It’s not uncommon for a porter or a stout to present very noticeable chocolate notes. In fact, those two brew genres more often than not have the same repetitive duo in taste profiles: cacao and coffee. Yes, expert food and drink writers such as yours truly who can discern the most hidden of flavors, often vary how to express the cacao and coffee notes. Sometimes, the beer reminds us of milk chocolate and espresso. Other samplings, it’s woodsy 75% dark cacao nibs and single origin Rwandan beans.
Prior to a recent tasting at the O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery (Outrageous Homebrewer Social Outpost) right at the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, I had never experienced fully a beer that truly tasted like chocolate, no strings attached. Literally. If a Godiva white chocolate truffle’s ganache were transformed into beer form, this would be the end result.
Call it cold fermented chocolate or hop chocolate. This being the Valley of the Sun, who wants hot chocolate anyways? (If you’ve ever sat through a Spring Training rain delay in Arizona, you’d know it’s not always warm here…)
The Sonoran Brewing Company of Scottsdale, Arizona has somehow mastered the challenges of making both a white chocolate ale that makes wheat beer drinkable and a chocolate ale that isn’t an artificial, sugary mess.
No, the appearance of the beer doesn’t look like white chocolate or dark chocolate. The inspiration supposedly is the White Mountains of Arizona near the New Mexico border, though I don’t see any snow-colored beer in the pint glass. No, not the identical named mountain range of New Hampshire.
It’s actually quite similar to the typical hefeweizen, with a glowing straw hue. Immediately the medium chocolate nose (think 40% cacao) strikes you, continuing in unwavering fashion through the entire experience. At 4.7 % ABV, this is far from a heavy porter. With 16.5 IBU, hops are not a factor. This is beer chocolate, trust me. And it works. It’s as refreshing as chocolate can be, but ultimately, not a food pairing beer. It’s a dessert beer. Maybe pair it with a pungent cheese, à la Roquefort?
Sonoran, started back in 1996, may be best known for their Victorian IPA (and a particularly highly regarded root beer), but this White Chocolate Ale could be what puts them in the conversation outside Arizona.
Strangely at this O.H.S.O. tasting, the other two stand-out beers were dessert-forwards, though less unabashedly so as the White Chocolate Ale. O.H.S.O.’s Carrot Cake Ale is a beauty. You almost go through the layers of a carrot cake with the cream cheese head giving way to roasted nuts and allspice. Just the right amount of sweetness creeps in towards the end to make this veer far towards dessert beer territory. O.H.S.O. also makes a slightly less impressive “not so” Peanut Butter Brown that is a fine malty brown amber, but has barely any detectable peanut butter, creamy or chunky- speaking. It may be boring to say, but it’s true, their most well-rounded beer is the IPA.
I didn’t get the chance to try their Dark Pumpkin Wheat or Key Lime Pie. Maybe Crème Brûlée is next?
Another veteran of the desert brewing scene, Phoenix’s Papago Brewing, has been defining the coconut-coffee porter genre for over a decade. The venerable Coconut Joe Coffee Stout continues to exude dried coconut with a hefty soulful espresso shot that lingers long after a sip. The body is idyllic for a stout: handsome, fortified, and with no shortage of foam at the crown.
There is nothing wrong with having beer with dessert. Or even better, enjoy beer as dessert when you can sip your white chocolate and carrot cake, and they taste exactly like the real confections.