As an adventurous soul, I can’t help myself from indulging my senses when coming across a new flavor, be it found in food or beverage. And I’ll be honest: on more than a few occasions, my ambition has gotten the best of me. In particular, the term “biting off more than you can chew” takes on a whole new meaning when chomping on chile peppers.
Fortunately, the clever folks at breweries around the country have done us all a favor by stretching creativity to the limits and pumping out some seriously wicked chile-fueled beers. The collection of six delicious cold beverages below should save everyone some pain and profuse sweating while still being able to indulge in some of the hotter peppers the world has to offer. (They’ve been ranked from mildest to most extreme according to the Scoville Heat Units [SHUs] of the chiles used, so you can get the milk ready when needed.)
Ancho (1,000-1,500 SHU)
Clown Shoes Mexican Sombrero
The Poblano pepper takes on improved flavor characteristics when it is dried, transforming it into the mild Ancho chile. It’s the perfect addition to round out this decadent Mexican chocolate stout called Mexican Sombrero. The festive blend of flavors is led by heaps of chocolate malt, making way for organic vanilla and cinnamon before closing out with a pleasant smoky-spiciness that lingers for a moment. This is definitely no novelty beer -- the flavor profile is so balanced as it toes the line between sweet and savory and pulls you back for more, sip after sip.
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Jalapeño (2,500-8,000 SHU)
Stone Brewing Crime
The most popular spicy pepper in the States doesn’t get enough love when it comes to beer, often overshadowed by its deliciously smoked cousin, the Chipotle pepper. But Stone tries to rectify that with Crime, a hybrid beer created by sloshing together three reputable brews (Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale, and OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale) in Kentucky bourbon barrels along with a healthy addition of jalapeño peppers. Serrano and a barrage of other chiles join the party for a mischievous red elixir that warns of danger ahead.
The barrel aging doesn’t ruin the trademark hoppiness the Bastard series is known for, though, instead adding a depth that allows the chile, hops, and oaky-vanilla-caramel to all function independently. Spiciness lingers on the throat for masochistic pleasure, and fades slowly into a smooth warmth thanks to the bourbon. Definitely not for those with a tender tongue, this fiery 9.6% ABV gargoyle is a truly fine brew.
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Habanero (100,000-350,000 SHU)
Ballast Point Brewing Co. Habanero Sculpin IPA
Ballast Point’s popular Sculpin IPA takes on a blast of spice from the neighborhood bully chile, the habanero. This petite -- yet powerful -- pepper that originates in the Amazon packs an insanely hot punch, with floral undertones and a wonderful aroma (amid the searing heat, that is). What’s great about this beer (aside from being the most widely distributed on this list) is that before the spice comes creeping up the back of your throat and into your cheeks, you’ll still catch some of that classic Sculpin citrusy-grapefruit hoppiness. The most daring Sculpin yet, this is a very pleasant belly-warmer.
Scotch Bonnet (100,000-400,000 SHU)
Burnside Brewing Sweet Heat
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Burnside Brewing forgoes the obvious combination of an IPA hopped-up with peppers and takes a road less traveled by using a wheat beer as the base for their concoction. The appropriately-named brewery uses Scotch Bonnet chiles, widely popular in Caribbean cooking and known for a slight sweetness and extreme heat. Sweet Heat accentuates the natural sweetness of the wheat beer with the addition of apricots, giving the beer plenty of balance against the flame of the peppers. The spiciness is mild at first, and creeps up mid-palate, followed by a twang of tartness for a crisp and clean finish. Certainly not too hot, and playing to the sweeter characteristic of the Bonnets, the beer is a tactful approach to highlighting the diverse qualities of these fierce li’l buggers.
Fatali (Fatalii) (125,000-325,000 SHU)
Upright Brewing Fatali Four
Another example of a brew delicately crafted with a steady hand, Upright peppers in Fatali chiles (pun intended) to an otherwise funky, citrusy, rustic saison. Then, cask aging brings out an interesting explosion of flavors while the beer still holds somewhat true to style. The African Fatali peppers present fruity notes of citrus -- along with, of course, a blazing heat that attacks the senses differently based on color variety. Each of their natural characteristics pair impeccably with the saison, which results in a delightfully bright and surprisingly crushable brew.
Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) (1,041,427 SHU)
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Twisted Pine Brewing Co. Ghost Face Killah
With roots in East India and Bangladesh, the notorious Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper, is (despite its ridiculous level of face-melting heat) only the 5th hottest chile on the planet. When these peppers aren’t used for bringing extreme heat to cuisine, they are often used in India on fence posts for keeping elephants at bay. So they can scare an elephant, but they’re still safe to eat...right?
Boulder, Colorado's Twisted Pine has gone where very few other brewers dare, combining not only the legendary Ghost Pepper, but also habanero, jalapeño, serrano, Anaheim, and Fresno peppers to summon a brew that nightmares are made of. On the palate, a dry malt backbone attempts to peek through smoky, charred pepper flavor and a continuously building heat.
This legendary beer has drummed up so much noise that rapper Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan actually signed off on the brewery’s use of his name on this capsicum-fueled ride of fire, giving it even more street cred. If you fancy yourself a chile-head -- or simply hate yourself -- this is the beginning of your descent into insanity. The label sums it up best: “The hottest beer this side of hell.”