Flavored brews generally leave me wanting less. While some people swear by those fruit flavored concoctions, I'm more of a purist. Malt, barley and hops make the preferred recipe for beer in my glass, with one exception. Chocolate. Last year was the first time I tried a bock made with the addition of chocolate, and it was exceptional. It was not something you'd want every day, mind you, but it was just the thing to brace against the chill of winter.
Here in Boise, we currently have our pick of three different chocolate brews, each with something to recommend them. The Chocolate Stout from Oregon's Rogue Ales ($4.50 for a 22-ounce bottle) adds natural chocolate flavor to their popular Shakespeare Stout. It's a dark ebony brew that tastes something like chocolate oatmeal with a bittersweet finish. It's an interesting effort, but the overall impression is of stout with added flavoringdoesn't quite come together for me. Still, the price is right and this brew has a large and loyal following.
Bison Brewing out of Berkeley, California, offers a Chocolate Stout ($4.50 for 22 ounces) that adds Dutch cocoa to the mash. The result is a nicely balanced brew with velvety flavors, which are bit better integrated than the Rogue but lack some of the chocolaty richness. Overall, the Bison is a little dryer, with a soft cocoa quality, a nice kiss of hops and a fairly aggressive finish. If it's chocolate you're after, pick the Rogueif it's a dry stout with cocoa undertones you want, go for the Bison.
Looking for the best of both worlds? Sam Adams Chocolate Bock is a step up in terms of quality and flavor, but that step is a pricey one: a 750 ml bottle will set you back 14 bucks. What you get for your money is a beautifully balanced brew that starts with a well-crafted bock made with the finest of Old World hops and a complex selection of malts. It's then aged on a layer of Scharffen Berger chocolatean exclusive blend of cocoa beans from Ghana called forastero. The final product is a full-bodied bock that's smooth and creamy with a seamless layer of rich chocolate flavor from start to finish. With just a hint of vanilla coming at the end, this is the bottle that first won me over last year. A limited edition release, the few cases that trickle through Boise won't last long, so if chocolate is your thing, grab it while you can.
Questions or comments? E-mail Rachael@boiseweekly.com.