I was the child of an Avon customer. Each month, we’d get an Avon catalog, and each month I’d page through the catalog looking for toys. Therein lies a cruel joke - there were never toys in the Avon catalog, just kid-themed bath sets that opened my eyes to things like talcum powder and soap on a rope were long before I understood their practical uses.
Each month’s Avon catalog would also include a special promotion for their “scent of the month,” a flavor that carried over to an entire line of products - from shampoos to soap, perfumes to bath beads. One month it’s some fancy perfume flavor, the next a bastardized strawberry smell that’s more at home in a Starburst package.
I can’t help but think of those weird Avon shampoos whenever I see fruit- or spice-flavored beers. You’ve got strawberries and coriander. You’ve got passion fruit and prickly pear. You’ve got a sea of things that help your beer taste less like a beer, as if hops and barley were somehow so vile they required some kind of fruit addition.
This is harsh, and I acknowledge that. Not all flavor additions are the same. But for every subtle addition - a slight coriander spice or orange peel is wonderful in the right hefeweizen or witbier - there’s an overdone fruitiness (the grapefruit in Shiner Ruby Redbird comes to mind). Subtlety is key. But, often, subtlety isn’t in the program.
When I see beers that have added carmel apple spices, raspberry juice, or (god forbid) bacon, I tend to run in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s the clash of flavors. Maybe it’s just the cloying sweetness that some fruit additions bring. I can’t explain it. All I know is that if you want me to instantly question a beer’s motives, you should probably add some weird mix of fruitcake spices.
There’s one exception: stouts and porters. I can’t handle a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat (tastes like Robitussin) but one of the best homebrews I’ve ever had was a cherry porter. I wouldn’t even touch a Thomas Creek vanilla cream ale, but I really like Empyrean’s Dark Side Vanilla Porter.
And then there’s Odell’s new chocolate milk stout - Lugene, a rich, chocolately (duh) stout that coats the tongue and warms the stomach, its 8.5% ABV hidden under a sweet-but-not-too-sweet mix of melted candy bar and traditional stout. Even this description doesn’t do it credit. It’s not a chocolate bomb - a hopped version of a Mudslide - but a full-bodied stout that simply likes to dress up like a brown cow on the weekends.
The style - a chocolate milk stout - is misleading. This isn’t a stout made with milk chocolate, but a milk stout made with chocolate. Milk stouts - typically smoother, fuller and sweeter than their roasted brethern - are created using milk sugar (lactose) as an addtiive to the already sweet malts. The technique gives only a faint difference in taste, affecting the mouthfeel - YES I JUST SAID MOUTHFEEL - and leading to a smoother, milkier beer.
Maybe this puts some people off. Maybe there’s someone out there who loves a cherry wheat but can’t handle the idea of real milk chocolate in their stout.
Maybe it’s a case of what you can trust, and what you’ve been burned on. Someday, I’ll find a pumpkin beer I like. My mind will be blown. My world will be turned upside down. I’ll receive a hundred comments about “SEE I TOLD YOU SO DON’T BE A HATER.” But I’ll never know unless I give it a shot.
This Week’s Tab
Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout
Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, CO 8.5% ABV