Chile My Soul: Homebrewing with Peppers

BYOB by | Apr 2017 | Issue #123
Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

If the IPA trend has taught me anything, it’s that there are a lot of brewers into pain. Hence the IBU Wars, which have scoured many a tongue into sandpaper-smooth oblivion. But there’s also a crazy minority who are after the scorching hellfire of the chile pepper. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be all burn.

The secret of the fruits of the Capsicum family is just that—they’re berries. Sure, they may be loaded down with a searing chemical warfare agent, capsaicin, but they carry fruity tones that can be coaxed out, too.

I prefer to incorporate peppers into a beer via one of three ways. Two produce heat, while one focuses almost entirely on flavor. All are post fermentation methods to preserve aromatics.

The first is easy—dry pepper your beer. A favorite brewpub of mine fills a 5-gallon keg with a handful of habaneros and its Pilsner. The beer gets more intensely spicy as the days pass and makes one hell of a bloody mary. Dry pepper for a few days for best results and serve fast. (Also, replace your keg gaskets afterward!) The second heat intensifying method is to make a tincture. Soak your peppers in 4 ounces of vodka for a week and stand back.

If you want flavor, not burn, make a tea. Steep peppers in 8 to 12 ounces of hot water. Bloom for a few hours. Remove the peppers and boil to sanitize. This method works best with dried chiles like ancho, chipotle, or New Mexico. I focus my additions here and use a little fresh tincture to goose the heat level to “zingy.”

Chile My Soul Rye Brown Ale
For 5.5 gallons at 1.055 OG | 22 IBU | 19.2 SRM | 5.5% ABV

10 lbs Maris Otter
1 lbs Crystal 60L
1 lbs flaked rye
0.75 lbs pale chocolate malt
0.5 lbs Biscuit

Single infusion with a rest at 154°F for 60 minutes.

0.5 oz Magnum | 14% AA | 60 minutes

Wyeast 1272 American Ale II or Wyeast 1450 Denny’s Favorite 50

Add at packaging and adjust to taste:
1 oz red chile flake tincture (2 tbsp soaked in 4 oz vodka for 5 days)
4 oz ancho chile tea (3–4 anchos, sliced and steeped in just-off-the boil water, strained and boiled for sanitation)