Monday, March 14, 2011

Stone Brewing Company El Camino (Un) Real Black Ale

There is a growing trend amongst craft brewers to band together to brew special beers.  These beers offer the brewers the opportunity to put their heads together to create some truly one-of-a kind beers.  One such beer was the Saison Du Buff, a collaboration between Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head and Victory Brewing that resulted in a beer made with sage, rosemary and thyme.  I found that beer while perusing the beer selection at a Binny's outside of Chicago.  When I bought that beer, I also picked up a bottle of another collaboration beer called El Camino (Un) Real Black Ale.  The masterminds behind this beer are three well known Californian craft brewers ... Stone Brewing, 21st Amendment and Firestone Walker.

The name El Camino is in honor of the Spanish mission trail that connected North and South California, which is particularly appropriate given the collaboration is between North (21st Amendment) and South (Stone Brewing) with one in the middle (Firestone Walker).  The El Camino is brewed with fennel seeds, chia seeds and pink peppercorns, along with mission figs added during the brewing process.  The choice of ingredients is rather interesting and would lead one to expect a beer that has anise and pepper flavors.  (I'm not really sure what chia seeds taste like, although they are said to be very healthy, being full of Omega-3 fatty acids.)  However, the brewers intended, as they put it, "a pitch black monster loaded with roasty, spicy flavors."  (You can check out their blog about this beer at Stone Brewing's website.) To add to the complexity of this beer, the brewers fermented fifteen percent of the ninety barrel batch in oak barrels, provided by Firestone Walker. 

The beer pours pitch black, a promising start.  The roasted malts are clearly present in the nose of the beer.  Other aromatic elements include notes of vanilla and some spice, although it is hard to detect the fennel or peppercorn.  The taste of the beer is full of roasted malt, along with some chocolate and coffee flavors.  There is some subtle pepper in the finish of the beer.  As the beer begins to warm, the figs become a little more pronounced and the bitterness, which initially could be tasted both in the front adn the finish, begins to subside and mellow.

The maxim is that, with strong beer goes strong food.  The El Camino is definitely a strong beer, so foods with strong flavors or rich flavors would pair well with this beer.  I think this beer would pair well with mushrooms, such as mushroom risotto, along with spicier foods, such as jerk chicken.  

I found this beer at a Binny's Beverage Depot outside of Chicago.  Given this beer was brewed early last year, I doubt that there is much of it left.  All the more reason for these three brewers to get back together and collaborate again. 


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