Strong BA Series | Foothills Brewing Coffee Infused BA Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout
In an industry which has been largely built around the search for the new and exciting, it can be refreshing to revisit some of the beers and breweries which blazed the trails for the modern day. Foothills Brewing, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a perfect example not only of one of these foundational companies, but also of one which has done an amazing job of staying relevant and responsive to the modern craft beer drinker. Perhaps none of their brews illustrates this better than their Coffee Infused Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sexual Chocolate, one of the state’s most anticipated yearly releases.
Named after a fictional band in the classic Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America, the non-barreled version of Sexual Chocolate has been a Valentine’s Day tradition since its first release in bottles in 2008. While 12 years may seem a frightfully short period of time in the world of wine, in craft beer it is practically Methuselean. Brewed with organic Peruvian cacao nibs, it is already a decadent beer, pouring as thick and black as motor oil, and with a sweetness balanced by a surprisingly well-blended background note of bitterness. Hints of tobacco, leather, and blackstrap molasses may not immediately sound appealing in and of themselves, but serve to add a depth of character that help it to stand out even against the proliferation of Imperial Stouts that play such a large role in the modern beer scene.
It should be no surprise then that the beer is well-suited for time in the wood. Aged in barrels that once held W.L. Weller’s Bourbon, made in the country’s oldest continuously-operating distillery, it is a masterclass in the art of not letting the spirits steal the show from the base beer. While bourbon is certainly present and plays a role, it is surprisingly reserved, adding a touch of additional sweetness that shifts the balance even further away from the hops and ironically makes this version seem a little less assertive than the original in some ways.
The barrel itself is not the only additional player in this version, however. While certainly well-known for their beer, Foothills has also been swiftly gaining a reputation for their in-house roasted coffee. Owner Jamie Bartholomaus and his wife had been roasting their own coffee beans at home for years, and when finally able to put his company’s name behind it on a larger scale, that experience was immediately apparent.
While many coffee-infused beers lean toward vegetal, fruity, or burnt flavors, clearly working with an in-house product with which the brewing team is intimately familiar makes a difference. Rather than off-putting or overstated, the coffee in this version of Sexual Chocolate is delicate and blends directly into the beer’s other flavors and aromas. The Peruvian cacao from the base recipe is joined by Chanchamayo coffee beans from the same part of the world. Grown at high altitude, they lend the beer a touch of brightness, and a nutty note that suggests even a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
From a practical standpoint, BBA Sexual Chocolate is equally impressive. Weighing in at an imposing 9.6% alcohol by volume, the brewery packaged it in twelve ounce cans, sidestepping the classic dilemma so often intrinsic to high-gravity beers. While large format bottles were once the standard for Imperial Stouts, they also effectively necessitated either a special occasion, a distinct lack of concern for your condition the next morning, or a group of friends to make even cracking it open a worthwhile venture. With smaller single-serve packaging, it is far easier to enjoy without regrets or waste, particularly in an era where bottle shares and other friendly libational gatherings are virtually non-existent.
In an age of stouts containing whole cheesecakes or breakfast cereals, it can be easy to forget how difficult it is to walk the tightrope of creating balance in big beers such as these. Often they can be too cloying, too roasty, too boozy, or just generally unpleasant to drink. With something as complex as coffee or as unpredictable as barrel-aging, the process becomes even more of a dance. While always a treat, Foothills has truly flexed their muscles on what can only be called one of the godfathers of BA stouts in the Southeast. Considering it can be found relatively easily throughout their distribution network, there is absolutely no reason not to treat yourself this holiday season to a little Sexual Chocolate.
Feature image courtesy of Foothills Brewing.
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