The Next Big Thing in breweries: spiced chilli craft beer

While craft beer heads might measure a brew in IBUs (International Bitterness Units, which are used to approximately quantify the hop bitterness of beer) what about a beer’s SHUs (Scoville Heat Units, a measurement of the heat of chili peppers)?

Beers with heat are hot at the moment as craft brewers experiment with exciting new flavor combinations. Whether they’re made via the addition of hot pepper juice, oils, or whole peppers, ales and lagers brewed with chili peppers are common enough for “Chile Beer” to be a recognized style on BeerAdvocate.com.

Ranging in heat on the palate from subtle to fiery, here are seven eclectic examples of Scoville-scoring, great brews.

Ballast Point | Habanero Sculpin

San Diego’s Ballast Point is the 17th-largest brewery in the US, based on sales, and its flagship IPA Sculpin is a craft staple.

Named after the scorpion-like sculpin fish, the base beer packs a hop bite that’s no

Barreled Souls is another adept brewing team when it comes to unorthodox adjun joke. Ballast Point spices up the standard IPA recipe with habaneros, which lends bright citrus notes to start and then a hot finish for which there’s only one remedy: another big gulp.

Barreled Souls | Teotihuacancts. Teotihuacan is one of its best stout recipes, made with raw cocoa nibs and oven-roasted habaneros.

It clocks in at 12.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). A version that’s aged for more than 11 months in a tequila barrel is particularly excellent, with big chocolate notes, roast-y flavors in the periphery, and a finish that’s both floral and hot.

Bogedal | No. 600

Bogedal is one of the most uniquely rustic breweries in the world. Located on a bucolic Danish farm built circa 1849, the husband-and-wife team operates Scandinavia's only all-gravity brewery. (Old-fashioned, hand-powered hoists and pulleys are used to transfer beer from vat to vessel, eschewing convenient modern electric pumps that have a tendency to break more delicate organic compounds.)

Their No. 600 Anniversary Imperial Stout has it all: cocoa beans from wild trees, licorice, oat flakes, muscovado sugar, and chilis. Decadently chocolate-y, it’s lightly bitter and comfortably spicy.

Sante Adairius | Jose Pimiento

On the lighter side of the spectrum, California’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales takes a stab at crafting spicy beer with its Jose Pimiento—a barrel-aged blonde ale with dried chilis.

Pouring a shiny golden hue with a small white head, it offers aromas of lemon, pineapple, and cellar funk. The flavor showcases the chilis, synthesizing into a drink that’s both sour and spicy, with a dry finish.

Upright | Fatali Four

For Fatali Four, Upright takes its wheat saison, douses it with Brettanomyces yeast, and throws it into a combination of gin and wine casks. As if this weren’t enough, homegrown fatali chili peppers are added during the final weeks of aging.

This results in a terrifically botanical gin bouquet—a dry and lightly acidic palate with an oily spice-forward finish.

Voodoo | Hotting Up

Now, this is a beer with some history. Voodoo generally receives universal acclaim for its barrel-aged brews, but this particular offering was admittedly rather divisive—a love for hot sauce being a prerequisite for fandom. 

The barrels that housed it began life as simple containers for Heaven Hill bourbon. They then stored maple syrup, then Louisiana hot sauce, and finally Hotting Up, an 11.1 percent ABV imperial stout.

After maturing for 18 months in these fourth-use oak barrels, the finished beer is wild: big spicy notes rounded with flavors of chocolate, maple, soy, and vinegar.

Westbrook | Mexican Cake

What began as a beer brewed to celebrate Westbrook of South Carolina’s first year as a brewery is now one of its fan-favorite annual releases.

Dubbed Mexican Cake, it’s a big and chewy stout aged on cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and fresh habanero peppers. Earthy, peppery, pillowy, spicy, sweet: It’s pudding in a glass. For those willing to put in further effort, seek out the barrel-aged variants, which amp up the flavors.

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