Once subjected to the ridicules of its feudalist wine relatives living high up in the castle, The Beer Bourgeois have recently elevated its caste position in society, becoming much more affiliated with culinary pairings and bi-annual festivals -- once earmarked solely for its kith and kin of the intoxicants community.
Whilst wine was living in perfect harmony with fish and cheeses and pastas, The Knights of the Spirits Templar were rousing the characteristics of beef and chocolates and other components of a manly diet. Beer serfs were reduced to gullet-slumming with bratwurst, hamburgers, pizza, and the accompanying corn-and-rice-extender beverages.
Despite the general befitting of those ideas, beer was determined to be something more than a palate cleanser to savory foods.
Now, we are in the midst of a craft brewer renaissance -- and pairing beer with culinary boards ordinarily reserved for high-end distills and fermentations can be as elegant as a Araujo Eisele Cabernet Savignon and an artisan cheese plate. American craft beer has developed its palatal profile to be as complex -- and in many cases, MORE complex -- than its counterparts, and chefs are intrigued enough to pair their craft with the Vaishya of the adult beverage world.
With this newly found acceptance into the culinary club, brewers began fiddling around much more with food-based beer recipes. Where once you might see a simple smoked porter, now one has the potential to find a brisket-infused rauchbier. In some cases, brewers are simply circumventing the whole beer-and-food-pairing movement and just conjoining everything right into a single bottle of goodness.
Coincidentally, I've been able to sample a half dozen (or so) of these extreme beers -- and more specifically, I've encountered a recipe that keeps popping up in the periphery of bottle shop shelves: Mole beers.
This is a bottle that I picked up in Michigan last summer while camping in Holland, near the coast of Lake Michigan. New Holland Brewing is one of my favorite US brewers. It is for all intents, one of the nation's most overlooked breweries (well, kinda, since the distribution is relatively small -- but I'm talking more in terms of dialogue between beer nerds; overlooked). I'm always seeking out whatever goods they're slangin' whenever I get up north.
This particular brew is from their High Gravity Series, which is best known for their Dragon's Milk Barrel Aged Stout, which I love like someone might love their favorite song. Its great, it comes from great minds, and I was so very excited to try this edition in this series -- a firelit Michigan night, some summer iPod jams, and a very proximate place to pass the fuck out when I start to get a bit puzzleheaded.
One caveat: I do not like regular, solid-state mole. Chicken and chocolate sauce just kinda ain't my thing. But I know that it has high culinary merits, and I expected to really delve into the nuances given that there was no chance of this tasting like chicken and chocolate sauce and barf.
Ironically, I think I might have preferred the above composite to what I was now subjecting myself to after popping the bottle and taking several small sips. I'm thinking that the base beer is a Brown Ale and it had a very strange complexity to it, like thin diet-cinnamon syrup and grilled peppers, which I found completely unappealing. It only got more astringent as it warmed. It was kind of gross, but I really tried to taxi past it.
Despite my immediate and ultimate opinions of the beer, I finished the bottle, and then went on with my life -- and another beer. It was a big swing and miss for New Holland. It was the alcoholic equivalent of an Animal Collective b-side -- strange and complex and over-blended -- offending the senses in a way that makes you wince a bit, despite your love for the band.
Acquired: New Holland Brewery
So, after that experience, I naturally became a bit gun shy about picking up gimmicky beers resembling something out of a stainless steel Rick Bayless Airstream rather than a stainless steel brew kettle.
However, browsing the Spec's aisles one night, I did decide to give a mole beer another shot for three reasons: 1) New Belgium Brewery has rarely let me down in any capacity, 2) I love LOVE their Lips of Faith series, which includes one of the more accessible and delicious sour beers around: La Folie, and 3) My neighborhood Spec's tends to go through some severe dry spells as far as stocking a regularly new, exciting, and interesting beer selection. Seriously, they're like the college sophomores of the liquor and spirits distribution world. New Belgium Cocoa Mole appears to have been a slump-buster for them, as it was literally the most interesting thing they had stocked in weeks. Hell, three extra reasons to buy a beer are three more reasons than I usually have, so I just went for it.
As you can surmise from the bottle here, New Belgium essentially expects you to consider this a party in your mouth -- or in a more traditional mole sense -- a wedding of flavors; chocolate and caramel and mild peppers; consummated between your palate and cranial nerves in a heap of mariachis, pistols, and gold-toothed grins. I would even go so far to say its like a plethora of beautiful pinatas, each in their own little storeroom and filled with little surprises.
Somehow, New Belgium did succeed where New Holland failed.
I think the primary difference between the successful recipe and the not-so-successful was the balance of flavors in such a complex beer. El Mole Ocho was too heavy on the spices, like cinnamon and ancho -- whereas Cocoa Mole had those ingredients, but were leveled out by chocolate, vanilla, and doughy Mexican pastry. It was well-blended and smooth and respectful of the target of which it attempted to imitate -- not so obvious as the New Holland recipe, but a suggestion of what liquefied mole might taste like. It was really well-executed.
I've always told Melissa that if we ever started a brewery, I wanted the first beer she brewed in my honor to be a Churro Porter, given my nasty streak for those delicious little Mexican donuts. I think New Belgium might have beat us to the punch. ¡Pendejos!