Gimmicky beers bother me a little bit. Take, for example, the absolutely horrible blueberry beer I tried a while back, in a fit of unexplainable masochism. I knew what I was getting myself into, really. I mean, we can all agree that nobody needs to put blueberries in beer, pretty much ever, right? That's what I thought, and that's what I'm talking about. "Hey wouldn't it be neat if we" is probably a tell-tale sign of a bad idea when it prefaces a beer concept. It seems kind of like the brewer's equivalent of "hold my beer."
At first, a "cocoa molé" beer might seem like just such a best-avoided gimmick. When I first started hearing twitters about it, that was my first thought. Then, I actually gave it some. Chocolate, spices, chile - those are all flavors with which I would drink a beer. While that's not a foolproof litmus test (pizza-infused beer, for example, would surely be an apocalyptic abomination sure to rend the fabric of space-time with its epic foulness), it could certainly serve as a basic sanity check. Then, I allowed myself to get past the concept, and think about what it would mean in execution.
I've enjoyed beers with hefty doses of chocolate flavors. A little dusky, fruity chile heat could be nice, and lord knows I like spice notes in my beer. Quickly, I changed gears from cynical skepticism to excitement.
I love molé. I'm not sure, though, that this is a prerequisite, or even a positive, when it comes to enjoying this beer. Too devoted an acolyte might be overly burdened by such silly notions as "authenticity," expecting this to be an boozy manifestation of Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, and their Abuelita. Does this beer taste like molé? Not really. Is it delicious? Absolutely.
Cocoa Molé pours a light, root beer brown. I know it says Ale right there on the bottle, but for some reason, I was expecting something darker and thicker looking, more like a porter. A creamy, taupe head shows good retention, keeping its full-finger figure for a good while.
Cocoa and cinnamon come on strong as it pours, dusky with an earthy pungency underneath. There's a slight ginger note, and whiffs of molasses. For me, the aromas trigger strong scent memories of my childhood, an olfactory link to the Godparents I never really knew. For a while, they lived in East Berlin, and would send me a tin of cookies every year at Christmas. They were soft, subtly sweet, and spiced with cocoa, cinnamon, and ginger. They smelled exactly like this beer. At least in my memory. On a wholly unrelated note, their daughter Genevieve had a bit part in Fried Green Tomatoes, as the little girl playing the piano in the opening scene. That gives me a Bacon Number of three. Booyah.
The cocoa and cinnamon are right up front on the palate, as well, offering both sweet and slightly bitter notes at once. It's a very charming beer, the spices both overt and well tempered, so that they're clear but deftly handled. Had they been more strident, the effect would have seemed ham-fisted; less, and you'd lose the point.
After that initial burst of spice and cocoa, a dusky chile nuance comes across, gilded by the slightest twinge of heat. A subtle fruitiness, nebulous in nature, provides structure to those elements, and completing the flavor-check of the chiles in the mix (ancho, guajillo, and chipotle). As with the appearance, the taste comes across as much lighter and brighter than you might expect. Considering the flavor profile, this beer could easily have come across as heavy and overbearing, but it isn't.
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It's not really molé, either, tasting more like a Mexican drinking chocolate, rich with dusky chile and spiked with cinnamon. It's a little on the sweet side, but in a good way. The flavors are true and deep, though the body is a bit thin. At first, this seemed like a flaw, but then it occurred to me that a thicker beer with these flavors could have come across as flabby. Here, all of the robust, earthy, spicy flavors are allowed a cleanness and sprightliness that really allows them to shine.
All that being said, I'm not sure this revises my thoughts on gimmicky beers. I recently heard tell of a Rogue collaboration with famed Portland doughnut shop Voodoo Doughnuts. It's a boozy riff on their maple-glazed, bacon-topped behemoth, and it sounds like a terrible idea. I haven't tried it yet, but I've had my assumptions (somewhat) confirmed by anecdotal Twitter reports of its awfulness. I think I'll continue to approach beers like this with some trepidation, though perhaps a bit more cautious optimism. You never know, I guess, if that truffled lager is the best or the worst until you actually try it.