Sud Savant: New Belgium Cocoa Molé – This Beer Did So Much Right

HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY NEW BELGIUM!! From a struggling Colorado basement brewer, to a “What’s a Fat Tire?”, to a craft brewing giant (3rd largest in the US) in 26 states; not bad for 20 years work! Of course, today’s review will help commemorate their milestone as I crack open a bottle out of their Lips of Faith series – Cocoa Molé. Having expressed some disappointment with some chile beers in the past, a lot of craft beer friends recommended Cocoa Molé as a solid go-to beer. I’m always up for a recommendation so I picked it up on a recent trip to the Chicago burbs. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. Let’s pour!

Aroma 11/12: Most of the aroma here is definitely from the roasting of the ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers used in its brewing. It’s a smokey, peat-like aroma and dominates the scene early on. In fact, I initially gave its aroma a rather average score. Good things come to those who wait. After warming ever so slightly, the chocolate comes out full force and is almost a new aroma altogether after blending with the roasted peppers and a new cinnamon note. I never thought chocolate could smell so alien to me! Very neat. The blend itself is seemingly fleeting as that on subsequent sniffs, each ingredient is determined to stand out on its own. I don’t say this in a bad way. It’s like a revolving door of different aromas.

Appearance 3/3: Wow, did this pour darker than expected! It pours a dirty brown into the glass, a calling card from the chocolate malts and, if you’ve ever cooked with them, probably the ancho chiles. First glances, make this beer appear very opaque and dark. Closer inspections reveal a dark burnt mahogany and when held to light, shades of plum! Yes plum! The purple shades are unmistakable and a complete surprise. What other secrets does this beer hold? The head is beige, dense, and offers better than average retention and size.

Flavor 20/20: This is insane! And by insane, I mean insanely awesome. There is SO much going on here, but as in the aroma, each item insists on having its moment in the sun. Normally, I look for a great blend, but with so many unique ingredients, I don’t mind the opportunity to soak them all up. We’re first given a heaping ladle-full of nearly bitter cocoa malts along with the slight saltiness from the roasted peppers. Heading into the backbone of the flavor, the cocoa malts become sweeter with the addition of caramel malts and a dash of cinnamon. Next the peppers come forward in a cloud of sweet smoke, roasted flavors, and some chile heat (yes!). If you hold the beer in the mouth, the roast begins to blend very interestingly with the sweetness and later on the spices start to blend with the chiles’ heat. Lots of cool stuff going on here! The finish, as expected, adds a flash of heat to the back of the throat and leaves it to tingle on the tongue. It also shows a strong cinnamon that (and this is important) does not dominate the entire damn beer. The aftertaste is a lingering warmth in the mouth and a dull sweetness. I am so impressed with this beer!

Mouthfeel 5/5: This beer feels solid in the mouth without being downright heavy. Its sturdy mouthfeel undoubtedly given by the loads of sweet malts involved in its manufacture. The carbonation is dead on: not absent, not too much for a bigger beer, just enough to keep it from being thick though it has virtually no foaming when in the mouth. It keeps this big, sweet, and spicy beer drinkable, despite that “big, sweet, and spicy” often fight against that characteristic. The bottle reads 9% ABV, but I never saw a trace of it through the other flavors.

Overall Impression 10/10: Loved it. This beer did so much right! The aroma foreshadows the beer to come, the appearance has a few surprises, and the mouthfeel is just right. The flavor… oh man, the flavor. While it may not be unique ingredients among beers that try to harness that Aztec-based “xocoatl,” it certainly seems to be the first that has done it right.

Total 49/50: Cocoa Molé has eradicated so many of my pet peeves involving beers of this style! First off, most beers that use cinnamon (winter warmers, pumpkin beers, this “cocoa/Hispanic” style) completely overuse the cinnamon. If I wanted that much cinnamon, I’d buy a box of Red Hots candy. I don’t know why this is so prevalent in craft beer. If your Grandma made an apple pie and all you could taste was cinnamon, I don’t care how good a cook your Grandma is, you wouldn’t eat it. This beer hides the cinnamon brilliantly behind the roasted flavors and the heat. Well done! Second… A CHILE BEER IN WHICH I CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THE CHILES!!!!! It seems that all chile beers shy away from the fact that there are chile peppers in their beer. They advertise it well enough for those adventurous to try it, but those brave souls are often left wanting when the beer contains virtually no detectable heat! Does this seem counter-intuitive to anyone else?

Thankfully, New Belgium has shown the way with how chile beers should be brewed. It uses the cinnamon wisely and sparingly, while allowing the chiles to do what they do best – be flavorful and amazing. When I was prepping to do a beer review today, I was in a bad mood. I didn’t know if I’d be able to give a beer a fair shake. This beer absolutely turned that around! Beer Advocate indicates that this is a “limited (brewed once)” beer. I certainly hope not. It is one of the best chile beers I have had to date and I would buy it on a regular basis. Kudos to New Belgium and their MANY more anniversaries!

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!