The Continuum of Gimmick Beer: Ska Mole Stout

I think I may have come full circle with the idea of mole beer. First, I was hesitant, thinking it was nothing but a flight of fancy, doomed to fall short. Then, I tried New Belgium's Cocoa Mole Ale. I really, really enjoyed it. It's been a blessing and a curse, though, because it's led me to try other mole beers.

Chocolate Sombrero, from the non-beef-stew-beer-making Clown Shoes guys, failed to impress. Granted, it's not specifically a mole beer, but it's clearly going with a similar enough shtick. I marked mole beer as a one-off and went about my day.

When I ran into Ska Mole Stout, I was giddy with the hope that I'd found another good mole ale. Despite my initial misgivings, I'd liked the NB version well enough that I'd be glad to see other serious contenders in the market. I've become quite a fan of Ska's Modus Hooperandi over the years, and count on them for a quality product. Sadly, this one has me back to ruminating about the fickle nature of beer gimmickry.

Ska Mole Stout pours an inky black, with root-beer-hard-candy-tinged edges. A hyper-aggressive pour yielded a very thin, espresso crema cap, which dissolved into nothingness almost immediately.There are some bubbles in the blackness, almost seeming to boil, like tar pita or some weird cauldron.

The aroma is chocolate-covered espresso, burnt coffee and spices. Dutch process cocoa and cinnamon. Something dusky and herbal, almost like marjoram, teases at the edge of perception.

When i was a kid, I was fixated on my mom's chocolate. She kept it, a huge hunk of it, tucked in the back of a cabinet in the kitchen. Behind the flour. Behind various tiny vials of extracts. Behind boxes of baking soda. I was convinced that, being so expertly hidden, this must be God's own chocolate. One day, I sneaked a bite. I didn't enjoy it. My mom laughed at me. I refuse to use Baker's Chocolate (lying hussy) to this day. This smells like that.

Aside from calling up latent childhood disappointments and a resultant secret hatred of bakers, the beer also shows a hint of its chile, manifested mostly as earth, toastiness and light fruitiness.

At first, just as the beer hits your taste buds, it seems like it's going to be a lot more interesting. The subtleties of chile keep tricking you. Spicy, fruity, earthy and just a bit bitter. It's all subterfuge, though, and a brief one at that. That chile grabs the back of the throat, but delicately. Which is an apt descriptor in general. Overall, I feel that this one tastes a bit washed out, like someone drank half my beer and tried to cover up their iniquities the way you hid the fact that you were sneaking your mom's brandy with your eighth-grade buddies. Damn, you were cool.

After that initial false promise, the chile and spice back off to make room for an herbal sweetness. I keep thinking marjoram, which works fine with mole but is out of place here.

It's funny, because my two quibbles seem contradictory. The problem, here, is simultaneously too much and too little. The beer is somewhat overly sweet, which renders even its chile dusk and spicy musk a bit cloying. Thankfully, and woefully, they don't manifest much in the final analysis.

Which brings me back around to my thoughts on the matter at hand, and I realize I haven't got any. At least not anything that adds much. Did I like this mole beer? No. Have I liked mole beer? Absolutely. I'm no more or less convinced of the merit of the idea than I was before, just that I didn't like this particular manifestation. I'm sure there are those out there who will. I'm not going to let a few unexciting apples spoil the whole bunch, though. Next time I see a mole beer? I'm buying it.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall