Stone Xocoveza: An Imperial Stout Inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate
Sponsored by Stone Brewing.
Colder and shorter days are upon us, shifting our palates toward bigger, darker, and bolder beers to knock the chill from our bones and warm our skulls. For many, this means that it’s Imperial Stout season! The strongest of the Stouts, American examples of the style are typically pitch black in color, with an extremely rich malty flavor and aroma, a full, sweet malt character, and significant bitterness from roasted malts or hop additions.
Warming our skulls this week is Stone Xocoveza. It currently scores a 97 (World-Class) on BeerAdvocate with a 4.36 rating average and 4,207 ratings that positions its rank at #467 across all beers. Stone refers to it as a “Mocha Stout” on their site, but don’t let that fool you. Weighing in at 8.1 percent alcohol by volume, at its core resides an American Imperial Stout and one that ranks #125 respectfully within the style. But what sets Xocoveza apart from straight-up Stouts is that it’s inspired by rustic, spiced, hot chocolate drinks from Mexico. For their mashup, Stone brewed with cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lactose, with English Challenger and East Kent Golding as featured hops.
We had a chance to speak with Jeremy Moynier, Stone Brewing’s Senior Manager of Brewing & Innovation to learn a bit more about this beer. Spoiler: We’re going to drink this beer, too.
Give us a brief history of Stone Xocoveza?
Moynier: In 2013, Stone Xocoveza was the winning beer in our annual American Homebrewer’s Association homebrew competition. The beer was a clear favorite and stood out immediately because of its complexity. We paired the winner, San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker, with our friends from Mexico at Cerveceria Insurgente and brewed the beer as a national release for the first time in 2014. It was a big hit and we loved it so we wisely decided we should make it an annual winter tradition.
[Todd: In 2015, Stone also released a Charred (aged three months in American Oak Kentucky bourbon barrels) and Extra Añejo (aged in red wine and tequila barrels) variation. I wouldn’t say no to future variations. You?!]
What’s the origin of the name?
Moynier: The name comes from Chris Banker’s vision of brewing a beer inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate.
[Todd: According to the Smithsonian, etymologists have traced the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which was a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. And “cerveza” is the Spanish word for “beer.” Put them together and we get “Xocoveza.”]
There are quite a few Mexican hot chocolate inspired Stouts today. What makes Xocoveza different?
Moynier: Pretty sure we were one of the first…at least to release one nationally! The combination of the ingredients, where they come from, and how we use them make this beer unique. We are working with some amazing purveyors including Mostra Coffee from right here in San Diego and Belyzium Craft Chocolate from Berlin, Germany. Having like-minded partners who are also committed to quality makes all the difference and you can taste that in the beer.
[Todd: I’ve found similar beers entered several years before 2014, but this indeed appears to be one of the first national releases of its kind. If anyone has information otherwise…drop me a note.]
Tell us more about these pasilla peppers and why you selected them over other chiles?
Moynier: You have to be careful brewing with peppers….a little can go a long way! We have used a lot of peppers in beers through the years and sometimes we are aiming for intensity and heat but with Stone Xocoveza the pepper plays more of a supporting role. We want the fruitiness of the pepper to be there and just some hints of heat on the back-end and the pasilla peppers achieve this perfectly.
[Todd: Passilla (“little raisin”) chiles are dried chilaca chile peppers and have heat comparable to poblano chiles; mild.]
Tell us something about this beer that most people don’t know.
Moynier: It’s a pain to make! Especially on the big scale. Besides it just being a bigger Stout loaded with a lot of specialty malt, it has a ton of other ingredients to add in so it’s not easy. But it’s totally worth it once you taste the beer.
[Todd: Speaking of tasting the beer…]
Todd’s Review: 4.74/5
Xocoveza pours black with ruby hues and a thick, mocha colored head. Spicy and peppery on the nose with notes of freshly baked pastries, cinnamon, nutmeg and a deep vanilla. Body is slightly viscous and chewy, with a silkiness on the palate that adds depth. A big vanilla profile is joined by cocoa powder, roasty coffee, tangy molasses, a zing of chile pepper, more cinnamon and nutmeg, faint suggestions of sweetened coconut and holiday candy in the background. Ends with a charred, pepper linger. One of the best beers of its kind.
Jason’s Review: 4.16/5
A mix of spices; cinnamon, nutmeg, & vanilla with some chili pepper for spice. An addition of coffee rounds out the chocolate by adding another layer of roasted bitterness that the malt does not. My taste buds are waiting for one flavor to take over, it’s more that they take turns. Cinnamon and nutmeg upfront which leads to the vanilla and chocolate, soon after the coffee flavor hits the taste buds and sticks and in the finish is a little tickle of chili pepper. This Stout is about balance and the brewers intention is spot on for hitting all of these inspired flavors. The alcohol sneaks around the corner after several sips in, very enjoyable to sip. The only thing that might be missing is the sweetness but that is when you have to remember this is a beer and really … how sweet do you want to go. The maltiness is there and with the cinnamon and vanilla the perceived sweetness is greater than what it is which appeases my palate. A perfect brew as the colder weather swings through.
A taste from Stone’s Innovation Team:
Looking to try Stone Xocoveza?
You won’t have to wait in line, break the bank, or trade your cellar to get your hands on this world-class beer. Xocoveza was released nationwide on September 30 in 6-packs (12 ounce cans), bombers (22 ounce bottles), and on draft. Head to find.stonebrewing.com to discover where you can grab some for the holidays. ■