New Belgium/Cigar City Brewing Collaboration
Lips of Faith Series
8.5% ABV, 50 IBU

Malts: Pale, Carastan
Hops: Target, Centennial, Cascade, Pacific Jade, Wakatu, Simcoe

An ale brewed with Bier de Garde yeast,
anaheim and marash chilies, and aged on Spanish Cedar.

I've been wanting to try a Cigar City collaboration for a while...a collaboration is the only way to get Cigar City in Oregon, and I don't see making it out to Florida anytime soon.  Cigar City did the Gentleman's Club collaborative series with Widmer not too long ago but the reviews were not stellar, and honestly, I haven't been impressed with Widmer's collaborations thus far, so I never bothered trying it.  My experience with New Belgium's Lips of Faith series has so far been great, though – and I've always been a fan of New Belgium, not only for their beer but also for their sustainability practices and employee ownership – so I was pretty excited to try this one.

It pours a crystal clear medium amber with a short head that settles but retains some nice lacing. The aroma is good: you can smell the chilies very slightly, but there's also a sweet tropical fruit, caramel and pineapple. Moderate body and not nearly as sweet as the aroma would indicate. Actually very dry, with a woody earthiness and very slight chili spiciness fading slowly into a lasting bitter finish. No strangely incongruous, green vegetal flavor that you get from some chili beers.  A little surprising that there isn't more hop complexity, though, given the number of hops varieties they used. 

This is an interesting beer because the flavor changes throughout and all the flavors are well-integrated, it's a very drinkable beer and hides its 8.5% quite well.  At the same time, I feel myself wanting more from it – maybe a more complex malt profile, but definitely more chili bite, as it's barely detectible - to my palate anyway. (To put this into context, however, I do like my spice. A lot).

My unsolicited opinion on chili beers:

Unless you're brewing with a type of chili that has a distinctive flavor profile worthy of showcasing or accentuating – like chipotle, with its great smokey flavor – you're basically just adding spice to accentuate what's already present in the beer, and there needs to be a flavor profile which stands on its own.  I always enjoy it when this includes a little something extra – such as fruit or a touch of chocolate – to provide complexity and balance for the heat. Personally, I still prefer these beers very dry with only the subtle insinuation of sweetness (similar to the effect of adding cinnamon to a savory dish) – but I would say that's a matter of personal preference. There's no doubt that a good chili beer is hard to pull off and it seems so few have done it well, although I always look forward to trying a new one.

To me, a great chili beer is Breakside Brewing's Aztec, which has a good amount of bite balanced by a great, dry chocolatiness – an excellent combination which has stood the test of time – over thousands of years in fact (hence the name). Another pretty good chili beer was Vertigo's Tropical Heat Wave, which was on tap at Bailey's Taproom for the Killer Beer Fest - it combined a pretty good bite with some pineapple to balance it out. I'm also told that Burnside Brewing's Sweet Heat is pretty great, which combines chili with apricot. Another great take on the chili beer is Stone's Chipotle Smoked Porter, and I know they're not the only ones who have done this style well.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  Drink well, be safe and don't kill your family!  Cheers! ~CBG



03/17/2015 11:35pm

A good chili beer is the ultimate rope-a-dope. You drink a little beer, and the spice hits. You get a little tingle and want to quash it with more cold beer, then more spice hits. Great!

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