by Paul Deines
I’ve been seeing these things around lately. More and more as time goes on. Ingredients are popping up with greater frequency: cinnamon, coffee, vanilla, cacao nibs, nutmeg and, most importantly, chili peppers. That’s the kicker. Ancho chilis, Pasillas, habaneros.
Today I’m reviewing one such brew: Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales in Oklahoma.
First, though, I want to discuss this substrata of stout. The most common name for it seems to be spiced stout, but I’ve also heard Mexican stout or Mayan stout. I kind of love the grandiosity of that last one: so I’m going with that.
The confluence of ingredients bitter, sweet and spicy owes something to the Mexican hot chocolate or the horchata. Bell’s brewed a spicy stout in 2001 (not with chili peppers, though) and I have no doubt that there have been others in the decade that followed, but the first one to stir the populace was probably the once-a-year brewery-only earthquake out of Tampa: Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing. I’ve never tasted this reportedly massive opulent beast, but earlier this year its release nearly caused a riot. The Mayan stout that stole my heart was Westbrook Brewing Co.’s Mexican Cake. Hearty, chocolaty and titillatingly hot, Westbrook’s anniversary ale nearly brought me to my knees. It’s a big ticket event beer that – despite its 10% ABV – does not totally torpedo your night.
Mayan stouts have seen a boom in recent years. In addition to the ones mentioned above, there are rakish spiced ales from Perennial Artisan Ales, OddSide Ales, Copper Kettle Brewing and Evil Twin (collaborating with Prairie), and I for one am psyched about this little trend. As I’ve bitched in the past, every big stout can’t be aged in a bourbon barrel: that can’t be the only barometer for an exciting dark ale. The spicy, rich flavor of the Mayan stout is as baroque and stirring as any KBS.
That said, most of the Mayan stouts mentioned above do have variants aged in whiskey, rum and apple brandy barrels, which are all revered by beer geeks like potable Shrouds of Turin.
As usual, I’ve digressed. On to the Bomb!
We have ourselves a spent motor-oil coloration and consistency and a dark tan head that, even with a vigorous pour, gives way pretty quickly with only a bit of lacing. The nose on this bastard is bracing, with more than the chocolate/coffee/soy sauce mélange one expects from imperial stouts. The base aroma is similar to Oskar Blues’ Ten Fidy or Bell’s Expedition Stout (two beers I love) but it’s wrapped in something far more alluring. There’s cigar smoke and leather, butterscotch, honey and mesquite. The first sip yields an intense espresso and cherry cordial flavor with a fair amount of dark chocolate, figs and roasted black marshmallow. Bomb! is sweet, yes, but not saccharine. And the burn from those ancho chilis cauterizes any lingering sugar, leaving only a delightful coffee ground aftertaste. The weight is definitely heavy, but manageable for a stout this robust. On the subject of ABV, Bomb!’s percentage varies from batch to batch, but my bottle clocked in at 13%. That’s boozy as hell, which makes me happy that – unlike with Hunahpu, Mexican Cake, or Abraxas – Bomb! is distributed in 12 oz. bottles.
Prairie Artisan Ales has only been in existence since 2012, when cofounding brothers Chad and Colin Healey released their flagship saison. Since then, they’ve put out a rep of harvest ales, IPA’s, wild ales and stouts that captivated the tippling masses. I haven’t had a bad one from them yet. Certainly not this one.
BOMB! (Prairie Artisan Ales) Prairie distributes through Shelton Brothers, which puts them on the shelves of about twenty states. Bomb! is probably their most widely sought regular release and is centralized in and around Oklahoma. So, either trade for it or keep your eyes open next time you’re in the OK/TX region.