The last two weeks have represented that liminal period between summer and autumn when nobody knows what to wear, and the breeze can’t decide from day to day if it’s going to be one you lift your face to or one you hunch up your shoulders against. It is, in beer terms, the perfect time of year for spicy stouts.
Stouts are unquestionably best in the cooler-weather months. They’re rich, hearty and boozy. But peppers, for me at least, pose a conundrum. On the one hand, sweating out some shrimp étouffée feels both right and refreshing in the heat of summer. On the other, a steaming bowl of chili does the trick in November. (Don’t talk to me about chili in summer, Texas; I don’t want to hear it.) Looking at the pint glass as half full, this is the time when we can have it both ways with our stouts.
We’ve seen a flurry of activity on the spicy stout radar lately. Weyerbacher’s Sunday Molé Stout, which references Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon, cacao nibs and a blend of chiles, just landed in Madison and quickly sold out at most shops in town. You might find some in bottle shops outside of Madison, if you know where to look. A new batch of Space Ghost from Central Waters also arrived, but in greater supply. It should be around for a while.
The Mexican stout has turned into something of an automatic whale recipe. Perennial’s Abraxas is one such wish-list beer, to the point that the St. Louis brewery has made a day out of its release à la Three Floyds’ Dark Lord or Surly’s Darkness. On Oct. 14, tickets went on sale for Abraxas 2016, which is actually more of a week-long celebration of the beer’s status (Oct. 25-29). Those tickets, which allocated two bottles of regular Abraxas and one bottle of Coffee Abraxas to each ticketholder, sold out in a hurry.
Though it’s been a rough year for Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout brand, through the end of today (Oct. 25), fans can sign up to win a ticket to Proprietor’s Day on Nov. 20, which is almost a week before the traditional Black Friday release of all Bourbon County varieties. This is the version of the beer that’s sold only in the Chicago market; if you want your best shot at a bottle, you have to win that golden ticket.
There are plenty of spicy stouts across the country that don’t touch Wisconsin soil. Autumnal Mole is the fall stout in Ska Brewing’s seasonal brew calendar. It’s aggressively cuminy — or at least it was a couple years ago, when I had it last. Also from Colorado, Copper Kettle’s Mexican Chocolate Stout has become a standby in that brewery’s lineup; it has occasionally been barrel-aged, which is a treatment once rumored for future runs of Central Waters’ Space Ghost. I would welcome that move.
Boulevard has an Aztec Chocolate Stout with a good reputation, I hope better than the coconut iteration of its Smokestack Series of stouts, which I didn’t care for. Perhaps the whaliest of the widely known spicy stout whales, though, is Westbrook’s Mexican Cake. This South Carolina brew will typically cost you dearly in a trade, and that’s to say nothing of the bourbon barrel version, or the double barrel version or, heaven forfend, the Pappy Van Winkle barrel version.
But if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll stumble across the Westbrook/Evil Twin collaboration that was just recently announced: a mashup of Mexican Cake and Evil Twin’s Imperial Biscotti Break named (wait for it) Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break. Unlike the limited distribution of Westbrook’s own stuff, this will span Evil Twin’s substantial national footprint, though it’s sure to be a chase beer anyway.
Me, I’ll happily settle for the can of that Autumnal Mole from 2013 I still have in the back of my fridge. I keep meaning to make chili with it. One of these chilly autumn days maybe.