If Mole Rojo (pronounced molé roho) were a person, it would almost certainly be The Most Interesting Man in the World. Slow, methodical, and classy, yet with a touch of intrigue. Cool, but never out of style, and telepathically hitting all the right spots.
It’s ironic then, that the inspiration for this red mole came from a beer… but not the one you’re thinking. It all started a few years ago when a reader invited me down to the brewery he works at to check out some beers. Free beer and a chance to meet up with a reader was all the excuse I needed, and I soon found myself headed down to Black Diamond Brewing Co. in Concord, CA.
As it turned out, calling what they make “beer”, is a bit like calling a diamond a pebble. Their ales are brewed, they’re fizzy, and if you drink enough of them, you’ll get drunk, but they have about as much in common with a can of Coors as a diamond shares with the rocks in your backyard.
In addition to the usual tanks and fermenters, this brewery has a room full of used brandy and bourbon barrels. That’s because some of their brews are aged in the barrels along with fruit, like currants and figs, giving them a depth and complexity that’s unlike anything I’ve ever had before.
Since that first visit, I’ve been going down to try their new creations with every chance I get. A few months ago, Mike sent me an email with the subject “New tasties” (a note to PR folks, if you ever want to get my attention in a hurry, that’s one way to do it). The email contained a list of experimental beers by month, and under May, it said the following:
Just in time to help our neighbors to the south celebrate their independence, we take ingredients from the classic Oaxacan dish of mole and add them to red ale. Guajillo, mulato, ancho, and pasilla peppers provide a smoky heat to the beer, interspersed with the zing of cinnamon. To help with the maltiness and sweetness, raisins are added. Cocoa nibs help impart the bittersweet chocolate flavor.”
Needless to say, I was soon heading back down to check out their latest creations.
After knocking back samples of a dozen tasty ales in their tasting room, Mike led me to the back, where the brewmaster, poured us a glass of the Mole Red, straight out of a giant stainless steel tank. Right away, I was struck by its sexy shade of auburn and intoxicating fragrance, which drew my lips in for a sip of the magical elixir.
Like a good red mole, the Mole Red was nuanced, with smoky chiles that were more fruity than spicy. Likewise, the cinnamon, raisins and chocolate gave subtle harmonizing cues without drowning out the elements that make it an ale. Put simply, it was delightfully unique yet enjoyably familiar, and it made me crave a meaty mole rojo.
Back home, it just so happend that the good folks at Lava Lake Lamb had sent me a Brandon Natural Beef chuck roast that was begging to be braised. I used my classic red mole, as the base, but I wanted to see if I could simplify the number of ingredients and steps without significantly impacting the taste.
I know that tradition dictates that you use a Mexican chocolate for mole, but due to the varying sugar content in different brands of chocolate, I’ve found it’s a lot more consistent to use bittersweet chocolate. Like adding a pat of butter, the more refined bittersweet chocolate also lends a velvety texture to the mole.
For the roasting steps, whether it’s in the pan or in the oven, be very careful not to burn anything. The difference between fragrant and burnt can be a matter of seconds. If you’re not sure if you’ve burnt something, taste it before adding it in with everything else. If it tastes very bitter and acrid, toss it out and start over with that ingredient.
One of the biggest time savers was to powderize the dried chiles along with the other dry ingredients. This creates a powdered mole base that you could make in bulk and store in the fridge if you plan to be making this often. It also eliminates the need to strain the sauce.
With flavors ranging from bold and smoky to subtly fruity, and with a rich creamy texture that helps the sauce linger on your tongue just a little bit longer, the shortcuts don’t show. I ended up serving this with a Black Diamond Imperial Porter because they hadn’t bottled the Mole Red yet when I visited. The chocolate, coffee and caramel notes in the dark porter worked beautifully with the mole.
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