Being caught off-guard and left at something of a loss isn't too out of the ordinary for me. And I tend to end up in such a state most often at those times when I really am certain that I know just what is what. Tonight I again find myself in such a state because I thought I had a good idea what the subject of tonight's post had in store for me. But tonight's subject is a beer from Dogfish Head. They take what I like to consider a "left field" approach to beer a lot of the time. They say the make "Off centered ales for off centered people" which might explain why I'm always interested in what they've got brewing (of my five desert island beers I would place two Dogfish ales - the 90 Minute IPA and the Palo Santo Marron - in their ranks - as a side note the Palo Santo goes amazingly well with dark chocolate). What they've had brewing lately is called, fittingly enough, Theobroma (as in theobroma cacao - the cacao from which our favorite food comes).
Theobroma is based, at it's heart, on history and chemistry. The brew is based on the chemical analysis of bits of pottery from over 3000 years ago and is a direct tie to the first known use of cacao for human consumption (good lord, what else would you use it for?!). Interestingly it was an alcoholic cacao beverage. It would seem the obvious course of action would be to take this bit of chemical magic and make a modern interpretation of it. And that is just what the lovely people at Dogfish Head have done albeit with a little Aztec and Maya twist or two along the way (the most interesting departure - as I understand it - is that the meat of the pod was used long before the seeds were, but the beer is based on the seeds assumingly because that is what we think of as chocolate). The beer is brewed with honey, annatto (a spicy seed), ancho chile, and nibs and cocoa from Askinoise (who I will go into in more depth soon - they have been on my radar for a while now and it's getting to be time I address them). And it's nothing like what I was expecting.
I came into this having never seen chocolate used in anything but porters and stouts. So I expected a dark beer with a nice deep roasty flavor and tons of toasty chocolate mixed in. And was I ever wrong. Theobroma pours a beautiful copper with a good head and nice lace. And while there are hints of cocoa about the aroma there is more of an interplay of honey and spice going on to my nose (not that I'm a beer expert or anything, I'm just a beer explorer). And the taste is really very much an ale. There's more yeast at play than I expected, limited hops, a good bit of the honey, and a nice helping of the spice as it develops. And there is a definite hint of cocoa running through it, more prominent in the beginning so it sort of recedes from the chocolate to the spices. It is not at all what I was expecting, but Dogfish Head have a way of doing the unexpected (in my experience this ranks up there with Raison D'Extra - which I blind tried - for unexpected). The magic of Dogfish is that even when they defy expectations they manage to deliver something that is unarguably good if entirely unusual and unexpected.
So I am ill-prepared to review something like this, but feel some sort of duty to give it a try. It's good. It's different. If you're expecting tons of in your face chocolate flavor then you're bound to be surprised, but if you're like me you hopefully won't be disappointed. If you don't dig craft beers then you're probably better off sticking with more traditional fare. But the deal is I'm into craft beer. Not as much as I am chocolate, but I love good beer. And some of them can be very left field in nature. This one? VERY left field. But it's good. I can't argue with it, no matter how surprised I am by it. From my perspective this is a good 8 out of 10, but I'm one of those rare birds that dig chocolate and craft beer both. If you're a chocolate person with little interest in craft beer I hate to say it, but you're better off keeping clear. The Silver Bullet this is NOT. It's an "off-centered ale" that connects with this blog's "off-centered" author. It ain't for everybody, but if you're of the peculiar mindset that digs on both chocolate and craft beer you may be in for a tasty surprise.