Brewer’s Per­spec­tive: Bring­ing the Heat

Spice in beer is noth­ing new, but as farm­ers seek to cre­ate new chile pep­pers to bring to mar­ket, brew­ers are busy try­ing to fig­ure out how to in­cor­po­rate them into lagers and ales. Matt Bro­phy talks about the spicy in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Fly­ing Dog Brew­ery’s

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents - By John Holl

Spice in beer is noth­ing new, but as farm­ers seek to cre­ate new chile pep­pers to bring to mar­ket, brew­ers are busy try­ing to fig­ure out how to in­cor­po­rate them into lagers and ales. Matt Bro­phy talks about the spicy in­spi­ra­tion be­hind Fly­ing Dog Brew­ery’s “The Heat” se­ries.

WHAT SEEMS NEARLY

com­mon­place to­day—adding hot pep­per spice into beer—started at the be­gin­ning of the mod­ern craft-beer move­ment. In the 1970s at his New Al­bion Brew­ing Co. in Sonoma, Cal­i­for­nia, Jack Mcauliffe largely made three styles of beer: a porter, a stout, and a pale ale. Oc­ca­sion­ally he’d get cre­ative and drop whole hot pep­pers into bot­tles and mark the la­bels with a draw­ing of the pep­pers to sig­nify the spici­ness within.

Now, any­one who has ever brewed with fruits and veg­eta­bles will cau­tion you against this method, but in the early days, it was rev­o­lu­tion­ary. To­day, it’s safe to say that most of the coun­try’s 5,000 plus brew­eries have ex­per­i­mented with hot pep­per in one way or an­other. Pil­sners with jalapeños, IPAS with ha­banero, and every­thing in-be­tween. The an­nual Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val even has a Chili Beer cat­e­gory, which in 2016 had 112 en­tries.

There’s a cor­re­la­tion be­tween chile pep­pers and beer. Both have de­voted fans and mak­ers who seek out new va­ri­eties and try to cre­ate new things from es­tab­lished styles. On the pep­per side, there are farm­ers and sci­en­tists blaz­ing to­ward mak­ing the hottest chile pep­pers in a race to beat the pre­vi­ous heat. On the beer side, brew­ers are look­ing to in­cor­po­rate th­ese fla­vors but have come to re­al­ize that sub­tlety leads to the sub­lime.

Some forty years af­ter Mcauliffe stuffed a pep­per into a 12-ounce bot­tle, capped it, and sent it off the mar­ket, Matt Bro­phy sat down with Ben Clark at the Fly­ing Dog Brew­ery in Frederick, Mary­land, to talk about some new beer ideas.

“I have this thing,” Bro­phy, the brew­ery COO says. “I make a black bean soup or chili once a week, usu­ally Sun­day, and eat it dur­ing the week. I’m al­ways in­cor­po­rat­ing pep­pers, and beer. It’s a slow cooker thing. Amp it up with a ha­banero or get chipo­tle for smoke.”

So he brought up the con­cept with Clark, the brew­mas­ter, to cre­ate a di­verse group of chile beers. Both be­ing guys with a culi­nary bent, the ideas started flow­ing.

To get a chile beer right means ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and be­ing de­lib­er­ate.

“I knew a brewer who ba­si­cally when he had a batch that didn’t come out quite right, he’d throw pep­per into it,” re­calls Bro­phy. “Spicy, to me, is a broad term that has a lot un­der its um­brella. It’s hard to get the pro­por­tions right.” So that means time in the pi­lot brew­ery and lab. With the dif­fer­ent beers the brew­ery has made in its “The Heat” se­ries—there’ve been nine so far—they use dried pep­per pow­der at dif­fer­ent lev­els and let it sit for a few days.

When both the beer and the pep­per are do­ing what the brew­ers want, the recipe is scaled up to the 20-gal­lon sys­tem, with more tests per­formed, then up to the 15-bar­rel sys­tem and fi­nally to the 50bar­rel brew­house. Dur­ing the whole process, brew­ers are watch­ing and see­ing what they should do to keep the dosage just right to make sure the heat level is nei­ther too much nor too lit­tle.

There are so many vari­ables, says Bro­phy, be­cause they are work­ing with an agri­cul­tural prod­uct. This is one rea­son that pow­der, as op­posed to a puree or the whole pep­per, is usu­ally prefer­able.

It’s also why beers are tested in a pi­lot bot­tling run and a shelf sta­bil­ity trial in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions over the course of sev­eral weeks and months to make sure the fi­nal beer goes to mar­ket in a good con­di­tion. With­out th­ese, an ex­per­i­men­tal beer could have an un­happy end-user ex­pe­ri­ence.

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