Beers: Crime and Punishment Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. Style: Chile Beer ABV: 9.6 percent and 12 percent
Had you been born into the Vanatau tribe of the South Pacific, your test of manhood would have been to dive headfirst from a 100-foot-tall wooden tower straight toward land, hoping you've measured the vine tied around your ankles accurately enough that you won't slam into the dirt. To be considered a man among the people of the Satere-Mawe, a tribe of the Brazilian Amazon, you'd have to stick your hand in a glove woven with bullet ants -- an insect with one of the most painful stings known to man -- and withstand the pain for 10 minutes without making a noise.
Luckily, you are neither of these things. You are a Craft Beer Drinker, and toughness in our tribe is proven through a simple test: Crime and Punishment. All you have to do is drink them. But while the task seems easy in theory, it's much more difficult in practice.
See also: The Bruery Autumn Maple
Crime and Punishment began their lives as more regular Stone brews. Punishment was, at one time, the annually released and vividly alcoholic ale known as Double Bastard. Crime used to be Lukcy Bastard -- a blend of Arrogant Bastard, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, and Double Bastard. Both beers, however, were corrupted by the addition of -- and I'm using technical terms here -- a metric ass-ton of chile peppers. The list: green and red jalapeño, giant white and standard habanero, yellow and red 7 Pot, yellow and red 7 Pot Douglah, 7 Pot Jonah, Red Scorpion, Ghost, Peach Ghost Scorpion, Red and Peach Moruga Scorpion, Chocolate Douglah, Caribbean Red Hot, Fatali, Yellow Moruga and the dreaded Black Naga, as well as various other hybrids. The beers were then aged for several months in bourbon barrels.
What you get when you load them up with that much capsaicin are ales that look like their un-bastardized brethren -- murky burgundy, with just a whisper of tan foam -- but smell more like a bushel of freshly picked peppers. In Crime, prominent floral hops and a dollop of caramel do battle with fresh green jalapeño. Punishment displays an equally vegetal nose, but beneath is the undeniable toffee sweetness of double bastard: caramel, bourbon, oak, vanilla, maple. In both, the peppery aroma disrupts what would be quite a treat.
But the real test of your taste buds' mettle is in the flavor, where the full strength of the peppers is revealed. The joke is that the flavors of both beers are initially exceptional, their floral hops melding with rich toasted oak, toffee, over-ripe oranges, vanilla and caramel. These notes, however, quickly give way to near-overpowering heat. Hop bitterness settles into the sides of the tongue about the same time as huge pepper heat assaults the rest of it. Fire, fire everywhere. Your breath will burn; your eyes will water; your forehead will sweat. It will not be pleasant. Problem is, you'll want to keep drinking, as these brews actually do taste amazing if you can make it past the peppery assault. Each swallow of the malty-sweet, capsaicin-heavy brews brings more toasty oak and more heat.
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The first two bottles from Stone's sought-after Quingenti Millilitre series to hit national distribution, Crime and Punishment, are, together, 1000 milliliters of agony. And while they're tasty, well-crafted barrel-aged brews, they're also pretty expensive -- around $25 per bottle. Might be cheaper and less painful to just go for the bullet ant glove.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.