To celebrate the impending apocalypse (or capitalise on popular misconceptions of ancient mathematics) Fantagraphics have made a strange alliance with fellow Seattleites, Elysian Brewery, to release a series of 12 speciality beers with label art by Charles Burns. The beers are being released at a rate of one per month, with this month's brew being “Peste” ("Plague" in what might be a subtle nod to Burns's Black Hole graphic novel) which is a chocolate ale made with no less than five different chilis.
While the prospect of such a spicy brew may not seem overly inviting, its aroma belies its hidden fire with aromatic sweetness. The first impression is of a botanical soda (like Dandelion and Burdock) with slight undertones of chocolate. While chocolate normally adds to the richness of a porter or a stout, in an ale like this it seems to smooth the bitterness. It obviously reacts with the brew, as the head is tinted brown, and is a lighter, stiffer affair than most of Elysian's ale, and crackles as it dissipates.
Upon first taste, there is not much of the chilli present, and the first thing that hits is the chocolate flavours. Coming across as a lighter version of a chocolate stout, it is more sweet than bitter. Yet the consistency is smooth, and not as sickly thick as the taste might imply. It's only after the second or third quaff that the chillies hit, and hit they do! The five varieties used in "Peste" not only build the spiciness of the ale, but are combined to activate different parts of the palate. The sharpness of the cayenne stings the front of the tongue, while the softer smokiness of the chipotle peppers settles further back in the mouth. It's a little overpowering at first, but eventually settles and allows the chocolate and cinnamon to better express themselves.
The ale hiding behind all that sweetness and spiciness is a fairly pedestrian affair, which lets the speciality flavours gain more definition. There's a middling hop strength, and a smooth, velvety aftertaste.
With all the chillies, this is fine as a novelty brew, but is too overpowering to be drunk casually, or fit well with any food accompaniments. Elysian could make a winner out of a plain chocolate and cinnamon ale, which would have a much better balance of sweet, bitter and spice. The ambition in this brew is admirable, but sadly the execution is just too raw to mark it as any kind of success.
-- Gavin Lees