I have a relationship with flavored beers that is fraught with passion, angst, and wonder. At its worst, a flavored beer (such as Sea Dog Blueberry) obscures any and all beer taste with overly sweet, artificial flavors that wreck your palate and leave an unpleasant, cough syrup coating in your mouth.
At their best (such as Cigar City's Cucumber Saison and Hitachino's Nest Ginger) the flavors are there, but they work WITH the beer. Cucumber works well in a Saison because both are light, crisp, and refreshing. You still know you are drinking a Farmhouse Ale, but the cucumber is THERE in the best way possible.
Think of it this way: The flavor should win an Oscar for best supporting role, but the star is still the beer. Once you lose your hops, malt, and alcohol, you might as well drink a wine cooler or a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Those things have their time and place, if the time is someone's nineteenth birthday and the place is some house party where this one dude will not quit trying to feel me up.
But then, there are also those beers that I am a little embarrassed about buying, those beers in which the flavoring almost eclipses the beer itself. I’m talking Well’s Banana Bread, Dogfish Festina Peche, Brooklyn’s now extinct Cookie Jar Porter. These walk the line between “wanting to make out with the bottle” and “how dare you, sir.” The only reason these beers get away with it is that the flavors themselves are so well done. The aforementioned brews really taste of banana bread, peaches, and oatmeal cookies. I appreciate a gimmick, but only a really well done gimmick.
You just have to marvel at the skill and chemistry that goes in to really nailing those flavors.
Whenever a new flavored beer monstrosity makes its way to the market, I am at once hopeful and terrified. Dessert beers are a particularly difficult beast, as the beer has to be sweet but still drinkable. I love Southern Tier’s Crème Brulee stout, but only for like one pour at most. After that it gets cloying.
Recently, the internet has been yapping about Sweet Baby Jesus, by DuClaw. It apparently tastes like a peanut butter cup, and I would love/am afraid to try it. However, because I live in this godforsaken swamp known as Florida, I am not able to claim what is rightfully mine. Beer distribution is a funny thing. I went to several liquor stores and called around extensively, before being resigned to the fact that I was not going to obtain this particular porter this weekend.
That’s when a sassy pink bottle caught my eye.
At first I was all “That’s probably good” but then I remembered the Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple fiasco, which basically just tasted like liquid smoke with a hint of Mrs. Butterworth's (because it didn't taste like real maple, you see). But Rogue is not a bad brewery, and surely the Bacon Maple beer had taught them a lesson in gimmicks vs. substance.
So I bought the Rogue Rogue VooDoo Doughnut Chocolate, Peanut Butter And Banana Ale (bitch was $14) in the stead of DuClaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus. I also bought a bottle of 360 Glazed Donut vodka because I was in full gimmick mode and could not be stopped.
First, we sample the beer:
Glass: I used a Spiegelau Lager glass (I know this is an ale, but this glass is the closest one in the series to a pint glass, and I really wanted to use my fancy beer glasses, OK?).
Appearance: Very dark, with some ruby tones. Good, thick head. A few thin streams of carbonation. Looks very promising.
Smell: Mildly alcoholic with faint chocolate notes. Very little banana detected, but what I can detect literally smells like an ester I synthesized in my organic chem lab.
Taste: WOMP WOMP.
Watery. This is like a watery, somewhat stale chocolate stout. Medium carbonation. I only taste the banana when I burp. I detect no peanut butter at all. As it warmed up, I detected more banana, but never peanut butter. The banana flavor gets more cloying as you work your way through the glass.
Fucking Rogue, man. They are becoming such a gimmick factory, that I’m beginning to wonder if I even take them seriously anymore. This beer was fourteen fucking dollars for a pint; I expected something more. I’m trying their Beard Beer soon (if I can ever wrest it from the talons of UPS) and I hope it’s less of a cheap trick and more of decently brewed beer.
SPEAKING OF CHEAP TRICKS AND GIMMICKS.
Let’s give this donut vodka a shot (sorry).
Ugh. I know I already used the word “cloying” but holy hell is this cloying. Cloying and syrupy and not great. It’s basically like any of the “whipped” vodkas but somehow even sweeter. This doesn't taste like a glazed donut so much as donut glaze diluted with ethanol.
All of this nonsense has somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for DuClaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus. I've never had anything from DuClaw, and maybe they are better at perfecting a gimmick, but I’m not overly hopeful. I'm actually not even sure why everyone is talking about this beer right now. It's fucking July. We should be drinking bright, hoppy ales and refreshing Saisons, MAYBE a Lambic if you need something sweet (I recommend this one).
What do you guys reckon? Have you had the chance to try Sweet Baby Jesus? Do you even want to?