(Originally appeared on the Tipsy Techie website in March 2014. My opinion of this beer has not changed. At all.)
I consider myself a fanboy of Stone Brewing. I’ve never drank a bad, or even mediocre, beer made by them. I’m also a lover of spicy foods, so much so that I once partook of Quaker Steak and Lube’s Atomic Wings. Yet when I discovered Stone Crime at my favorite craft beer store, I felt more than a bit of trepidation. For the uninformed, Crime is part of Stone’s Quingenti Millilitre series. It was created by taking Lukcy Bastard Ale and aging it in bourbon barrels with an undisclosed number of hot peppers. The peppers ranged from lowly jalapeños up through black nagas and Moruga scorpions. Some of those tiny fruits have a Scoville ranking on par with police grade pepper spray. You know, that stuff cops use to subdue people.
Still, I’m an obsessive collector and I simply had to satisfy my curiosity. So purchase it I did.
I uncorked the bottle and poured it into a small tulip glass. The beer was a thick muddy red with a tight white head formed at the top. I brought the glass up to my nose and inhaled. The scent was unlike anything I’ve ever smelled in a beer. I held the drink up to the light. It looked like beer. I smelled it again. Not beer. The first thing that came through was the piquant sting of pepper. This was followed by a trace of sweetness like what one would expect from strong ale. And then the nose became a mélange of the two scents together.
“Fortune favors the bold,” I reminded myself and I took a drink.
The taste started out with a heavy sweetness surrounded in smoke.
“Oh,” I started to think, “This is going to be a nice, smoked ale!” But the thought got as far as “Oh, this is going to b-“ when heat washed through my mouth, eradicating the smoky sweetness.
I swallowed. The beer burned down my throat and all the way into my stomach. The sensation was not unlike drinking whiskey. The body was medium to medium high. I know from drinking Lukcy Bastard that there should have been hops in Crime, however I could only surmise that they were beaten up and stuffed in a closet by the peppers, as they weren’t anywhere noticeable in the beer.
The inviting head bubbled away quickly. As I drank more of the beer, my cheeks began to sweat. The peppery heat in the aftertaste grew in its intensity, never mellowing. I couldn’t help thinking that Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons put it best when he said, “They taste like burning!”
One of the things I love about drinking craft beer is discovering something unexpected. Crime certainly fits that bill. However it felt like something I would drink on a dare rather than a beer I’d share with a friend. I’m certain Crime has fans. I’m curious what cellaring a bottle would do for its taste. And in full disclosure, this was the first pepper beer I’d ever had. If you are a fan of this style of beer, then I would suggest hunting Crime down. I can’t imagine you’ll find a stronger example of the style. But for everyone else, especially those new to craft beer, you’re going to want to avoid doing Crime as you probably won’t stand the time.