March 12, 2013 by Steven
Like most American men, the few times I drank out of a bright pink bottle it was not recreationally and usually involved some sort of explosive digestive issue.
But for a long time now there has been a decidedly pink bottle that can be found on the shelf among the least likely of peers: beer. It’s not just beer, this is maple beer. It’s maple BACON beer. It’s maple bacon VOODOO beer! How many more qualifiers could you possible need?
The Rogue Ales company of Newport, OR, has been making craft brews for the better part of the past 20 years, gracing their bottles with an iconic rebel fist-pump beyond anything the douchebags on Jersey Shore could dream of accomplishing. They make beer two sizes, big and bigger. Now Rogue Ale is making a very bold statement by invoking not just one, but two iconic and somewhat mysterious western faiths: Voodoo, a term given to a collection of spiritualistic beliefs from the African diaspora living in Louisiana and the Caribbean, and Bacon, which I understand has a strong following among the gentile people of North America.
I’m a fan of a few (okay, maybe just one) of their creations, but before we go into what caused an allegedly heterosexual man like me to purchase a bottle the color of Barbie’s beach house, allow me to provide some context.
The “voodoo” in this beer comes not from a shamanistic ritual, but from a partnership between Rogue Ale and the Voodoo Doughnut shop of Portland, OR. The Voodoo culture came to the United states sometime around the 1800’s from African and Haitian slaves brought to the Louisiana territory. The culture of Voodoo remains a strong part of Creole and French African identity in both New Orleans and many Caribbean nations to this day, but nothing on the Wikipedia page explains what possessed two white dudes in Portland (named Cat Daddy and Tres, fittingly enough) to invoke this mysterious practice in their effort to complicate the obesity problem in the US.
Now the Voodoo Doughnut menu proves that Austin stoners are selling themselves short with just Tiff’s Treats. The donuts themselves are rather innocuous, raised yeast in vanilla and chocolate, fillings of raspberry or cream, standard cop-friendly fare. But it’s when you get to the toppings that you realize their product’s true target market: Fruit Loops, Cap’n Crunch, Oreos, Butterfingers, and there’s even one with a dusting of Tang powder for the more adventurous THC gourmets. And if that wasn’t a huge neon sign reading “WE GOT WEED WE GOT WEED”, there’s even a pastry called the “Maple Blazer Blunt.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Krispy Kreme!
With friends like that, the Bacon Maple bar, with its plain cake core, maple glaze, and large chunk of whole bacon on top looks downright vanilla. While I’m sure they could have cooked up something using their more ambitious donuts (perhaps a No Name Doughnut inspired stout that tastes of chocolate, peanut butter, and Rice Crispies?), the Rogue Ale company took their inspiration from the Bacon Maple Bar and created their bright pink-bottled Voodoo Maple Bacon Ale. A doughnut which, much to dismay of my Rabbi, I have actually tried.
A few weeks back, Wife was sent to Portland on business and decided she had to stop by this legendary bakery while she was in the neighborhood. After somehow getting a large box of donuts through airport security, she brought back a selection of their pastries for us to try, including the famed Bacon Maple Bar. I wasn’t too impressed by any of them, but in the donut’s defense they had been essentially sitting out for almost three days by the time they got to me.
So armed with my knowledge of both these donuts and this mythical “bacon” stuff my non-Jewish friends are always going on about, I decided to take the fight back to an arena I’m far more well-versed in: beer. I would try the Voodoo Maple Bacon Ale.
Now I could start going on with how the beer was on the nose and what notes it carried through each stage of my palate, but I think it wouldn’t take long to aptly display that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ll just go step by step through my experience, and if it makes any sense at all I will be just as surprised as anyone else.
The first thing I got when I tried the beer was the rich tastes of a smokehouse. It was smokey, savory, the rich sort of umami flavors you’d imagine to go with slow-cooked meats and country music. It was a strange experience for a beer. I was actually quite surprised that what I thought would be slightly-sweetened hops turned out to be a very well cooked burger.
However, sometime between when the beer passed through my lips and when it emptied into my stomach, the smokehouse burned down. Smoke. I was drinking pure, liquid smoke.
Smoke can be a good thing. Smoke makes for some delicious steaks, jerky, and cheeses. But that’s a very particular kind of smoke. That’s hickory smoke, maple smoke, applewood smoke. Nope. The smoke that filled my palate upon the incredibly abrupt withdrawal of the aforementioned umami sensation was none of these. It was more like a stale campfire. It was just plain, old-fashioned burnt … stuff. I can’t even say it was wood! Might have been plastic for all I know. Either way, I had to quickly drink more of the beer to try and extinguish the uncomfortable sensation of charred 2×4 on my tongue. Seriously, it tasted like I was chewing on the inside of a whiskey barrel.
Now I don’t know if the incredibly unpleasant after-taste is just a ploy by brilliant brewers to make you constantly consume their craft, but it really killed the whole experience. This pink bottle had turned into a chimney depositing in my mouth. Not even a chimney, an ashtray. My mouth was an ashtray for the spent doobies of the brewmasters and baker co-conspirators of the greater Portland area. They were laughing all the way back to their eco-friendly greenhouse, and I had a pink bottle of beer to finish.
I don’t claim to completely understand the nature of voodoo hexes and other magic, but somewhere in a brewery there is a doll with a blackened tongue that looks a lot like me.
Would I recommend this beer? Honestly not, but then again it’s one of those niche craft beers that I’m sure there’s some market for. While the flavor comes of as somewhat, well, extreme, I won’t deny that the first half of the flavor was actually quite nice. Perhaps there’s fans of smoke-flavors or people with partially-damaged tongues who might enjoy this regularly, otherwise I’d save it for when you feel like trying something new and different.
Oh, and try it with friends. Not only does a craft beer warrant a good discussion, but finishing this bottle myself was a challenge. I now know what a chimney feels like.