Michael:  I love surprises. At least when it comes to beer. The label on this collaborative beer between Stone, Firestone Walker and 21st Amendment read: “Ale brewed with fennel seed, chia seed & pink peppercorns – with mission figs added.” Yikes. It had been sitting in my fridge for some time, for whatever reason not appealing to me in the last several months. Partially, I think, the description of the ingredients were to blame, fennel, chia and peppercorns seemed something better on my steak than in my beer. But, alas, it is a beer and it is in my fridge, so I guess I just have to drink it.

As I said, I love surprises and the first one with this brew came the minute I began the pour. It was solid black, opaque and rich, like a very nice stout. It seemed slightly oily and the thick spongy head was a peanut-butter-brown. The scent was delicious. It reminds me of beautifully crafted Belgians, a sweet malt, blended with toffee and hints of light red wine. There’s a bit of chocolate as well, but I’m completely missing the spices as of yet. As it warms there is more alcohol on the nose, but it doesn’t make its way to the flavor much.

The taste is powerful, a very rich, robust ale, strong is definitely the accurate descriptor here. There is an earthy, bitter burn, not hoppy as much as a mixed bag of spices. Definitely a pepper linger, spicy all the way down. There’s an almost porter-like flavor in the malt, sprightly, bubbly and light. While I may not have been able to pinpoint the dark fruits as figs had the label not spoiled the secret, they are definitely present, conjuring up images of a great fig and goat cheese pizza I had a few months back.  Grade: A-

Tom:  Three well-known breweries and interesting ingredients sure make for a exciting beer.  The beauty poured like a thick porter or stout producing a dark fluffy tan head which looked creamy.  The liquid was similar in color to that of black licorice.  I could smell the spices while I emptied the bottle as they wafted up to my nose.  Those of you who are familiar to smelling salts I’d say that this beer has a similar effect.  It woke my senses up!  Hoppy, roasted malts and then spices all added to create a wonderful aroma.  Chocolaty, oats, spruce, spice, grassy, dark fruits (dates, figs, prunes), floral, peppery and hoppy.  The fennel seeds, chai, and peppercorns added a nice punch to aroma and flavor.

The taste was an flavor explosion.  The hops and peppercorns laid down a nice spicy kick at the start which faded into a coffee/chocolate roasted malt center.  This was all wrapped up by a smooth (bourbon-like) finish.  The figs add a mature fruity aspect which compliments the black ale qualities.  The ABV is noticeable towards the back of the palate lending a warmth with blends well with the spices used.  As this beer warms the aroma opens up big time.  A fig aftertaste lingers along with some spice to create a sensation similar to Middle Eastern food.  A great collab!   Grade: A-