Colorado Brewed: Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

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 hoptopia@gmail.com – 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.

About Lee Williams


Beer writer. Founder of Hoptopia. I write for various beer related publications, websites and festivals. Email - hoptopia@gmail.com

  • http://Www.newbrewthursday.com Matt

    Sounds tasty! ……but……. No mention of Wu-Tang?

  • http://www.nexdot.net Christian Flickinger

    Great article. I cant wait to try a hot craft brew. I grow peppers… lots of peppers – over 60 varieties, each year. While the Bhut Jolokia _IS_ one of the hottest peppers, and it _WAS_ officially recognized by Guinness, it was ousted a few times this year. The _CURRENT_ world record holder is the Trinidad Scorpion (“Butch T” strain). Verification: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-1/hottest-chili/

    The Bhut Jolokia is HOT though, at about ~1.04mm scovilles. The Trinidad Scorpian comes in at around ~1.46mm scovilles!

    We need a Scorpion beer next 🙂 I’ve been infusing the Bhuts and Scorpions into vodka, but would love the complexity of a beer to take on their flavors (and heat).

  • http://www.hoptopia.com Lee Williams

    Matt – Ha! Fair point. I try to keep the focus on the beer and its ingredients if possible.

  • http://www.hoptopia.com Lee Williams

    Christian – Thanks for the info. I have amended the text to reflect that. Cheers!

  • Jakemo

    I like that you put on the caveat that this beer is basically aimed directly at those of us who enjoy spicy foods. I thought this beer to be a solid “medium-hot” on my personal scale, but in the realm of beer, definitely hot.

    I tried several other chili beers at GABF, a lot had great flavor and punch, but none matched the pure chili essence of GFK.

    Obligatory shout-out to Wu-Tang.

    • http://www.hoptopia.com Lee Williams

      Thanks for the comment Jake. Cheers!

  • Scott S

    Lee, do you know if this is still available in stores? Or will be soon? I had it when it first came out earlier this year and have one more left. I loved it, and would love to pick up more.

  • http://www.hoptopia.com Lee Williams

    Scott. I’ve only seen it for sale at the brewery recently.