Craft Beer of the Week

Rogue Ales Puts Sriracha in a Beer

Beer: Sriracha Hot Stout Beer Brewery: Rogue Ales & Spirits Style: Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer ABV: 5.7 percent

The red chiles grown at Underwood Ranches in Camarillo, California are very important vegetables. Every day, 30 semi trucks packed with peppers journey east to the L.A. suburb of Rosemead and deposit their payloads at Huy Fong Foods. The company, founded in 1980 by Vietnamese refugee David Tran and named after the ship that brought him to America, buys peppers only from Underwood -- no one else. At Huy Fong, the chiles are ground up and combined with garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. They're placed inside clear plastic bottles decorated with a rooster and topped with a bright green cap. They become Sriracha.

For a majority of the chiles, this is a noble end. I imagine being the main ingredient in Sriracha, a wildly popular sauce that grows in demand by its owner's estimate about 20 percent every year, is a status that makes the peppers grown at Underwood the envy of chiles worldwide. But for some, the journey does not end on the supermarket shelf. Some lucky bottles of Sriracha are sent northward, to the headquarters of Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon to become part of a beer.

Now, pepper beers are nothing new -- Rogue itself has been making Chipotle Ale, an amber brewed with smoked jalapeños, for years. Beers brewed with condiments, too, have been done before. Seattle's Elliot Bay Brewing Co. and Ten Ninety Brewing out of Illinois both make dark ales aged in used Tabasco barrels (yup, Tabasco is aged for three years in oak). But this is the first time Sriracha has been used as a brewing adjunct. Can a 6 percent ABV beer stand up to the pungent, spicy sauce?

The brew's appearance gives away none of its fiery nature -- the liquid sits in the glass still and dark as an inkwell. A fair amount of carbonation elicits ponderous levels of dust-colored froth that lingers atop the glass for many minutes. Sniff this static ale and you'll perceive all the notes the base stout is known for: milk chocolate, burnt toast, roasted peanuts, woodsy hops. But a swirl awakens the rooster with a crow of chiles, tomato paste, and garlic. It's an off-putting aroma -- not bad, per se, but definitely not good either.

If you're not a fan of Sriracha, have no fear. While the sauce is a prominent contributor to the beer's aroma, it's almost completely absent from the flavor. No chiles interfere with the beer's malt-derived tones of smoky dark chocolate and burnt bread; no garlic hinders the brew's dry, balanced finish. What the beer does gain from its union with Sriracha is a peppery heat that builds within each sip from gentle embers to a sizable flame. The fire never reaches levels that would require extinguishing, nor does it come close to the heat supplied by Sriracha itself (I'd give the beer two out of five peppers on the capsaicin pain-rating scale). The result is a pleasant burn that accents the stout's flavors without distracting from them.

Bottle of Sriracha Hot Stout Beer (crafted, ingeniously, to look exactly like the bottles of rooster sauce used in the brew) were initially available only through Rogue's online store and quickly became one of the brewery's bestsellers. The lava-red bottles now can be found at beer retailers Valleywide. As is true with almost every Rogue available in a 22-ounce bottle, it's wildly overpriced (I got mine for $14), but there's no better beer to pair with a bowl of pho.

Zach Fowle is a BJCP-recognized beer judge and a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle