There’s very few occasions where I would instinctively grab a bottle of something as complex as a dark beer with coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and habanero peppers. However, Odd Side Ales has time and again surprised me with some less-than-common additions to their beer.

Since the late 90’s or so, home brewing has been steadily growing popularity. But for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to attract your average, play-by-the-rules hobbyists. Sure, there are some of us who will spend a good chunk of a Saturday crafting a perfectly balanced American Blonde Ale, but for every one of those types of homebrewers, you’ve got someone putting bacon, vegetables, or even hemp into the fermenter.

Enter Odd Side Ales. Born from homebrewers in an old piano factory on the beach, Odd Side has made an impressively fast entrance to the beer industry, and partly because the beers they produce are startlingly interesting and consistently well balanced.

Sometime last year, I got a chance to try the Barrel Aged Mayan Mocha Stout when a friend of mine ordered it on our visit. She hadn’t heard about it, but saw the word “barrel” and “stout” in the name, and somewhat blindly ordered. I had a bit of hesitation about tasting that beer once she realized it was peppered and spiced. Regardless, I can’t recall ever turning down a sip of beer based on how it was made. The results were remarkably pleasant.

Around a year later, I’m finally getting around to the non-barrel aged version, and it is indeed on par with what I remembered about my previous run-in with its cousin.

Aroma: In my opinion, the most exciting part about this beer. It has an incredibly distinct Mexican hot chocolate aroma. Which, (believe it or not) was the exact goal of the brewers. However, to land this closely to said goal is impressive just by itself. The cinnamon and nutmeg separate themselves and have a wonderful clarity, while notes of vanilla and clove show up to the party with a little more subtlety. The cocoa tends to seem mellow behind the intense spices, and the pepper is represented as a slightly refreshing crispness, although not distinctly peppery.

Appearance: Mayan Mocha Stout is surprisingly dark. I figured the beer would be black as night, but what surprised me a bit was that the head poors with such a dark tan color. Unfortunately, the head didn’t stick around very long for me to drool over it.

Taste: The beer starts to lose me here, unfortunately. Although the aroma was sufficiently mind-blowing, the taste feels quite aggressive, and there’s quite a bit of heat on the back of the throat. Although I’d buy this beer a second time, it would mostly be for the aroma. I didn’t remember the barrel-aged version being quite as hot, so I have to wonder if the beer just mellows out over time. Notes of chocolate cake and black pepper are detectable prior to the heat taking over, which is sufficient to keep me drinking. The good news about the heat is that it seems to mellow out as you finish the poor.

Mouthfeel: A surprisingly high level of perceived carbonation, which I suspect could be a bit of trickery from the habanero’s heat. Additionally, the beer doesn’t feel intensely sweet like I would have suspected, probably for the same reason.

Aftertaste: Like you may have guessed, the finish pretty much comes down to a lingering heat on the back of the throat. I wish I could say there was anything else going on here, but it’s a pretty simple finale.

Overall: If there was one thing I’d change about this beer, it’s the intensity of the habanero. If you specifically like pepper beers, then this is positively one to get your hands on. If you don’t like pepper beers, I would recommend it anyway. If you decide that you can’t take the heat, it’s just about worth it to sit there with your nose stuffed down the glass, taking in the outrageous aroma.

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery