The first time I ever tasted a chile beer was in Denver at Wynkoop Brewing Company — Patty’s Chile Beer. Smooth and spicy, with a wonderful slow burn that made me want more, sip after sip… After tasting this, I knew I had to brew a chile ale at home.
I wanted that same subtle, mild heat with a nice, slow burn in the finish. I definitely didn’t want a ruthless, barely drinkable ball of fire. I knew I had to be careful, so when formulating the recipe the first time around, I primarily stuck to mild chiles.
I love the subtle heat from poblano chiles, so I like to use fresh poblanos, along with anchos, which are actually dried poblanos. For a 5-gallon batch, I use 20 oz poblanos (about eight chiles) for a bright, green chile flavor and a little heat. The dried anchos have a richer, sweeter chile flavor than their fresh counterpart. I use only 12 g dried anchos (about 2 dried chiles). I give both types of chiles a rough chop, place them in a large grain bag, and put them in for the last 10 minutes of the boil (seeds, stems, and all!).
The first time my husband and I brewed this beer last year, we decided to err on the side of caution and just stick with the poblanos and anchos at first. After fermentation was complete, we tasted it to check for heat. It had a great green chile flavor and a very mild spice, but needed just a touch more of an up-front kick.
For this, I decided to make a chile tea using five dried chiles de arbol. I roughly chopped the chiles, placed them in 1 cup of water, brought it to a boil in the microwave, then let it steep for about 10 minutes. After straining the tea, I added it directly to the secondary.
I was shooting in the dark a bit with the whole chile-de-arbol-tea thing… But thankfully, it worked like a charm! It came out so good that we decided to brew it exactly the same way the second time around this year. The only difference is that this time, we used poblanos grown in our very own garden! We picked them this summer, froze them whole, then defrosted and chopped them before use.
If you’re interested in brewing a chile beer, I would suggest going with the same guess-and-check method I used. Start with mild chiles and work your way up in the secondary. A chile tea is a great way to add heat without the risk of ruining your whole batch, since you can add a little at a time, stir, take a sample, and adjust as necessary.
Another great thing about chile beer is that there are so many varieties of chiles out there — endless experimentation! Plus, you can use homegrown chiles, and judging from the number of people that like to grow their own hops, I imagine this is an appealing idea to many.
Who else has brewed a chile beer? What kind of chiles do you like to use? Have your experiments resulted in a potable beer or something downright dangerous? I’d love to hear all about it!
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