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How hot is too hot?

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A few weeks ago, our tasting panel capped off a night of blind judging by sampling some of the hottest chili beers around. The experience was intense, and got me wondering about the audience that goes in for scorching hot beers.

The three beers we popped open were Stone’s Crime and Punishment and Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah. All of the judges—and myself—enjoy spicy foods (one of the judges even grows hot chilies in his backyard), but these beers were beyond our threshold. To put it into perspective, here’s what goes into making the beers:

Stone Crime
What: Lucky Bastard brewed with peppers including black nagas, Caribbean red hots, Moruga scorpions and fatalis.

Stone Punishment
What: Double bastard brewed with a similar mix of peppers as Crime.

Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah

What: A wheat ale brewed with Serrano, habanero, jalapeno, Anaheim, Fresno and ghost peppers.

Here’s how some of the peppers used in those beers measure up against the jalapeno (the standard pepper used in most chili beers) on the Scoville Scale:

Ghost Peppers

Jalapeno: 3,500 to 8,000 units
Ghost Peppers: 855,000 to 1,463,700 units
Moruga Scorpions: 2,000,000 to 2,200,000 units

I didn’t feel ashamed when I tapped out after a couple sips. These beers are extremely hot.

When Stone released its limited-edition chili beers last fall, they marketed them as being fit for “pain-seeking individuals (masochists).” In Twisted Pine’s description of its year-round Ghost Face Killah, it mentions that brewers are forced to wear masks when making the beer.

I love a good novelty beer—a one-and-done that becomes a story I can tell down the road. But, I also really love a great chili beer, one that weaves roasted pepper notes and a touch of heat through a sessionable swallow. These beers, primarily the Stone beers, were far from sessionable—they were downright painful. But, maybe that’s the point.

Perhaps these beers are an alternative take on beer as a communal catalyst: That is, instead of giving people a reason to sit down for a few beers and a chat, they bring people together for an event. I get a kick out of handing a friend something spicy, and watching their reaction as the heat settles in and their eyes start to water. For some reason, I occasionally like doing that to myself. But when it’s extremely difficult to finish a bottle of beer (we didn’t), you have to wonder, “How hot is too hot?”

Needless to say, one of the judges on our panel did find a use for the leftover beers. He recapped them and used them as a marinade for beef.

How much heat will you take in your beer?


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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