For those that don’t know, besides being recognized for a plethora of breweries and an un-funny show starring Fred Armisen (I tried to get into it! I really did.), Portland is also known for a local doughnut shop called Voodoo Doughnuts. If you click on that link, you’ll be taken to their homepage and if it doesn’t immediately start you both salivating and contracting diabetes then your screen resolution is set too low. One of the artisan doughnuts that they make is called the Bacon Maple Bar. It’s a raised yeast doughnut (those are the kind that aren’t like cake), with maple frosting and bacon placed lovingly on top. It’s the breakfast of champions.
For those that like syrup on their breakfast meats and naming the cavities in your teeth, this is a match made in heaven. I have a friend in Portland who fights himself daily to not go into Voodoo Doughnuts to sample their unending deliciousness. However, Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale has generally received less than positive reviews. I’ve heard that it tastes like everything from the “elephant ear” chew toys for dogs to “wet campfire” to “silly and surprisingly charming.” Well, it’s time find out for myself and hopefully accurately clarify for any other curious craft beer drinkers not fortunate enough to find a bottle to taste for themselves. Whether the outcome is positive or negative, I would like to point out the collaboration between two local landmark businesses and how cool that is. I feel that the camaraderie and collaboration are integral parts of the craft brew scene and that we all benefit from them in the long run. OK, putting the soapbox away… Let’s pour!
Aroma 11/12: With the promise of maple-slathered meats lying within, I couldn’t help but steal a sniff directly from the bottle. It immediately earned the response of, “Oh, shut up.” Not because it was that amazing, but because it smelled exactly like what it is supposed to smell like. In other words, a lot of maple and brown sugar. I quickly poured into the glass to see if a it remained the same and by and large it did. In the glass, it initially provides a well-blended balance between maple and smoke. Later on this smokiness would reveal itself to be more of the mesquite variety and not like that of peat. It rather smells like a McGriddle, but with more smokiness and likely less heartburn, which I attribute directly to the “Pepto pink” hue of the bottle. A faint sharpness (a distant, faded citrus?) of unknown origin shows itself from time to time and it could be simply the association in my mind, but there is a saltiness to be detected as well. Beer promises maple bacon doughnut. Beer delivers maple bacon doughnut.
Appearance 3/3: It pours a clear, bright copper with pale golden highlights. The head is a good size that starts out a pastel orange shade, but fades to a light almond color. It falls gently and crackles slowly like autumn fire.
Flavor 15/20: Despite the promise of sweet flavors rolling over the tip of the tongue, the first flavors are instead more crisp and like whole grain wheat. Right behind that is load of roast and smoke flavors and then… wait… where the hell is the maple?! One now easily tastes a slight sourness (that distant, faded citrus again) that was only barely present in the aroma and a lot of the neutral, crystal malts (at least that’s what I assume the C15 and C75 stand for in the ingredient list). This has all the makings of a decent brown ale with the smoke/roast notes, but they too quickly turn to that neutral, faint citrus sweetness. The swallow is barely bitter at all and finishes with little discernible flavor whatsoever. Even the aftertaste is a whisp of the smoke, but mostly those crystal malts. They’re still there.
Note: Don’t let this beer get anywhere near room temperature! It turns into a, smokey, salty, chore of a mess.
Mouthfeel 4/5: As a brown ale, this is not bad at all. It is mouth-wateringly carbonated with bubbles that are never prickly, but instead very gentle and lightly foaming. It provides more a very nice and refreshing mouth sensation that complements the crisp initial flavors of the beer quite nicely and helps them stand out. It holds the smoke flavor adequately, but the light body of the beer seems painfully inadequate to hold what should be some pretty sweet flavors (especially considering the lack of hops). Yes, I know that Rogue seldom issues a bruiser outside of their XS series, and in my mind are more known for issuing nuanced beers instead of powerhouses. However, I doubt that Voodoo Doughnuts is issuing pastries that are light on flavor and if amazing food is what you’re aiming for, you better damn well hit it. Light, refreshing, well carbonated. Great for a brown ale, but it serves poorly for the task at hand.
Overall Impression 6/10: What promise was shown with this beer! The aroma is as intoxicating and rousing as a good breakfast. The maple abounded and the bacon playfully floated past like tiny delicious magic carpets. I felt like Homer Simpson in the Land of Chocolate. Unfortunately, also like Homer Simpson I woke up to a rather disappointing reality.
Where the hell did all the maple syrup go? Everything was so promising and then all I get is a smoked brown ale with a very nice mouthfeel. Granted, things have turned out worse, but with how amazing the aroma smelled it was quite a fall back to earth. This lack of maple and the light body are my only two qualms with this brew.
Total 39/50: This is not a very flattering score. I do not agree with the folks who say that this beer is terrible or too smokey. Of course, this bottle is quite a bit older and the beer may be an entirely different animal straight from the tap. For those that find this beer too smokey, have a glass of Ardbeg’s Galileo scotch; then you will know “too smokey.” I am simply disappointed not to find more maple sweetness in the beer! If I were drinking this as a straight brown ale, I might have enjoyed it more; especially around the fall season when bonfires are rife and smokey porters & rauchbiers are in full swing. As it stands it’s a tasty brown ale (until it warms), a bit heavy on the crystal malts, with an excellent mouthfeel for that particular style. But doughnuts are sweet and I want sweet.
I hope that this review was helpful without all the hyperbole found in a lot of comparisons for this beer. I read a lot of reviews for this beer before I found it and still had no idea of what it might taste like. The reviews were all over the map. My two sentence synopsis? Beer promises maple bacon doughnut. Beer misses maple bacon doughnut.
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!