Aptly-named Agrarian Ales is a farmhouse brewery situated in Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley, established on the brothers/founders Ben and Nate Tilley's family farm. Before the family first planted hops, one of their main cash crop was chilies. On the 25-acre farm, 25 varieties of chilies made the Tilleys a hot commodity at the Lane County Farmers' Market.
Nowadays, there's always a chili beer on draft that changes with each season (the first featured roasted poblano peppers). During a recent trek out to the farm, I tasted Espelette, a smoky red ale employing the dried chilies famous in Basque country. But considering visits to the brewery are meant to be family-friendly (they recently built a play structure for kids) brewer Tobias Schock decided to develop a line of unique sodas sweetened only with raw honey from a nearby apiary.
Cherry Cherry Bomb Bon is a soft drink flavored with a neighbor's cherries—but the real secret ingredient is the cherry bomb chili peppers bursting with sweet and savory flavors and a mild heat. This pink-hued soda opens with a burst of fruity sweetness but the distinct sweet-hot chiie flavor gives it a wild kick, and the bubbles lend longevity to its tingling effect.
"Cherries and cherry bombs just seemed like an obvious pairing to me," said Schock, "but then again, I work on a chili farm. The sweet flavor of the chilies begged to be amplified in a soda. The tingly heat on the back of the tongue in the finish of the soda makes you go right for the glass again for that nice cherry fruity flavor right when you sip it."
Schock said Agrarian's next seasonal soda will be Pimento Barley. Sodas are available for $3 a glass or $8 for a 32-ounce 'growlette'.
About the Author: Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey and contributed to the Oxford Companion to Beer. He writes for All About Beer, CraftBeer.com, Portland Monthly and more but with a baby boy at home has tapped back into his love of making and sharing a soda. Follow him at @yaeger.