Beer: Fade to Black Volume 3
Brewer: Left Hand Brewing Co.
Style: Pepper Porter
ABV: 7.2 percent
Dusk inside a shadowy bar. A snifter filled to the brim with sable liquid is placed before a thirsty patron. It seems at first glance to be a standard porter, but when the drinker raises the glass to his lips, his brow twists in confusion. Amid the flavors of dried fruit and roasty malt sweetness, he picks up smoky, spicy peppers. As the slow warmth of chilis thaws his tongue and throat, he wonders: what is this strange brew?
FLASHBACK - MONTHS EARLIER:
Brewers at Left Hand Brewing Co. in Longmont, Colo. seat themselves around a conference table. They're holding this brainstorming session to determine how they'll craft the newest batch of their ebony winter seasonal, Fade to Black. Every winter since 2009 they've offered a new pitch-dark brew to keep drinkers warm during the chilly months. In 2009, Fade to Black Vol. 1 -- a foreign export stout -- premiered. Last year, the style was a smoked Baltic porter. But this year calls for something unique. The craft beer market is growing at a rapid pace; new drinkers are popping up everywhere, and they clamor for something special. The brewers have been puzzling the matter for hours when it hits: chiles. Fade to Black Vol. 3 will combine the dark, roasty flavors of a porter with the zesty bite of chile peppers. The brewers nod in agreement and burst into action.
Working with Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, Colo., the guys at Left Hand select three varieties of peppers they'll use in the beer. Sun-dried and sweated ancho chilies will provide smoky, fruity flavors but not much heat. Smoked serrano and brown chipotle peppers, on the other hand, will lend plenty of piquancy. Brewers de-seeded and chopped the peppers, racked the beer on top, and tasted their creation every day to determine when a balance had been struck.
The drinker settles in to his glass. The beer, he finds, is dark chocolate-brown and mostly opaque, though the edges give up some partially translucent maroon highlights. Half a finger of silky khaki foam becomes a bubbly ring within the span of a minute.
In the nose he finds milk chocolate and cocoa powder, creamy milk, smoked brisket and hints of licorice. It's a lovely, smooth blend of aromas that reminds him of a barbecue.
To the drinker's delight, while traditional porter notes command the aroma, the flavor is all about the pepper. A good serving of vegetal peppers --like a juiced green pepper or serrano without the spice -- is the first noticeable taste. There is a hint of heat, but not much; Left Hand's brewers calculated the spiciness at 1,984 Scoville units, about as much as an anaheim or poblano pepper. As a hater of super-spicy food, the drinker claims it's the perfect amount. Equal amounts of dark chocolate and smoke from the nose are here as well, and this blend of smoke, chocolate and pepper create an interesting triumvirate, almost like a chocolate-dipped chipotle. Additional flavors range from anise to tangy molasses to dark grape.
Warrior and Mt. Hood hops lend bitterness but little flavor as the soft, creamy medium body expands throughout the mouth. Mild, tingly carbonation enhances the pepper heat, bringing it to a perfect level.
Impressed, the drinker sets down his empty glass. He's long been fond of the Fade to Black series, and the balance struck by this peppery porter only increases that affection. He raises a finger to the bartender, motioning for a second glass.
FADE TO BLACK
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Food pairing suggestions:
A meal of green stuffed peppers provides the same savory, vegetal flavors found in Fade to Black Vol. 3, but none of the heat. Allow the beer's peppers to add spice to the food. For dessert, pick up a packet of dark chocolate made with ancho or chipotle peppers. The heat and cocoa flavors in each will harmonize beautifully.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a beer guide akin to a sommelier.