Well, the time has finally come. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I compare virtually every beer that involves chipotles, chiles, jalepeños to the beer that I’m going to review today: Bent River’s Jalepeño Ale. It’s a local craft brewery so you won’t find this particular brew on your grocery store shelves (even though their new expanded facility does include a bottling line), unless you’re a Quad Cities native and have a few months to wait. Some of us are just lucky bastards who can go straight to the brewery and don’t have to wait at all. Speaking of which… Let’s pour!
Aroma 11/12: The vegetable scent of the jalepeños is intense! The peppers are not a supporting character in this beer; they absolutely steal the show and run away with it. A rich breadiness is behind it as is a kind of salty, mysterious sweetness – at least there’s some sort of sweetness in there to balance all those jalepeño flavors. The chile heat is also there, even if it is the most faint of the aromas. There’s no extract here, this has got to be the work of real peppers. Very unique. Very intense. Kinda scary!
Appearance 2/3: There’s no real head to speak of, but I’m coming to expect this more and more from pubs that serve draft beer. The color is a mix of pumpkin oranges, ochres, and bright copper pennies. It looks about how I would expect this beer due to look based on past experiences with the style.
Flavor 18/20: Oh man, is this stronger than I remember! This is a seriously more potent batch. It starts out by introducing itself with a salty, spicy shout with plenty of neutral 2 row malts behind it. This is my guess. I don’t know the actual grain bill, but it would seem to be confirmed by the thick body that these flavors ride in on. Next the vegetable flavor of the pepper fades in as does a lot of heat. I mean a lot. Well, at least for a gringo like me. This is definitely not a “Oh maybe if you search for it, you might find a slight tingle behind the cinnamon and caramel and whatever other spices we added in here to make this beer seem well-themed.” This is a “Oh shit, who put something in my beer!” type heat. If you wouldn’t put Tobasco on your eggs, you might not enjoy this. In its defense, I don’t always remember it being this way (see the “Total” section below for a full explanation). As you hold the beer in the mouth, the chile heat fades a bit and the neutral malts really stand out. It’s joined by a light bitter, which goes well with the previously described malt. The whole time I’ve been drinking this, I’ve been trying to put a finger on the sweetness that this beer has. Normally one would suspect the malts, but given their “plain” flavor one eliminate them fairly quickly. The sweetness is the natural sweetness from the pepper! Just like a fresh green pepper can be sweet when eat raw (or roasted!), these jalepeños have that same clean, sweetness and they add their very incognito sweetness to the brew. The finish remains bitter with neutral malts, as well as a heat that needles the back of your throat. The aftertaste is only the heat of chiles, just like the parting shots of a meal at a Hispanic restaurant that maybe included few too many dashes of hot sauce.
Mouthfeel 4/5: The presumed 2-row malts give this beer a nice heavy body and a really nice, moderately-sized foaming action in the mouth to keep things from feeling too sluggish. Obviously, the heat from the chiles comes into play more than a little bit. Not much else to say here.
Overall Impression 8/10: This is really an enjoyable beer if you’re in the mood for something spicy and extremely unique. I’ve never had another beer like it. The roasted chile notes permeate every aspect of this beer and their authenticity is amazing. Finally, a pepper beer that doesn’t try to cover up or shy away from the peppers! The body is sturdy, but not burdensome thanks to some good foaming action. The beer itself might be improved by a more balancing sweetness, perhaps lended by an increase of crystal malts to the grain bill (or anything with a bit of light caramel for that matter).
Total 43/50: As I mentioned earlier in this review, this brew is a LOT more potent that I remember. Previously, it was not quite so outspoken about its spiciness, though it was still far from shy about it. It seems to me that it used to have more a balancing sweetness that not only rounded out the beer, but added more complexity to it as well. While this beer isn’t a one-trick pony, both its featured characteristics, the authentic pepper notes and the heat, come courtesy of the jalepeños. Those mild criticisms aside this is a great beer to pace oneself with. Its body and heat both almost insist that you sip it. When all is said and done, finishing this beer is almost like finishing a spicy meal. It was tasty, there was a little bit of spicy pain (“It hurts good,” my mother would say), and you really enjoyed it, but there is a slight sense of relief when the pint is finished. Needless to say, I highly recommend it. Cheers Bent River! You keep brewin’ it and I’ll keep drinking ‘em.
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!