Ah, beer. Cool, refreshing, thirst quenching — the very basis of civilization itself. This glorious concoction of malted barley and hops is generally considered to be an everyman drink, something to ease a mind stressed from work or wash down the various burgers, pizza slices, or hot wings while the ball game is on television.
But beer has gotten feisty in the past decade, and brewers have moved beyond basic lagers and ales into some very new territory. Beer drinkers have gone right along, gravitating toward beers so hoppy that they're almost wormwood bitter, Imperial stouts that hit the gut like a shot of bourbon, and wild yeast sours that pucker the jaw as they hit the tongue. Experimental brewing is here in Arkansas, too, folks, and once again, Josiah Moody of Vino's Brew Pub is right at the forefront. Moody has pushed the small microbrewery at the 7th and Chester restaurant beyond anything I ever thought possible, and the result has been a string of fantastic brews unique on the Arkansas drinking scene.
A recent trip to Vino's saw two of these unique brews on tap, the first a doppelbock that had been cask-conditioned with locally grown Dunbar Garden hops. Despite clocking in at a relatively high (for beer) ABV of 8.5%, the doppel was smooth and refreshing, and as it warmed slightly, the flavor of the hops opened up into a wonderful array of floral and aromatic flavors. It's one of Moody's best beers to date, and one with which he is justifiably pleased.
The second specialty beer on tap was something called the Holy Mole, a milk stout made with lactose (milk sugar) and a healthy dose of scorpion peppers, grown once again at Dunbar. The scorpion pepper ranks among the hottest peppers on earth, requiring the folks using it to take special precautions to prevent chemical burns. I tried Josiah's prototype pepper stout last year, and was surprised at how the spicy pepper added some bite to the stout while the milk sugar served to break down and balance out all that heat.
This year's stout, however, wound up being a little spicier than last year's, due to Dunbar's peppers being more pungent this year. Working with peppers can be thought of in similar terms to the Castle Bravo nuclear test carried out in the mid-1950's — scientists wound up with a yield nearly double that they expected due to the volatile nature of the ingredients used. So yeah, this is a spicy beer — but is it still good? The answer is a resounding "yes," especially for folks who dig spicy food. There is a certain segment of craft beer lovers known as "hop heads" due to their fondness for strong IPA's and other hoppy brews; I think beers like this might spawn another subset called "spice heads" who seek out different brews made with peppers to compare the relative merits and flavors present when the hot stuff is added to beer.
There's more to the this milk stout than heat, however. When the initial heat fades, there are nice chocolate notes that are rounded out by the creamy texture of the beer. Anyone who has ever had Aztec-style hot chocolate knows how invigorating a cup of spicy, creamy chocolate can be, and this beer fulfills much of that same flavor profile. I'm glad to have put a glass of this into my belly, and while I don't think this could ever be a session beer, it's certainly one worth trying at least once (or five) times.