Broadening my beer horizons

Hello, everybody! This week I decided to take a page out of my own book and try a couple of beers that I thought would challenge me. I’d like to think that I’ve transcended the boundaries of “taste” and “preference,” in the beer world, but it only took a couple of minutes for me to find a couple beers that would throw me off of my high horse of beer snobbery and onto my ass. It was surprising at times, and a little painful in others, but I think I came out enlightened.

So here goes. My two choices of the week:

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1. Left Hand Brewing Company’s Fade to Black.

Fade to Black is part of Left Hand’s fantastic collections of beers, but it stands out in that it’s part of an annual series. This year’s version is a “Pepper Porter,” which follows up “Foreign Export Stout” and a “Smoked Baltic Porter.” Left Hand’s website says it reminds them of “Robert DeNiro sitting in your darkened parlour near the fire in his Louis Cyphre persona smoking a Tuscan cigar.” Pretty sweet.

So what’s the problem? I’m…not really a fan of porters. Coffee and “burnt” tastes in my beer are kind of a turnoff for me. So that flavor, mixed with pepper? Sounds like vom in a bottle. Yum!

Well, it turns out it doesn’t taste like vom in a bottle — actually, it was pretty tasty — but I would still never order it. It pours chalkboard black with a thick mocha head and has a pleasant sweet, peppery smell (apparently from dried fruit and… peppers). The taste is pretty smooth, which was great. But as the name promised, there’s a good heaping of black pepper taste that doesn’t go away ever. Now that I think about it, it’d probably make a good marinade beer. Still, I’d never drink it for fun. I give it an 88 out of 100, because it has good flavors and balance, I just don’t really like it.

2. New Belgium Cocoa Mole Ale with cocoa and spices

This beer was an impulse buy from a trip to Sam’s Club a couple of weeks ago, and it ended up tasting shockingly delicious. I mean, come on. Cocoa mole beer? If you aren’t gagging a little bit right now, you’re either a “cocoa mole” fan or don’t have taste buds and wish you felt any mouth sensation other than “hot” or “cold.”

That was what my first thought was. But after tasting it, I’ve realized my error judgment. It’s a sweet, spicy swath of tastiness. Granted, I feel like it will instantly ruin whatever food you might be eating with it, but with the amount of flavor it has, it might as well be a meal in itself.

The beer pours dark, dark brown with a cola-colored head that fades in seconds. It has a scary-high ABV of 9%, so one glass of this is equal to about two Bud Lights. It smells like cinnamon and bittersweet chocolate, which kind of reminds me of Mexican hot chocolate. When you first sip it, the smell mimics the taste, with a sweet, chocolaty smoothness up front from the beer’s caramel and chocolate malts.

But as the beer sits in your mouth, you get a slow buildup of ancho chile spice that doesn’t go away. In this respect it’s a lot like the Fade to Black, but this is a fresher, smoother, sweeter pepper flavor that I enjoy keeping around. Ever had mango salsa? Different taste, but the same idea. Also, it masks its alcohol content incredibly well, which is a mixed blessing. Over, I give it a 92 out of 100. My only criticism is that it could have benefited from a richer malt profile.

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