I’m not much of a chilihead. Sure, I like some jalepeños on my nachos, or a little Cholula in my ramen noodles, but hot wing challenges seem ridiculous and even torturous to me. So why am I sitting at a table with 4 chili beers, including what is generally regarded as the hottest beer on the planet? Because for me, above ALL else, the experience is what I value and Scott has assured me that his hobby of growing and eating hot peppers is both enjoyable and enlightening and can only be enhanced with the addition of beer. Well, if beer will enhance this experience, then chili beers should turn this into a straight up Wu Tang Gravel Pit party!
The scene sets with a plate of hot peppers (orange habanero and red habanero), sliced into thin rings, Twisted Pine Brewing‘s Ghost Face Killah, Clown Shoes’ Chocolate Sombrero, Evil Twin & Prairie Artisan Ales‘ Bible Belt, Prairie Artisan Ales‘ Bomb! and a handy Scoville Units color chart providing the back-story. Tasters in attendance were The BrewSherpette and The BrewSherpette, Scott and Melanie, and Amanda and Nick, with Matt providing expert “spicey” advice. After some amount of discussion, it was decided that we would first drink the beers, starting with the ale and progressing to the stouts (an ill-advised decision to be sure) and finish with eating the orange then red habanero rings. Suffice to say, my heart was racing with the fear of anticipation and my mouth was watering for some primal reason I am very confused about.
Twisted Pine‘s Ghost Face Killah poured a golden brown with a Bhut Jolokia (also known as the ghost pepper) napalm-esque nose. To say that this beer is hot is like calling the atomic bomb a big firecracker — yes it’s true, but it’s such a gross underestimation that it actually describes nothing. The finish is extremely long and — you guessed it– HOT with substantial smoke flavor. Just about the moment I was convinced that this beer was nothing more than a one-hitter-quitter novelty, Scott seredipitously proclaimed, “WOW! This is really nice and not too hot.” Fortunately, the heat on this beer subsides rather quickly and I decided Scott’s proclamation warranted another taste. WOW, do I regret that….
Second at bat: Clown Shoes’ Chocolate Sombrero. This beer pours a deep, dark chocolate color with a warm glow at the bottom of the glass. The nose suggests dark fruits and rich, sweet chocolate – with a faint hint of pepper. With a slightly thin mouthfeel, the taste was predominantly chocolate with very little, if any, pepper notes. With regard to (a) the pepper flavor, the beer was somewhat disappointing and (b) the chocolate flavor, it was somewhat overwhelming. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I would like a little more pepper flavor…..
We now turn our attention to Evil Twin Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales‘ Bible Belt, which poured a murky dark brown with a quickly disappearing leather-colored head. The nose was extremely strong tobacco notes with hints of sweetness and no chili. The taste followed the nose with two questions crossing my mind; first, does this taste like a fine cigar to you? And secondly, where is the pepper?
Next up: Prairie Artisan Ales‘ Bomb!, which also poured a murky dark brown with a head that quickly faded into a dark-brown ring. The nose was sweet with strong coffee and vanilla notes and faint pepper notes. The taste was much, MUCH smoother than the strong coffee nose suggested but again, the pepper was so faint that we couldn’t tell if it was actually there or just imagined. Melanie dubbed this the “winner” of the bunch and most of us were inclined to agree. That being said, this beer was very smooth but lacked the chili burn we were all looking for.
Concluding this tasting were sliced rings of orange and red habanero peppers grown in Scott’s garden and harvested at the peak of their ripeness. The orange pepper immediately scorched my mouth and tongue with over-powering heat. My forehead began to sweat as the back of my tongue went numb from the heat. Intellectually, the fear of not knowing when the burn would stop building was the worst; once I realized that the heat was no longer building in my mouth, I was actually able to function socially again and enjoy the misery of the experience. Nick tried this pepper too,and very shortly he hurtled into an uncontrollable hiccup fit simultaneously attempting to control the pepper burn with various techniques. Matt’s idea to keep moving as a method of mitigating the growing heat seemed both plausible and logical and I quickly followed his lead with some success. Then came the red habanero. It lacked the immediate heat punch of the orange pepper, but continued to build heat in my mouth until my hearing was actually effected — everyone’s voice sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wha wha wha…” My mind raced from incomplete thought to incomplete thought and fear released endorphins into my blood stream to prepare me for that most primal decision — fight or flight. My eyes watered, or maybe I was crying, but even my tears seemed to scorch my face and that’s when I made one of the worst decisions of the night; I instinctively reached up with my capsaicin-laced finger and wiped away the tear, replacing the wetness of the tear with the incineration of the habanero’s capsaicin. As if this needed to get any worse, nature called, and I answered not fully understanding the risks of hot pepper oils on my fingers…I WILL NOT MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN.
I eventually crested the hill (heat stopped building in my mouth) and my hearing returned to normal some 30 minutes later. While it would be an hour or so more before my eyes stopped burning, it was clear I had survived this night’s foray into the Scoville Unit heat chart. The BrewSherpette and I agreed that the night was extremely entertaining and the experience of it all made what was previously intolerable actually enjoyable in many ways. Enlightening? No. A fun and enjoyable experience I will look back on fondly? Absolutely. Am I ready to do it again anytime in the near future? That is the true lesson of this experience; in the right setting, with the right people, the experience is the most important aspect of enjoying a beer and this experience was fantastic. So YES, I am down for a replay.