Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chile Beers: From the Very Mild to the "Oh Crap"

A few weeks back the tasting crew got together to check out the world of chile beers - those brewed with the peppers, not the country of origin.  Chile beers have become much more prevalent over the past couple of years and are even turning up in Montana's tap houses.  Bowser Brewing in Great Falls and Missoula's Draught Works both brewed jalapeno hefeweizens recently. Tamarack Brewing Co. in Lakeside brewed a chocolate chile stout for Cinco de Mayo. 

Chile beers are not yet a style unto themselves according to the 2012 Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines.  That's a little surprising considering pumpkin, fruit, chocolate, and coffee beers have all been deemed worthy of "'style" coronation. Given chilies are showing up in everything from hefeweizens to imperial stouts, one might think defining a style category would prove difficult.  I tend to think that's true, but look at chocolate.  It definitely isn't reserved for the stouts and porters of old.

For our purposes, a chile beer was anything brewed with chile peppers.  Hmm . . . . . . deep.  Here's what made our list in the order we opened them:
  • Theobroma, Dogfish Head Brewery (Delaware)
  • Cocoa-Mole, New Belgium Brewing Co.  (Colorado)
  • Chocolate Sombrero, Clown Shoes Beer  (Massachusetts)
  • Mexican Cake, Westbrook Brewing Co. (South Carolina)
  • Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, Cigar City Brewing Co. (Florida)
  • Ghost Face Killah, Twisted Pine Brewing Co.  (Colorado)
Unlike past tastings, there was no clear leader in this crowd with quite varying tastes among the group.  Theobroma was my favorite with only a very mild chile flavor to go along with chocolate, floral spice, honey, grain . . . . there is a lot going on with this beer and it isn't easy to pin down. Its complexity and 9% abv never get heavy and the gold-amber color is an interesting surprise as well.

Certainly the craziest taste experience of the tasting was Ghost Face Killah.  We'd been warned to save this one for last and that turned out to be essential advice. It's brewed with anaheim, fresno, jalapeno, serrano, habanero and Bhut Jolokia (the ghost pepper). Ghost peppers are the hottest in the world, having 200 times the heat of a jalapeno.  Twisted Pine Brewery doesn't stop with adding them to the boil. They "dry hop" with them, too.  One whiff and you know you're in trouble. The low abv (5%) won't save you on this one.  After the first sip, you're tasting nothing else but high heat coming from the innocent looking golden brew.

It occurred to me later we could have added Black Butte XXIII to the list as last year's Deschutes specialty has pasilla negro chilies.  Still, the taste buds get pretty tired after just five chile beers and are totally obliterated after Ghost Face Killah.  There's always next time.


  1. Hope y'all liked the Westbrook. That's one of the better SC beers that has been produced and it was just a limited run. Enjoy the site and always enjoy visiting Missoula every few months.

  2. Hello! Long time reader, first time commenter. Awesome site. I check in weekly. Just curious how you find these beers. I've never seen Dogfish in Montana. I'm coming to Missoula this weekend and would love to pick a few of these up! Again, awesome site. Keep up the good work!


  3. Welcome Todd! Glad you're enjoying the site. The New Belgium was the only one picked up locally. I grabbed the Theobroma on a trip over to Spokane. Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and Spokane all have a much bigger selection than Montana bottle shops and are worth the occasional trip over. Several members of our Missoula crowd are also very adept at trading with people from around the Country, so that's where some of the others came from.

    In Missoula, Worden's, Good Food Store and Pattee Creek Market are good places to look. But you won't find Dogfish Head. Several years back we got some here and there, but it has been a long while.

  4. BB, I must say the Westbrook did not float my boat, but at least one in our group really enjoyed it. I was also disappointed in Hunahpuh and thought it fell far short of the hype.

    But that's part of the fun of checking all of them out. With wildly differing palates, there are plenty of great beers for all of us out there.