Written by Jeff Baker for the Burlington Free Press http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2016/09/15/beers-kick-up-notch-peppers/90421408/
A recent trip out to my garden left me a little disappointed with Vermont’s short growing season. This Florida man keeps forgetting that it’s very difficult to coax jalapeños and habanero plants to produce picante peppers before the days shorten and the nights turn cool in this northern climate.
But luckily, there’s another way for me to get my fix of fiery flavors: spicy beers. As the “extreme beer” movement hit its stride a few years back, plenty of brewers have released hot pepper-infused libations. American brewers have tried everything from the tame-but-tasty Anaheim chili to the potentially dangerous ghost pepper.
Some brewers lose sight of the fact that the beer must be drinkable. And I mean that literally. Like, able to be consumed by a human being. But some brewers have hit the nail on the head and have dialed in the spiciness to enjoyable levels.
To be fair, spicy peppers are notoriously inconsistent in terms of heat level. Two jalapeños from the same harvest might have completely different Scoville scores — the scale on which peppers are measured for their heat level based on capsaicin concentrations. This variation makes it difficult to predict how spicy the finished beer will be, so I tip my hat (and wipe my brow) to those brewers who have figured it out.
If you enjoy sweating out your endorphins* as much as I do, look for these beers the next time you hit a bottle shop.
*I’m not a doctor, but yes, I know that’s not really what happens.
Arrogant Brewing “Crime” and “Punishment” (CA) – Brought to you by the folks at Stone Brewing Company, both “Crime” and “Punishment” are special extensions of the “Arrogant Bastard” line of beers. “Crime” is comprised of a blend of Bourbon barrel-aged “Arrogant Bastard,” “Double Bastard” and “Oaked Arrogant Bastard” ales. A heavy dosing of jalapeños, serrano peppers and other “classified” chilies are added, resulting in a robust and very spicy American Strong Ale that is not for the faint of heart. “Punishment” is comprised entirely of Bourbon barrel-aged “Double Bastard Ale” aged with jalapeños, serranos, Fresnos and other chilies. Current releases are less spicy and more dialed in than previous years, but still — proceed with caution! These beers ain’t called “arrogant” for nothin’.
Rogue “Sriracha Hot Stout” (OR) – The only officially licensed beer to feature Huy Fong’s iconic Sriracha hot sauce, Rogue “Sriracha Hot Stout” is one of the most unique spicy beers I’ve seen. The packaging, which mimics Huy Fong’s rooster-festooned red bottle, complete with green cap, gives you an idea of what’s going on with the liquid. Putting this Asian-style chili sauce into a stout might raise an eyebrow at first, but I assure you that the beer is delightful to drink. It’s chocolate-y and roasty up front with a subtle creeping heat that slides in after you swallow each sip. It’s not quite Mexican molé, but fans of molé will be at home here. Wondering what to pair it with? I say bring on the oysters!
Rogue “Chipotle Ale” – This is one of the mildest pepper beers I tried for this column. You may not know this, but Rogue has its own farms which supply the brewery with everything from brewing ingredients like hops and barley, to produce and honey. They have a whole acre devoted to growing jalapeño peppers for the “Chipotle Ale.” (Chipotles are smoked jalapeños.) Estate grown barley and hops go into making a fine amber ale which is then “kicked up a notch,” to borrow a phrase from Emeril, with Rogue Farm’s home-grown smoky/spicy peppers. If you’re fond of making your own chili, toss in a cup or so of this beer to add some extra layers of smokiness.
Ballast Point “Habanero Sculpin” (CA) – Ballast Point has made a slew of variations of its much-loved “Sculpin” IPA: Nitro, Grapefruit, Pineapple and even Habanero. If you’ve ever eaten habaneros, you know what you’re in for here. The palate has a nice bite to it, both from the hoppy bitterness of the base beer and also from the fruity-yet-fiery peppers. The heat makes your throat glow, illuminating the way down to your stomach where a nice burning ember sets up shop to warm you on Vermont’s chilly fall nights. If you’re a fan of the Michelada, try it with this beer. You can leave the Tabasco in the fridge – a dash of fresh lime juice and some tomato juice, or V8, and you’re in business.
Flying Dog “Ancho Lime Paradise Lager” (MD) – Part of Flying Dog’s “Heat Series,” this lager is spiked with lime peel, grains of paradise and Ancho chilis, which are dried Poblano peppers. The label indicates that this beer is a “wild card,” and I’d have to agree. There’s a low level of consistent heat that creeps in as you sip. The lime is deceiving; it refreshes your palate for another sip, which in turn adds to the heat. This beer left me wanting charred fish tacos. It also made me very curious about the next release in the “Heat Series” which features the extraordinarily spicy Carolina Reaper pepper; one of the hottest peppers in the world.
Have a favorite spicy pepper beer? Got a recipe that uses one of the beers I mentioned? Tweet it to me. I’d love to hear from you.
Jeff S. Baker II is the Curator of the Curriculum for Farrell Distributing. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @aPhilosophyOf. Jeff co-hosts the “It’s the Beer Talking” podcast found on iTunes and Soundcloud. More info atwww.burlingtonfreepress.com/news/podcasts