On Jan. 30, 2012, Westbrook Brewing Co. released the first incarnation of a beer that would eventually become a national phenomenon with hype equal to—and in some cases, even surpassing—the hype surrounding beers like 3 Floyds Dark Lord and Foothills Sexual Chocolate.

The beer is Mexican Cake, a 10.5 percent ABV imperial stout aged on cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and fresh habanero peppers. While the original release was in January, subsequent releases have taken place in May, while variants of Mexican Cake have been released in other months.

Westbrook Mexican Cake 2014 bottle

The 2014 release took place on May 231 at the Pleasant, S.C.-based brewery. There was a one case per per person limit and the beer was priced at $12 per bottle. After the event, a limited number of bottles were distributed.

In 2013, Westbrook released three variants of Mexican Cake: Apple Brandy Barrel-Aged, Jack Daniels Barrel-Aged, and Red Wine Barrel-Aged, which used cabernet barrels. On Sept. 20, 2014 another three variants were released: Bourbon Barrel Mexican Cake, which was aged for 12 months in Four Roses bourbon barrels, Tequila Barrel Mexican Cake, which was aged for 12 months in tequila barrels and Double Barrel Mexican Cake, a blend of beer aged in both Pritchard’s Rye and bourbon barrels for 12 months.

Both the Bourbon Barrel Mexican Cake and Tequila Barrel Mexican Cake were limited to two per bottles per person while the Double Barrel Mexican Cake was limited to four per person and bottles were priced $30 each.

The Westbrook Mexican Cake pours a deep motor oil black with a small tan-colored head that disappears quickly, leaving a nicely formed lacing around the edge of the glass. Aroma from the beer is a combination of fresh peppers, dark cocoa, coffee, vanilla and oak.

Westbrook Mexican Cake 2014

From the first sip I know I am in for a great treat, as a huge dark and bitter cocoa flavor explodes on my palate, followed up immediately by coffee, malt, cinnamon and oh so slight habanero pepper notes that combine nicely with each other. The finish is incredibly complex, with a huge habanero note that burns (in a good way) and an overt vanilla sweetness that only gets stronger as the beer warms.  The beer features a mouthfeel that both creamy and thick, almost chewy, and helps temper the habanero note in a very noticeable way.

While the habanero note—both in flavor and intensity of the heat—becomes dominant in the profile as the beer warms, the sweetness also increases in strength in conjunction with it while morphing into more of a toffee note. The carbonation has died down quite a bit by the time I polish off the bottle and it makes for a very different mouthfeel than when the beer is cold: not as creamy, but definitely a little thicker in body.

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Westbrook Mexican Cake (2014)
BREWERY: Westbrook Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Pleasant, S.C.
STYLE: Imperial stout
ABV: 10.5 percent
IBU: 50
PRICE: $12
RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2014
AVAILABLE IN: 22-ounce bottles
BEERS POURED: Two
I have tried many imperial stouts that feature some sort of peppers in my day, and there is no doubt that Westbrook's Mexican Cake is one of the best. It's extremely well brewed, with both complexity and balance in the profile, a combination that is often difficult to achieve when working with so many adjuncts. Each of the flavors is distinct and has its own place, but every one of them also works in harmony with the others to produce a world class beer. Having said all of that, the habanero note can get a bit overwhelming as the beer warms up, so this is definitely one to drink cold.
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