Chili-infused beers have been around for a while, but a truly spicy beer is still something that can turn heads. And sometimes a few stomachs. An experienced beer drinker won’t bat an eye at the occasional addition of ancho or chipotle, these flavors are often paired with mellowing chocolate or caramel notes. As in Theobroma, a 9% ABV, Aztec-inspired ale by Dogfish Head, where chilies are brewed with honey, annatto seeds, and Aztec cocoa nibs. Or the similarly themed Cocoa Molé (9% ABV), a new addition to New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series. The idea behind both of these brews is to lightly pepper the beer in order to accent the strong chocolate notes that might otherwise be overpoweringly sweet. But what happens when brewers start giving chilies the main stage? Rogue started with their Chipotle Ale (5.5% ABV), a version of their amber ale spiced with roasted chipotle peppers, but some brewers are learning that variety really is the spice of life.
Ghost Face Killah
Twisted Pines set out to make the “hottest beer in the world” with the infamous Ghost pepper at the forefront. Taking the name of one of the Wu Tang Clan rappers (initially without permission, but it turns out people like having beer named after them), Ghost Face Killah is a 5% ABV golden wheat that makes no attempt to offset the scorching concoction of Serrano, Habanero, Jalapeno, Anaheim, Fresno, and dried and smoked Ghost Peppers. Heat is really the name of the game here, so the weaker of heart, or esophagus, may want to venture just a sip or two for posterity, and then use the rest as a pre-infused marinade.
Crime and Punishment
Also never one to go easy on their fans, Stone Brewing Company pulls no punches with their recent release of the aptly named duo Crime and Punishment. Stone has dabbled in chili beer before, producing a chipotle-infused version of their Smoked Porter (5.9% ABV). That, however, pales in comparison to these two behemoths. Part of their Quingenti Millitre series, which has historically never been available outside of the Stone brewpub, Stone took two of their already formidable brews, Double Bastard (an imperial version of their infamous Arrogant Bastard ale) and Lukcy Basartd (an intentionally misspelled blend of Arrogant Bastard, Oak-Aged Arrogant Bastard, and Double Bastard) and brewed them with a fiery mélange of sixteen different peppers including, Fatali, Black Naga and Ghost, then aged the spicy brew in American Oak, Kentucky Bourbon barrels. The result: two powerhouse brews that demand an iron will and tendency toward the masochistic. Crime (9.6% ABV) which uses Lukcy Basartd as its base, wastes no time, bringing the heat right on the nose, along with milder fruit notes, before hoppy and wood flavors from the Oaked Arrogant Bastard start to come through on the mid-palate, then it burns all the way down. Punishment (12% ABV) builds off Double Bastard’s bitter profile, with the sweetness of the bourbon-barrel aging really shining against the gradually intensifying heat that starts subtle then rages to a gasping finish. The aroma on Punishment also defies description, but you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it, as the beer demands the same reverence and deliberate sipping as the spirits it was aged with.