You may have noticed a variety of beers made with peppers and spices on store shelves. The progenitor of this trend (way back in the day) was the Cave Creek Chili Beer which was a light American lager with a pepper floating in it.
You could argue that the recent trend kickstarted years back when Ballast Point put Habanero in their Sculpin IPA, but I remember that in the early days, Eagle Rock Brewery concocted a Sriracha beer before I had even heard of the regular Sculpin. This spice trend is not limited to us in California. It has reached all the way to Peru where the Maddok Brewery produces a Capsicum IPA.
Learn about some other spicy beers appropriate for Cinco de Mayo (all brewed here in California, most in limited release):
- Green Flash Serrano Chili Double Stout
- Lagunitas Gnarly Spicy Chocolate Imperial Stout
- Telegraph Brewing Porter w/ Chocolate and Ancho Chiles
- Anderson Valley Brewing Porter with Chocolate and Ancho Chiles
- Angel City Brewery Srirachelada
The most popular base beer for the peppers are generally porters and stouts. This is especially true for those breweries heading towards a more mole flavor profile. Ska Brewing from Colorado cans an Autumnal Mole that aims for a more savory flavor profile. Another tack is to blend sweet in. Burnside Brewing from Portland, combines apricots and peppers to create a balanced beer that still tickles with heat, hence the name Sweet Heat. Fort Collins Brewery recently released Mexican Chocolate Cake stout, a limited batch beer with chocolate (25 gallons) of pure liquid cacao from Cholaca, a Boulder-based company. The chocolate infused brew then rests on Serrano, Pasilla and Poblano peppers for a spicy kick.
If you want to blow your palate to kingdom come you could try the aptly name Crime & Punishment. Two beers from Stone Brewing will have you daintily sipping ½ ounce at a time. Personally, Stone Chipotle Porter is the better choice. Still bold but way more drinkable.
The key is balance. Too much of any one flavor can tilt the balance of a beer into awkward positions. The best spice beers let you know that heat is coming your way but don’t make you sweat uncomfortably and rue taking a sip. Last night, I got to taste the new collaboration between Karl Strauss and Baja Brewing, Dos Californianos, which melded agave nectar with jalapeño on top of an amber pilsner which accomplished just that balance where the spice is in addition not an overriding force.
For those people who can’t stand heat, the Beer of the Week will be a welcome and “interesting” respite. From Ex Novo Brewing of Portland, Oregon, comes 16-ounce cans of “The Most Interesting Lager in the World.” This Not-for-Profit brewer makes a really smooth lager that is, to my taste, part blonde and part Vienna Lager. Less crisp and bubbly than a normal lager, but quite soothing after all the pepper beers.
Your Homework is to plan for next year’s Cinco de Mayo by checking out the beer pairing rules in Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley. Herz and Conley guide you through the beginning with aroma and taste and take you all the way to what they call “wild palate trips.” You will learn how to pair beer styles with food as well as “planning beer dinners and cooking with beer, geek-out science features and tips from industry pros.”
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.