Ginger Elizabeth brews eye-catching collaboration beer with New Helvetia

Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, who owns the eponymous artisan shop on L Street in Midtown, isn’t a beer drinker. At least according to Brian Cofresi, head brewmaster at New Helvetia on Broadway. 

But that didn’t stop a collaboration between the the chocalatier and the brewery.

My friend and Pangaea Bier Café owner, Rob Archie, put the New Helvetia + Ginger Elizabeth Imperial Chocolate Porter on my radar. He said he discovered it on draft at New Helvetia, drove home—but then couldn’t stop thinking about it and drove back to buy a growler.

That’s how beer works: Someone says something is cool, and then all of the sudden you’re forking over mad cash (that you don’t have) for brew. In this case, I saw a 375 ml bottle of ICP (not this ICP) at Corti Bros (Corti’s selection still killing!), and welcomed the brew into my fridge despite the $13.99 price tag. 

Beer blinders.

But worth it. Cofresi at New Helvetia says this collab was his brewery’s second anniversary brew, which first appeared on draft back in October. The bottled version is the second batch; they’ll be putting out a ton more bottles during Sacramento Beer Week, which kicks off next Thursday.

A quick side note: The beer is part of New Helvetia’s “Mystery Airship” series, which refers to a purported UFO that appeared over Sacramento in 1896 and, according to a (likely inebriated) eyewitness, hit the tower atop a local brewery. But enough history-schmistory. Let’s talk beer.

The brew is Mexican hot chocolate in a bottle, for adults. Cofresi says the base is what he calls a “double porter,” at 8.3 percent ABV, or a “brown porter.” Ginger Elizabeth provided the spice blend, which is the base for her Oaxacan Spicy Hot Chocolate and includes ginger, cacao nibs, cinnamon, vanilla leaves and chiles.

The challenge, Cofresi says, was getting the blend just right. You don’t want one flavor to dominate the other. You don’t want to lose the porter’s roasty charachter. You don’t want the chocolate to overwhelm. You don’t want the body of the beer to get too light because of the acidity of the ginger and the chiles. And so on.

I cracked this bottle at the office and shared it with a few co-workers. It pours thinner than some might expect for a dark beer. The Mexican chocolate profile on the nose is aggressive but pleasant. The profile of a nice holiday ale. The ginger and chiles definitely dominate on the tongue, although you get a bit of vanilla and some roast on the back. Maybe. The beer slightly evolves as you let it warm up—a bit more chocolate shines through—but those ginger and chiles persist.

Overall, a fun experiment. The base beer definitely benefits from Ginger Elizabeth’s strong instincts for what’s good and will taste well together. I’d love to see this beer go to a different place, however, as it was perhaps a bit too thin in body for the style, and the porter flavors took back seat. Perhaps a Russian Imperial Stout version? Then resting it in a whisky barrel for a few months? Oh yeah!

Anyway, New Helvtetia’s Beer Week should be a hot one. You can find their events at Specifically, their Great American Beer Fest gold-medal winner Thurston will be tapped on February 28 at noon. They’re also doing a IIPA collaboration with Oak Park Brewing Co., variances on their Thunderbeats IPA with four different dry hops, and a Bergamot IPA to celebrate the forthcoming Sophia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel mural, Bright Underbelly, at the Sunday farmers market.

Oh, and they’re collaborating with Sacramento’s big four coffeehouses—Naked Lounge, Chocolate Fish, Temple and Insight—on four different coffee versions of their Homeland Stout. These will debut on March 4 at 5 p.m.

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