Brewing with Chilis – When and how Much to Use

Today we discuss brewing with Chilis as part of our brewing with herbs. Yes I know chilis aren’t herbs; but well I like brewing with chilis.

I brewed a beer 4 years ago now. I remember as my daughter was 2 and it was her first beer festival…don’t worry she wasn’t drinking.

It was an outdoor festival with live music and a host of great beer people there. It was held in Shanghai by Boxing Cat Brewery (before ABI bought them out).

I made a chili-chocolate stout that people still talk about (even though I haven’t brewed it since). Literally; the other day an old customer of mine bought it up in a WeChat group.

Chili beers can work. The Chili Chocolate Stout got the best feedback I’ve ever had on beer…it was a festival hit.

Brewing with Chilis – What Chilis to use?

There are wide variety of chilis out there. For the more choice it might be worth visiting a specialty store. For example visit a shop that has a Thai aisle, Vietnamese aisle or Chinese aisle to be able to access more chili varieties.

The heat from chilis comes from a compound called capsaicin. People use the Scoville scale to measure how hot a chili is (how much capsaicin it has in it). It might be worth trying a few different chilis before settling on the right one for you.

Scoville Scale for Chilis
Scoville Scale for Chilis

The Jalapeño pepper has some how gained a reputation for being a hot chili. However, it’s a fairly mild when it you look at the table above.

When it comes to bringing heat in cooking I like a Habanero but we are talking about beer here!

It’s worth going out to buy a few different chili varieties and then taking them home to experiment with. I use fresh chilis myself but; you can use dried chilis too.

Testing Your Chilis

When doing experiments put 3-4 chilis in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them (cover the pan). Make sure you cut the chilis in half lengthways as it is the seeds that give the heat.

Heat up the water and chilis for 7 minutes or so simmering. We are not cooking the chilis but trying to extract the heat into the liquid. Then you can turn off the heat and let it sit for 3 minutes.

You’re left with a good tea that represents how the pepper will taste in your beer. Strain the mixture and then you add this tea (a few teaspoons in a glass) to your beer.

Taste it and write down notes of how you like it. Use a style of beer you are looking to brew later for the experiment and ask yourself:

  • Do you like the flavor?
  • Does it need more heat?
  • Does it marry up with the style of beer you want to brew?

Brewing with Chilis – What Should I Use?

Birds Eye Chili - Brewing with Chilis

When it comes to beer Serrano works well as it is hot and the flavor comes through well. If you want less heat then the ubiquitous Jalapeño works too.

I like the little birds eye chili. They pack a punch and the heat is not immediate in beer but comes through towards the end. It is hot but not too hot. Also they are usually easy to source which is a bonus.

Depending on the chili you want to use; I would use 1 Birds Eye Chili per liter. For Jalapeño I would use 2 per liter as they are less hot but also give out less flavor too.

You use the same method for preparing your chilis for your actual brew as you did for the experiments. I like to add the chilis into the secondary or a little before packaging.

Treat it a little like dry hoping but after cold crashing the beer. You want to minimize the O2 pick-up when adding the chilis. When commercial brewing I used to add the strained “chili tea” into each keg and then fill on top to of the keg.

Try Keeping O2 Pick-Up to a Minimum

When making your “tea” make sure you use the minimum amount of water you can. Heating the water will help sterilize everything and remove a lot of the oxygen from the water.

Strain the mixture after prepping through a metal strainer whilst still hot into a jug or vessels of some kind and then pour the mixture into your beer trying to keep O2 pick up to a minimum.

If you tank is quite large (100L or more); it might be a good idea to rouse the beer with CO2 for a homogenous mix.

Brewing with Chilis – The Wrap Up

There are several commercial beers made with chili such as

  • Habanero SculpinBallast Point Brewing Co
  • Lips of Faith Cocoa Molé AleNew Belgium Brewing Co
  • Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers Stone Brewing Co.
  • Ghost Face KillahTwisted Pine Brewing Co
  • Rogue Sriracha Hot Stout Beer Rogue Ales
Asian Brewing Consultant Pouring Some Beer "Badly" in The Cellar

These are all great brews and are balanced and tasty beers. If you want to try a chili beer for yourself then go ahead. Do some experiments, have fun and share your results below if do…I’d love to hear from you!

Anyway happy brewing and thanks for reading

Cheers

Neil

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at [email protected].
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