Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Hot Chocolate

Viking Brewing Company
Dallas, WI

Style: Spice/Herb/Vegetable

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

Pair With:
• Goulash
On rare occasions, Nigel likes to stray from the tried and true in order to experience something new, unique, and/or weird. While I have my comfort zone, one that was firmly in effect with my last two reviews for Oskar Blues Gordon imperial IPA and New Glarus Iced Barley Wine, sometimes the best craft beer education comes from taking risks and discovering new things, ignoring the possibility that it could be the next Cave Creek Chili Beer (excluding Bud Light and Grolsch, that Arizona creation was easily the worst beer Nigel ever had). Nigel is all about learning and experimenting, and one of my favorite lines comes from a 311 song: “ignorance is bliss to those uneducated”. I, friends, do not believe ignorance is bliss, but then again I’m not a Republican.

So tonight I’m going to get my ass schooled on Viking’s Hot Chocolate, an interesting creation from the small but growing brewery in Dallas, Wisconsin. This particular brew combines a number of unique elements, including organic cocoa and cayenne pepper, making for a dark brew that’s meant to be both sweet and spicy (hence the name). While Nigel is a connoisseur of spice (I’d put habanero in my coffee if it were legal), I’ve yet to find a brew that adequately incorporates hot peppers or other extremely spicy elements (black pepper not included) without ruining the overall quality of the drink. In order to impress Nigel, Viking’s creation needs to say “cayenne” without making me scream “ugh… CAYENNE!”.

I’m hoping Hot Chocolate at least does enough to make me want to continue my ventures into the still relatively unknown Viking. What really intrigues me is that Viking has a seasonal lineup that is incredibly diverse and prolific (they have more seasonals than any brewery I’ve seen, many of which are extremely unique). The Scandinavian theme is indicative of their location in rural northwestern Wisconsin, not far from Minnesota and the land of hideous purple-clad Vikings, lutefisk, and ø’s, don’tcha know. While the packaging and their website (not to mention the brewery itself, a photo of which makes it look like an abandoned swamp boathouse) seem to indicate a brewery that has a ways to go before hitting the big time, a lineup like this, if crafted properly, will be hard to ignore for too long.

Hot Chocolate opens with a mild pop, and instantly elements of cayenne pepper permeate from the bottle neck. The pour reveals a dark brown, cloudy brew with a mild beige head of a quarter inch or so that evaporates instantaneously, leaving a virtually undetectable fizzy lace on the side and top. Aromas are exactly as promised: cocoa powder and cayenne pepper. Both elements have strong notes, but I must say, for this Beer Dork, the combination was not at all pleasant. The cocoa/cayenne combo gave Hot Chocolate a pungent, chemically, stale smell that I found most offensive, but perhaps that’s the point. While the eyes say “typical dark lager”, the nose says “stay the hell away, this isn’t for human consumption”.

The flavor isn’t nearly as disturbing as the aroma, but it’s still not good in my opinion. My best analogy is this: Hershey, the longtime leader in American chocolate treats, has NEVER come out with any sort of candy bar, etc. with any type of spice in it. The reason? These two elements, while both extremely worthy independent of each other, are not meant to be mixed. The cayenne comes through immediately, but fortunately it doesn’t make me say “aye… CAYANNE!”; rather it’s just a temporary inconvenience before getting to other flavors. Those other flavors are almost exclusively cocoa, but it’s more of a cheap cocoa powder flavor rather than a nice, sweet, authentic chocolate undertone. Basically, it’s Nestle Quick if you spilled some Tabasco in it. And, for Nigel, that’s the problem… while the dash of cayenne in the flavor is unnecessary in my opinion, what throws this off track is the blah flavor of the chocolate. Were this a decent chocolate stout with a dash of cayenne, it would be better, though I still think the spice would throw it off a bit. Regardless of reasoning, Hot Chocolate is little more than a novelty and falls far short of achieving anything close to greatness. As for other flavors besides cayenne and Quick? Nada… it’s bland beyond belief after that, making it a huge disappointment for anyone hoping for something unique even if it’s not good. Medium bodied and rough on the palate thanks to the spice and stale cocoa, Hot Chocolate has no listed ABV but I’m guessing it’s 6% or less, making it a possible session beer if you can tolerate more than one.

Ultimately I was disappointed, though I will admit it could’ve been far worse. This is no Cave Creek Chili Beer; it deserves more acclaim than that, but leaves me with my fingers crossed that Viking’s other unique seasonals rate far higher. It’s worth a try for the adventurous, as Viking’s four-packs are reasonably priced at around $6, but as a December release, it may be hard to come by in March. My suggestion would be to try one of the many other seasonal offerings, perhaps one with a name you can’t pronounce, and hope for the best.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 18, 2009.
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