Dark and Dry

Hey folks, I said that we were going to be seeing some more from Alkemio Kitchen soon. So, what better time and way to start than today, with a sauce that I’ve already shown you but couldn’t previously go into depth about?

This is Fergus’ Black Garlic, Chipotle, Tamarind, Chocolate and that last titular ingredient makes it a perfect fit for my first post after World Chocolate Day. But it’s not the only such festive item that I have for you, this year.

I’d also like to showcase a little something in the same vein – Featuring the same blend of chipotle and chocolate – from a less familiar company:

The Chipotle Chocolate Stout, from Hop’t. Which, as their name implies, is heavily focussed on the use of hops. Albeit in a very different setting from any that we’ve seen such herbs in before.

In fact, it isn’t even the same sort of hops as any of those past products. But you’ll have to read on if you want to see what sets them apart.

Today, I’m not going to talk about Alkemio Kitchen’s labelling. You know the drill. Death, Salt, Fire and Creation – Fergus’ phylosophy of cooking – on an aged-looking, brown crêpe paper. Nicely alchemical but not a tonne else to say. So let’s move on to Hop’t’s

Hop’t use a golden-yellow label, with silhouettes of their key ingredients, dotted around in light brown. But, while those are quite subtle, it’s hard to miss their darker, richer, yet still not dark, brown, at the bottom. The colour which backs the names of those ingredients and their tasting notes.

It’s simple but it matches those notes well – Smoky, smooth and rich, just like the chocolate and dark chilli that it implies.

Then, atop the yellow, we have the company’s own name. Mostly in hollow, black-rimmed capitals, yet with the O replaced by the pine cone-like form of their signature herb and both it and their missing apostrophe set aflame.

It’s a solid design. Craft beer. Craft fire and deep, chocolatey richness. It says everything that it needs to and it does so elegantly.

It is, however, slightly less elegant on my spoon:

It’s not overly thick or thin but it is chunky – Full of those chipotle flakes – and it leaves dots of scary red oil around its edges. Dots which look like extract, yet are in fact nothing of the sort.

They may get their colouration from the chilli but these droplets are actually a mixture of olive and hop oils. And they carry a tonne of flavour.

They’re dry, herbal, musty, green and astringent, despite that redness, and they may be less than one percent of the product but they sure dominate the initial taste. Before gradually giving way to the smoke and the undercurrent of richness that comes with.

Then, as that smoke fades into the back of my throat, in comes a gradual

heat that dances around the tongue and sides of my mouth, before settling in the exact same place. After which only the slight aftertaste of onions and vinegar remains.

It’s an interesting experience and, given the amount of richness, hiding behind the hops and oregano, I can see exactly why Hop’t recommend this one for steak and mushrooms. That dark, smoky undertone will perfectly complement rich, umami-laden meats and fungi, while those herbal tones lend it a wonderful contrast. However, this particular sauce isn’t for me.

The extreme focus on the east kent goldings hop oil is exactly what I wanted to see and Hop’t definitely know what they’re doing, pairibng it with such dark flavours. Yet the fact of the matter is that I am simply not a stout drinker. I’m not used to that kind of dry, astringent and bitter flavour and I find it quite off putting.

So, as well made as it is, this is a sauce for meat-lovers and dark beer drinkers. Not one for everyone.

Whereas Alkemio Kitchen’s, I think, should have a rather broader appeal.

It’s thicker and stickier, yet also smoother and shinier. It has a far glossier texture than Hop’t Chipotle Chocolate Stout did, for the simple reason that it actually contains chocolate. Not just cocoa.

The emulsified fats from the whole bean give it a much creamier texture, which really complements the thick and sticky paste that you get from black garlic. Giving this second sauce a far greater feel, despite the hidden grains, beneath the surface.

But, as excellent as the mouth feel of this sauce may be, there’s something else that hits me long before the sauce hits my tongue: The dark, savoury, smoke-tinged scent of black garlic, soy, chipotle and yeast extract.

Yes, there’s marmite in this sauce and, as you may already know, I’m not a marmite lover. I don’t hate it, though, regardless of the binary nature of its advertising. I just struggle to stomach anything that intensely savoury and salty on its own.

I far prefer my yeast extract when it’s part of another product. Mixed in to add richness and depth, rather than taking centre stage. So a little bit on an ingredients list doesn’t faze me but this obvious and unmistakeable aroma does leave me a tad concerned.

Fortunately, Alkemio Kitchen’s Black Garlic, Chipotle, Tamarind, Chocolate includes a lot of other powerful flavours and that blackened yeast taste is only one part of a bigger, equally dark and savoury taste. One that starts with the balsamicky black garlic and just a little hint of sweetness, from the molasses, before the tamarind tang takes it away again. Then the soy and subtle spices come through, with the smoke of the chipotle tagging along for the ride. The marmite and the chocolate both lurking in the background the whole while. Helping provide that deep base flavour and indulgent creaminess.

This new bottle uses rather more of the chipotle than my earlier sample and manages to reach a slow and throaty

heat. But also the pepper’s taste is rather more apparent than it used to be and, while I enjoyed the sauce before, that makes it so much better.

This is a sauce that I enjoy no end but, unlike Hop’t’s, it isn’t for adding to your meats. It’s for adding its own, almost meaty richness to stir-fries, bologneses, con carnes and nachos. Or really anything that would benefit from chocolate, smoke and umami depth.

It’s versatile, it’s flavourful and it’s got a surprising, yet far from unwelcome, kick. The only thing that I don’t like about it is the ingredients list:

Black Garlic, chiptotle in adobo (chipotle, garlic, onion, vinegar, paprika), soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger tamarind, pomegranate mollasses, yeast extract, vegetable oil, sugar, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate

Completely devoid of the chocolate that’s both in the name and ever so obvious from its texture.

Whereas today’s other item actually has me convinced, when it says that it contains:

Water, Fried Onions (Sunflower Oil), Cider Vinegar, Chipotle Chilli Flakes (5.8%), Roasted Garlic, Sugar, Rock Salt, Olive Oil, East Kent Goldings Hop Oil (0.8%), Cocoa Powder (0.6%), Chipotle Chilli Powder (0.4%), Parsley, Cumin Seeds, Oregano

And both definitely do put the smoked jalapeño chilli, known as chipotle, to great use.

I’d recommend both of these sauces but I do think that Hop’t’s is going to hold less of a broad appeal. Catering so specifically to the “dry” palate of stout-drinkers.

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