Origin: Bodegraven, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
The big wooden barrels full of weird and wonderful beers that De Molen’s Menno Olivier brings to the Belgian/Dutch/Italian bar at the Great British Beer Festival every year are becoming something of an attraction in their own right, and this isn’t the first time one of them has yielded one of my picks of the festival. This year there were three, all in Bordeaux casks: a brettanomyces-infused version of wood aged session strength golden ale Hout & Hop (‘Wood & Hops’), another appearance for the wonderful wood matured version of imperial stout Tsarina Esra; and this, which must be one of Menno’s most extreme beers yet.
Hot & Spicy, which has also made an appearance at numerous other festivals, is a blend of two of De Molen’s numerous imperial stouts, Hel & Verdoemnis (‘Hell & Damnation’) and Hemel & Aarde (‘Heaven & Earth’), the latter made with Bruichladdich peated whisky malt. That in itself would lead you to expect a bold taste experience, but this already potent blend has been aged in the cask over a generous quantity of whole Madame Jeanettes, a variety of exceptionally hot chilli pepper from Suriname.
I’ve had a few chilli-infused beers in the past where the quantities and varieties used are sufficient to deliver a merely gentle spiciness to the finish. No such pussyfooting for Menno — this beer lives up to its name with an obvious near-immediate chilli burn in the mouth. The word “DANGER” and a drawing of flames had been chalked on the barrel, but even so, when I did my day’s volunteering behind the bar on the Wednesday, I took to advising potential customers to try a taste first. A good half subsequently turned down the offer of a more substantial quantity, but others loved the stuff.
I’m in the latter category. Chilli, like hop bitterness, is one of those tastes you acclimatise to, and my own limits have been substantially stretched over the years. As your palate recalibrates, you start to discriminate subtleties in flavours that were initially merely painful. Such was the case here, with an intriguingly fruity character to the flavour and good matches to the chocolate and smoke notes in the base beers: chilli and chocolate is already a recognised and very appropriate flavour match, given the new world origins of both plants.
The beer is ebony with a very light beige head and a sticky brown malt aroma that’s perfumed with richly spicy vegetal tones. At first the palate is chocolatey rich with more dark, unami-laced malt, but immediately the complexity starts to develop you’re hit with vivid, chilli-hot and peppery spice, with fruity berry and coffee flavours just detectable beneath. There’s an oily quality too (chilli oil?) and perhaps a note of tomato. Inevitably the heat dominates the long and very lasting finish, but is wonderfully softened by richly sappy, caramel malt and luxurious chocolate flavours, and a touch of peated smoke.
“That’s knocked my tastebuds out for the next half an hour,” I commented to Menno on first sampling the beer. “Now try some lambic — that will clear it,” he replied, and he was right.
Read more about this beer at ratebeer.com: http://www.ratebeer.com/brewers/brouwerij-de-molen/4448/