Sometimes you can have your cake and drink it, too.
This goes doubly for Widmer Brothers, which not only makes good beer, but makes great specialty beers. As you might expect, a recent entry into their “Brothers Reserve” series isn’t just a good beer, it’s a great dessert. South by Northwest, the seventh Brothers Reserve entry, aims to combine traditional food ingredients of the Southwest by way of brewing styles of Widmer, located in Portland, Oregon. It’s got a 89 on Beer Advocate.
What came out of this experiment isn’t Frankenstein’s monster, but rather a sum of many parts that turns into a tasty concoction more fit for after dinner than at a tailgate.
With a pour of deep, chocolate cake hue, I should’ve known what was next. The initial smell is chock full of chocolate from Mexican cocoa nibs that also offer subtly sweet notes of ground cinnamon. There’s not enough cinnamon spice to offend anyone, no matter how much you like or dislike the ingredient. It made me think of a chocolate swirl cake.
The beer was fairly flat – an indication that the use of pecans might have sapped that potential with their oils. The nut hollers nary a peep in the beer’s aroma, barely giving off a pecan pie smell. Chilies were also mostly unheard from, but that wasn’t the case with the brew’s flavor.
While chocolate was all my tongue could pick up initially – sweet like a melting Dove bar – a light, lingering, spicy heat struck my lips after each sip. If you let it sit long enough, South by Northwest will offer a tingling sensation on the tongue. At the beer’s finish, a wonderful, nutty-and-almost-coffee taste passes by.
Ultimately, I think the choice of Mexican nibs was much better than other options thanks to a more recognizable acidity and earth-bound flavor. It gives the chocolate – and in turn this beer – a unique flavor. By the end of my glass my mouth felt a little chalky, but I did notice a wonderful vanilla creaminess that showed up just before my last few sips.
So, yes, there’s a lot going on with this beer. Is it too complicated for some? Perhaps. The Reinheitsgebot definitely has no place here. If you’re into sweet and easy-drinking, this one’s for you. At 9.3 percent ABV, you’ll never know what hit you.
South by Northwest stats:
- Malt: Munich, chocolate, extra special
- Hops: Alchemy
- Adjuncts: Chilies, Mexican cocoa nibs, cinnamon and toasted pecans
- ABV: 9.3 percent