Beer Review 0053: Left Hand Fade To Black, Volume 3

Fade To Black, Volume 3 is the latest in a continuing series of winter seasonal beers by Left Hand Brewing Company, based out of Longmont, Colorado.

Volume 1, released in 2009, was a Foreign Stout; Volume 2, which was released last year, was a Smoked Baltic Porter. I had the opportunity to review Volume 2, which I rated 89 points. The second incarnation offered nice flavors of semi-sweet chocolate and coffee coupled with a smooth and creamy texture. While not the most complex beverage, it scored high on appearance and for its excellently defined simple flavors which went together well.

The 2011 version of Fade To Black is a style of beer I’ve never tried: a Pepper Porter. Brewed with Serrano, chipotle, and ancho chilies, this beer is designed to have a nice warm feel that will keep you comfortable on those cold winter nights.

And although most will associate peppers with spiciness, Left Hand attempted to wring some smokey flavors out of the peppers, too. Working with a local spice house, the brewers picked out dried chiles: ancho because it imparts chocolate notes with a low spicy heat level; Serranos and chipotle for the heat factor, which are five times hotter than anchos, but also give way to both fruity and smokey flavors, with hints of leather and tobacco.

The chiles were prepared at the brewery, removing seeds to subtract hot factor, and the beer was monitored daily until it was “just right” for bottling and release.

ABVs (alcohol by volume) on this beer come in at 7.2%, relatively average for the Porter style. While we often talk about IBUs (International Bittering Units), this beer was measured on the Scoville scale, which calculates spicy heat. The beer hit 1,984 units, which is relatively mild; compared to a Jalapeño pepper that comes in between 3,500-8,000 units or a Habanero chili, which is fire hot at 100,000-350,000 units. (And if you’re interested, law enforcement pepper spray can be up to 5,300,000 units.)

Time for the pour…and what’s produced is a lovely very dark brown liquid, topped with a small head that lasts a good while. The color of the beer has a reddish tint, is free of particles and sediment, and is clear in body. A few bubbles rose to the surface, indicating some soft carbonation. There was no lacing to report.

The aromatics are all about the malts, and nothing more. There’s a fine example of chocolate aromas in beer here; it’s sweet, rich, and deep, balanced in the back by coffee. There’s some complexity lingering around in the form of dark fruits, prevalently prunes.

To the tongue, the initial flavor is chocolate, but it’s nowhere near the impressive quality found in the aroma. The sweet chocolate, almost like chocolate milk, transitions very smoothly into a nice roasted coffee and picks up some heat components from the peppers. After swallowing, the peppers provide a nice warming sensation that is neither immediate or intense; it’s a slow, gradual heat build that starts at the back of the throat, fills the mouth and fades onto the lips. Picture this happening whilst cold out and you suddenly have a wonderful beverage.

I found the texture of Volume 3 to be thick and creamy. And on this finish, you get the smokey flavors from the chiles, very subtly — think of it as a natural, cooked smoke verses something obnoxious you’d find in a bottle, which is what a smoke component in most beer reminds me of. (AKA: liquid smoke).

Fade To Black, Volume 3 is a great beer. You’ve got to try it. If you’re concerned about the pepper/spicy aspect, don’t be. Combined with the traditional Porter flavors, the off-kilter ingredient here adds interesting flavors and textures.

Left Hand Fade To Black, Volume 3, 91 points. Price: $9.99 US for six pack.

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