Each Wednesday in this column I post my insights about one of the thousands of beers brewed in the great state of Colorado. Feel free to shoot me an email with your suggestions of Colorado beers you’d like me to feature – Lee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org – or leave your ideas in the comments.
Like spicy foods, the popularity of chili beers shows no signs of waning. Chilies have become a commonplace beer ingredient throughout the United States. The likes of Rogue’s Chipotle Ale and Dogfish Head’s Theobroma are readily available in large swathes of the country. Not surprisingly though, it is in the chili pepper spiritual homeland of the Southwest where chili beers remain the most popular and abundant. Many breweries in the region produce a chili beer year round, or at least as a seasonal offering.
While chili beers now come in many shapes and styles, the archetypal Southwestern chili beer is built upon the foundation of a golden lager, a blonde, pale or amber ale. To this, a moderate to fiery addition of fresh chilies or extracted chili oil is added; usually late in the boil or in secondary.
One of the most popular chili beers in Colorado is Billy’s Chilies brewed by Twisted Pine Brewing Company of Boulder. The beer is a 5.0% ABV (alcohol by volume) American Pale Wheat Ale infused with serrano, habenero, jalapeno, Anaheim, and Fresno chili peppers. In terms of spiciness, it’s moderate to strong depending upon your tolerance for capsicum derived heat. The most striking quality of Billy’s Chillies is not its swelling heat, but its aroma; the beer uncannily effervesces the breezy bite of freshly sliced green chilies.
The idea for an even spicier Twisted Pine chili beer was seeded in 2009 during the annual Snowmass Chili Pepper Brew Fest, when certain attendees suggested that Billy’s Chilies could be even hotter.
After some experimentation, Twisted Pine’s brewers emerged triumphant from the brewhouse with a beer that became known as Ghost Face Killah. Like Billy’s Chilies, Ghost Face Killah is a 5.0% American wheat ale brewed with serrano, habenero, jalapeno, Anaheim, and Fresno chili peppers. The spicy differentiator, and I mean spicy, is the addition of Ghost peppers, a native Indian chili pepper better known outside the U.S. as Bhut Jolokia. According to Guinness World Records, Bhut Jolokia is one of the hottest pepper known to man, some 200 times hotter than jalapeno. The pepper also has the dubious notoriety of being so hot that it can be successfully weaponized; it is used to produce pepper spray. In India, Bhut Jolokia is used in cooking and is also smeared on fences to ward-off rogue Elephants. I kid you not.
All this might lead you to believe that Ghost Face Killah is rather unpalatable. In practice though, the beer is layered and quite restrained, especially given the bombast. The aroma is packed with the familiar spicy notes of red chili powder, cayenne pepper, white pepper, fresh jalapeno and fresh cut grass. On the palate the beer emerges as something akin to a hot Indian curry, with potent flavors of cracked black pepper, paprika, black mustard seed and horseradish. Heat builds rapidly from the tip of the tongue to the back of throat. The sensation might initially feel unrelenting, but is never overwhelming.
Ghost Face Killah is a beer aimed squarely at those of us that enjoy spicy food. Southwestern chili beers pair especially well with spicy dishes; the best in my opinion being salsa and hot sauce topped breakfast burritos, tacos filled with whatever you please or a bowl of green or Texas chili.