Beer is a fascinating beverage to me not just because it is delicious, but also because of the complex and seemingly endless paths that a brew can travel as it goes from grain to glass. Through this process, beer can embody every one of the five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami). Beer can be aged in barrels, fermented in bottles, have good infections, blended like wine, blended with wine, and has probably been infused with about every fruit, vegetable, herb and spice known to humankind.
A good example of this creativity and range can be seen in a couple of chili pepper beers from Twisted Pine Brewing Co. out of Boulder, Colo., that recently found their way onto Eastern Iowa shelves. Billy’s Chilies and Ghost Face Killah may be from the same brewery and seem to be almost the exact same base beer; light bodied, straw-blond and creamy sweet with a blend of Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeño, Serrano and Habanero peppers, but the one stark difference is the addition of the Bhut Jolokia pepper (aka Ghost Pepper) in the Ghost Face Killah. This pepper is hot.
I pour these two beers side by side and they do look almost exactly the same. A glaring difference is that the foam on the Ghost Face Killah recedes almost immediately in a sizzle of bubbles. A warning if I ever saw one. The foam on the Billy’s Chilies happily lingered on top of the beer; nothing to fear here.
I picked up the Billy’s Chilies first. It had a pleasant pepper aroma with some green chili, a bit of fruitiness, and hints of honey sweetness. The flavor was nice as well. The chili blend showed me that when used in the proper proportions, the fruit flavors of peppers that usually play second fiddle to the heat, can come forward. There was a little bit of smokiness and a little sting on the lips, but it receded quickly and almost made this beer more drinkable and enjoyable. I would drink this beer by itself, and probably even reach for another one.
Not sure if I would say the same about the Ghost Face Killah. While it is a testament to the ingenuity of brewers, this beer is about the heat. It’s not as hot as eating the actual chili, but it is way hotter than the Billy’s. Ghost Face has a peppery smoke on the nose. I really liked the aroma. The flavor is intriguing, but I must say I was done after a few drinks. There was a lingering heat that just kept building with every sip. It stuck to my lips and contradicted the innate notion that when I encounter spicy foods, drinking a cold liquid can help alleviate the pain. I got through half the beer and then found a lamb stew cooking in the house that seemed to be lacking spice. A fine addition if I do say so myself.
In the future, I could definitely see mixing Ghost Face Killah with tomato juice for a Bloody Mary type drink or using it in more cooking. It’s a really unique beer, just not what I am looking for while mowing the lawn.