One of my favorite breweries that I have visited is Ballast Point in San Diego. Sure, the bar and the tap room are beautiful (although weirdly there are no chairs forcing all patrons to stand) and they just added a new outdoor patio. But the reason I enjoy Ballast Point is because they specialize in one-offs at their brewery. At all times, they keep their standard 5 beers on tap, and add a few seasonals or other beer that is brewed regularly, like Sculpin or Sea Monster. But they also have one one-offs on a few taps.
When we were there in June, they had a Chipotle Cocoa version of their Porter, and a Serrano version of their Pale Ale. While we were drinking, one of the brewers poured each of the 5 standards into a growler and added a few chiles to each. He added the same type and quantity of chile, but we weren’t able to determine what it was. The plan, from our eavesdropping, was to see which beer worked best with that particular chile and after that, experiment with the quantity of chile to create the perfect flavor. My Chipotle Cocoa Porter was fantastic…everything I wanted it to be. It started off chocolatey and then had quite a powerful kick at the end. Steve’s Serrano Pale Ale was even hotter. But hot in a good way. Ballast Point does it right. They ensure that you taste the flavors they are trying to create. There is no way that you can’t. *Currently, their draft list hosts a Jalapeno version of their Smoked Helles, a Thai Chili Lime Ginger (that I can’t read to determine if it is a ginger beer or flavors added to one of their standards) , and a Guajillo version of their Amber Ale.
Tonight, we are going to try two different Stone Smoked Porters, one brewed with vanilla beans and one brewed with chipotle peppers.
Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Beans
When beers are brewed with vanilla beans, I want to taste vanilla. Willy Vanilly by Alpine Brewing does a great job with this (picture vanilla cake/frosting). It isn’t the bitter vanilla extract I want to taste either. So I was excited to taste this beer. However, the smoke overpowers the vanilla. When you smell it, there is a hint of sweetness that could be vanilla. When you sip it, the vanilla is there at the beginning for about a nanosecond and then it turns to smoke. A sweetness rears its head as the beer warms and as time extends between sips, but smoke is the predominant flavor.
Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers
This one works much better. Because the chipotle goes well with the smoke (since it is a smoked chile – jalapeno), this one doesn’t seem as smoky, even though it probably is. There is a tiny kick of chipotlesin the back of my throat each time I take a sip. It isn’t a huge kick but it is definitely present. As with all “hot” things though, I believe that has more to do with tolerance levels and preferences than anything. I am sure that some people would think the kick was hot, while I want just a bit more. As it gets warmer, the heat appears to grow. This beer goes great with tortilla chips, as Steve and I are chonking on some right now. It almost takes the place of the salsa.
I would suggest getting the Chipotle Pepper version as opposed to the Vanilla one. The smoke just doesn’t quite mix with vanilla and leaves the beer overly smoky. The chipotle and smoke go very well together and leave a well-balanced porter with a spicy kick.