls factor. (More than one will make you reach for the Prilosec.) I think it’s perfectly carbonated for a porter – that is it’s not over bubbly at all and the beer speaks for itself. The 5.9% ABV is satisfying but won’t knock you of your seat either.
Overall: B. It tasted great, but truthfully, I think the pepper is a novelty. It adds a little to the taste of the beer, but it’s presence really shines after you’re finished (which may or may not have been the intended affect of the brewery.) To see if I was off about this review, I cracked open another [imperial] porter from Hooker to compare, and you can definitely make out the difference, but I still think that it’s understated in the taste. I can see people reaching for this beer though even with the scratchy factor. If people are willing to torture themselves with wings they have to sign a waiver for, I can see people coming back for this guy. It’s worth a try as it’s a very unique sensation.