Chili Beer - Because They Can

by jbx

Subtitle: I’ll see your Jalapeños and I raise you some Habaneros
16 August 2009

A keg of Spank’s Stout chili beer awaits the appropriate free tap at Venti’s Cafe, downtown Salem. The description of the ale that will be posted on the beer leaderboard sign reads:

Ft. George - Spank’s Stout ~30 IBU / 7.5% ABV
Ft. George Brewery, Astoria. Full bodied mellow chocolate stout augmented by Anaheim, Habanero, & Jalapeno peppers; starts chocolaty / finishes warm & spicy.

The description was derived from scant information available
- a paragraph in Angelo De Ieso II’s PublicBrew.com blog
- an email from Jack Harris, co-owner / brewer of the brewery responding to my inquire regarding the beers IBU and ABV.
The IBU value, not provided by the brewer, is estimated as typical of a ‘mellow chocolate stout’.

__Spank’s Stout Name Sake__
Jack Harris reported the beer is named in honor of Chef Spank
- who supplies the Habanero Sauce for Fort George Brewery & Public House’s rock fish tacos
- [whose crew] are very generous and great regulars

__And So Forth__
This exposure to Fort George - Spank’s Stout tweaked my interest and prompted me to search for more information about chili beers in general and Oregon brewed chili beers in particular. Several hours of Google search and analysis of BeerAdvocator.com data yielded the information detailed below.

At the end, I opine about the existence / the occurrence of chili flavored beer.

Four appendices include some outlying information that interested me. If this blog entry reads like a ‘laboratory report’, it is justified. I was a satellite communication systems analyst for 35 year; engineering analysis was my game.

__Oregon Chili Craft Beers__
I found six Chili [flavored] beers brewed by five Oregon craft breweries; in alpha, beta, gamma order:
1. Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City - Hot Blonde Chili Beer
2. Calapooia, Albany - Chili Beer
3. Fort George, Astoria - Spank’s Stout
4. Rogue Ale, Newport - Chipotle Ale
5. Roots Organic, Portland - Chocolate Habanero Stout
6. Roots Organic, Portland- Calypso Ale

Additionally, I found a reference to McMenamins’ Thompson Brewery, Salem, entering ‘Lifesource - Chocolate Chili Porter’ in the McMenamins’ Hillsdale Brewfest competition, 16 Feb 2008, a brewfest ‘featuring twenty original brews, …’; but, this appears to have been one-off occurrence.

Rogue Ale - Chipotle Ale is available in 12 and 22 ounce bottles. I recently purchased a boomer at the most competent ‘Capital Market’ beer depot in Salem. To my knowledge, none of the other five, aforementioned, Oregon-brewed chili beers are bottled.

Google search results suggest all these chili beers, when available from their brewers, are available in kegs [to individuals and retail licensees] and growlers at the brewery.

Google search matches suggest all the chili beer excepting the two RootsO are currently available on tap and in growlers at their brewery; RootsO chili beers appear to be seasonal. In fact, I had a pint of the Calapooia - Chili Beer at the brewery Albany brewpub on Thursday, 13 Aug 2009.

TapLister.com [Portland] search results indicate none of these 6 beers are available among the ‘currently list[ed] 594 beers on tap at 167 bars in Portland

__Barley Brown’s - Hot Blonde Chili Beer__
Described as ‘golden ale brewed with fresh jalapeno peppers’.

Google search reveals Barley Brown’s - Hot Blonde Chili Beer won the Silver Medal in the ‘Chili Beer’ subcategory [17E] of the Flavored Beer category [17] in the National American Brewers Association 2009 Competition. It won the same medal in 2008 and the 2007 gold medal in Herbed/Spiced subcategory [15a].

2007 was the earliest reference found.

__Calapooia - Chili Beer__
On the brewery’s website, Calapooia’s chili beer is described as

Medium-bodied and amber in color; minimally hopped and generously flavored with fresh Anaheim, Serrano, and Jalapeno peppers. A truly unique beer!

The Calapooia Brewing Co. website reports their Chili Beer won awards in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

2007 was the earliest reference found.

__Fort George - Spank’s [Chili] Stout__
In his PublicBrew.com blog, Angelo De Ieso reports

The Spank Stout used 40 pounds of Habanero, Jalapeno and Anaheim peppers and starts as a mellow full bodied slightly chocolaty stout and slowly grows to a spicy finish that leaves the palate warm and wanting more.

Ft. George brewer /co-owner, Jack Harris’ email modifies the ingredient list to 30 pounds total of Pasilla, Anaheim, Jalapeno and Habanero peppers.

Google search results suggests this beer’s initial released was early August 2009.

__Rogue Ale - Chipotle Ale__
On the brewery’s website, Rogue’s Chipotle Ale is described as

Roasted chipotle peppers produce an eye opening chile flavor in this deep golden ale with a malty, smoky aroma and smooth, crisp flavor.

The website also reports their Chipotle Ale won awards in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. 2002 was the earliest reference found.

Not germane, but, during a July 2009 tour of the brewery, the tour guide reported Rogue Ale is distributed to all USofA states and 22 foreign countries, most recent addition - India.

__RootsO - Chocolate Habanero Stout__RootsO - Chocolate Habanero Stout appears to be a seasonal offering; Google search results were found for 2007 and 2008; the earliest reference found was April 2007.

I found the related search result match below entertaining: a blogger told of sampling the beer at a [June] 2007 Organic Beer Fest and commented, in a veiled reference to ‘the king of beers’ marketing:

‘You wouldn’t think this would be the ideal condition to try a chocolate habanero stout, impatiently standing in line in the hot sun. That can’t be anywhere near the ideal condition, so it must be even better than it seemed at the time. Scary. . . . this cocoa-n-chile beer has got to be the Aztec emperor of beers.’

__RootsO - Calypso Ale__
RootsO - Calypso Ale appears to be a seasonal offering. No Google search result earlier than 2008 was found.

In June 2008 John Foyston, TheBeerHere.com blogger and Oregonian beer writer, wrote

‘Calypso Ale … brave and way-successful experiment brewed with apricot and Scotch bonnet peppers’

and then goes on to quote Beervana.com’s Jeff Allworth having written

‘It smells dangerously peppery, but the heat is subdued, and marries beautifully with the sweetness of the apricot. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a tour de force of high-concept brewing.’

__National and International Occurrence of Chili Beer per BeerAdocate.com__
BeerAdocate.com website contains a list of 63 chili beers.

The list is incomplete and should be regarded as a starting point in the quest for / knowledge of Chili Beer; Eg, the site reports only 2 of the 7 Oregon-brewed chili beer I found.

Regardless, the website was mined for information. Using the list of chili beers at BeerAdocate.com, an Excel spreadsheet, and the web I found, the correspondence between chili beer and state/county of origin as follows, in descending order:
- 10 chili beers from California breweries
- 06, from Colorado
- 06, from the Rock Bottom’ branded national breweries
- 05, from Minnesota
- 04, from Missouri
- 02, each from Arizona, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin.
- 01, each from Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia

Foreign sources included:
- 04 chili beers from Canada
- 03, from Australia
- 01, each from Austria and Russia

__Why Chili Beer__
?So, why does a brewer make chili beer?

I have thought about this. I claim no particular insight.

I am a recent convert to craft beer; my interest came directly from embracing the locavore movement in the Spring of 2009 due to having read ~half the works of Michael Pollan on ‘food’..

Prior to reading books and articles and listening to .mp3 interviews, conversations, and presentations by Pollan, I enjoyed Pilsner Urquell, Beck’s, and, in a pinch, Heinekens. But, that was then. To support local industry and diversity, I vote with my beer glass, mug, stein; ie, I now pay half again as much to drink ‘local beer’. And, local beer is craft beer. And local craft beer is diverse; non-homogenous. These are good things.

But, again, ?why brew chili flavored beer?.

The words: ‘innovative’, ‘creative’, ‘novel’, ‘bold’ come to mind. I suppose these brewers are simultaneously seeking to distinguish their product from the ‘madding crowd’ while demonstrating they can pull it off. In the best American tradition, if you see someone deliver a new, novel, and successful product , you may think:
a. I think I can do it better
[I'll see your Jalapeños and I raise you some Habaneros]
b. Hey, I want in on that action.
Further, I posit brewers may brew chili beer because they can; they believe they can create the proportions / mixture of flavors that please some people some of the time and some of the people [most] all of the time.

As above, I have drank Rogue - Chipotle Ale and Calapooia - Chili Beer. I find them interesting and enjoyable. If required to vote a binary choice: ‘this beer is awesome’ or ‘this beer sucks’,
I would cast an ‘awesome’ vote. I would choose a local chili beer every time over bland industrial macro-beers.

I look forward to partaking of a third chili beer, Ft. George - Spank’s Stout, at Venti’s Cafe Basement Bar within the week.

Note: I considered the ‘Hops Scare of 2008′; but, chili beers were contestant in a national beer competition as early as 2001.

regards, jbx

Appendix 01: MacTarnahan’s Lip Stinger Farmhouse Ale
MacTarnahan’s Brewing Co., Portland, do a spicy peppercorn favored ale. But, pepper is not a chili; ‘peppercorn beer’ is not ‘chili beer’.
The brewers description is as follows:

Lip Stinger is an effervescent and rustic farmhouse ale. This limited release ale is fermented with cracked peppercorn to introduce a spicy nose and warming mouth feel that will deliver a flavor sensation that is endlessly interesting.

Angelo De Ieso II’s, Portland, blog BrewPublic reports:

MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company . . . has a magnificent new brew out called Lip Stinger. A Belgian farmhouse-styled brew, it is a light bodied (4.8% ABV) , yet spicy brew with a nice little zing of peppercorn [blend of Malaysian and Indian varieties] as well as Mt. Hood and Saaz hops [32 IBU]. With 2-Row, Pilsen, and Wheat malts, the Lip Stinger is a perfect addition to your late summer quaffing appetite.

Appendix 02: Scoville Hotness Scale
Per Wikip, The Scoville scale measures the hotness or piquancy of a chili pepper, as defined by the amount of capsaicin it contains. Capsaicin is a chemical compound which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes. The number of Scoville heat units [SHU] indicates the amount of capsaicin present.

The following peppers are contained in one or more of the Oregon-brewed chili beer; ranked by descending Scoville heat unit, SHU. For completeness, the beer containing that chili pepper is listed
—pepper —— SHUs —— beer_
Habanero — 300,000+ — Fort George, RootsO Chocolate Habanero Stout
Scotch Bonnet — 200,000 — RootsO Calypso Ale
Chipotle — 75,000 — Rouge Ale
Serrano — 6,000-10,000 — Calapooia
Jalapeño — 5,000-7,000 — Barley Brown, Calapooia, Fort George
Pasilla — 1,000-1,500 — Fort George
Anaheim — 500-3,500 — Calapooia , Fort George

Appendix 03: Historic Reference
Chili beer in commercial quantities seems to pre-date 2001. Dillion [Colorado] Dam Chili Beer won the Gold Medal in the Specialty Beers category in the 2001 North American Beer Awards.

Perhaps, one can link chili beer to a 1940s Mexican cocktail known as ‘Michelada’. ?Is Michelada Chili Beer’s ancestor ? There may be some fragmental DNA matches.

The Wikipedia reports “Michelada is a Mexican cocktail of salas [made with chili and lime and pepper] added to a beer. The drink dates back to the 1940s, when mixing beer with hot sauce or salsa became popular in [The United Mexican States] Mexico.”

There are more than a half-dozen alternate spellings of the name. You can learn more than you want to know about Michelda from the wikip article; click the name.

__Appendix 04: Cave Creek - Chili Beer __
Cave Creek - Chili Beer is an American lager with a chili pepper inserted post brewing. It is not a true chili beer by my definition; regardless, I found advertising copy and the poster, linked below, for Cave Creek - Chili Beer [ initially brewed in Arizona, now brewed in Mexico] particularly entertaining; to wit:

Scattered F-16 parts, and lizards the size of beagles. All baked to a crisp 130 degrees. The Arizona desert. Home to 20 million rattlesnakes, It’s the kind of wide open desolation that makes people think twice before shutting off the car. And a place where a cold beer is pretty damned important. For Crazy Ed Chilleen, of Cave Creek, Arizona, [Population:1328 including coyotes and cattle] beer was much too important to be trusted to outsiders. So, in 1989, he started brewing his own beer. The town was suspicious. And became even more so when an entire brewery arrived in crates at the foot of Black Mountain, along with a German named Arnold. But after the first batch the people began to come around. The beer was good, damn good, So good in fact, the yuppies started driving in from all over to try it.

Something had to be done, So , whenever one of them whined for a ‘wedge of lime’ Ed started putting a hot Serrano chili pepper into the beer instead. Amazingly, about two out of ten actually liked the stuff. Surely, thought Ed, the Eighties had come to close.

Today the Brewery in Cave Creek, Ariz., is closed but Chili Beer Lives on and is being made in Tecate, Mexico and being distributed worldwide.

I have driven across the ‘Great American’ desert [West Texas - New Mexico - Arizona - eastern California; Colorado - Utah - Nevada], literally, dozens of times. As early as 1949 [as a passenger]; as recent as 2008. I relate to ‘ desolation that makes people think twice before shutting off the car’.

And, I like the poster’s reference to Colonel Kilgore of Apocalypse Now.

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