You know those old, anecdotal, paradoxical stories about how eating habanero peppers, drinking hot beverages, or taking scalding showers during warm weather cools you down? Humans living in the vicinity of the equator grow and consume coffee and hot peppers, and rumor has it it’s hot there, so “hot to battle hot” appears to be a legitimate thesis.
Are there also anecdotal stories about dark beers and warm climates? There’s a vague memory nugget tucked back there from sometime last century where I’m looking at a worldwide brewery map at Guinness’ Saint James’ Gate brewery, thinking, “Man, that’s odd, there’s a lot of Guinness made and drunk in the Caribbean and West Africa1.” Come to think of it, New Orleans’ Bulldog Bar almost always had Rogue Chocolate Stout on tap pre-storm, and, for some odd reason, it was indeed strangely delicious in thousand-percent humidity2. Again, this seems like a legit thesis. So, is anybody out there opposed to testing a hypothesis involving dark beer consumption while it’s still warm outside? No? Good!
CHAFUNKTA BREWING COMPANY’s Old 504 has been a family Crescent City favorite since our first encounter at Saint Joe’s Bar Uptown in 2014. Not surprisingly, it was delicious—and right at home on a hot and humid summer night this year3. Named for the old pan-Louisiana area code that’s been co-opted by the New Orleans metro area—ironically not including Mandeville, where it’s brewed—Old 504 pours a deep chocolate color with a big, rocky, light brown head. Vanilla aroma—specifically, the New Orleans-made, heady, chocolatey, woody, boozy, intense Ronald Reginald Melipone Mexican vanilla—completely dominates the aroma (especially when transferring from go-cup to glass).
Old 504 should be a brewing textbook example of balance. The vanilla, so dominant on the nose, plays a muted supporting role to the heavenly roasted malt flavor, and blends seamlessly with roasted coffee, oak, and possibly actual chocolate. Surprisingly, Old 504 is light and mellow in your mouth—not as heavy as expected from the color and aroma—and suits its medium ABV perfectly. Light body certainly does not translate to light aftertaste, though—it’s such a delightfully long-lived roasted malt, vanilla, chocolate, toasted wood mélange aftertaste that Old 504 makes sitting outside at midnight, dripping sweat in 32 degrees Celsius/90 percent humidity, as cool as Fess at Tip’s in the late seventies.
A modest proposal: dark beers on warm days should be canon, not myth. Coffee porter, schwarzbier, oatmeal stout, even barrel-aged dry-hopped triple imperial stout with Mayan chocolate, macerated sour cherries and coffee beans pooped out of a monkey’s butt—why not enjoy these beers now, while the heat outside is still sticking around for who knows how long? Every brewery in Orleans Parish we visited this past summer had at least one dark beer on tap—and if anybody knows something good for what ails you in the heat, it’s a New Orleanian. —B.S.
1That hazy memory is partially backed up here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-guinness-became-african-favorite-180950097/
2Of course, Rogue Chocolate Stout is also delicious in -20 degree Celsius temps.
3Initially in a go-cup—then transferred to a Bulldog pint glass that comes free with your beer every Wednesday after 9 pm, seen above. Go-cups! To bring draft beers home to review and photograph! New Orleans, I love you.