How to Brew with Chile Peppers

Bring something new to your homebrew by adding in a fresh, and potentially local, ingredient like chile peppers. If you cannot see yourself enjoying chile peppers in your beer, remember, this does not mean that your beer has to be spicy. You may just be interested in bringing that familiar flavor of pepper flesh to your brew. Mango and chile pepper, for example, is a popular flavor combination that does not require serious heat to be delicious. Adding a fresh component to your beer may seem like a gamble, but with these tips you'll be good to go. Using a fresh ingredient can result in infections, bloated bottles, explosions – but only if you get too headstrong and skip out on the instructions bit before you get brewing.

Choosing the right chiles to use

Chiles can vary greatly in flavor and heat. They have flavor and aroma compounds that can mimic nearly every other fruit imaginable. They vary between sweet, sour, bitter, piquant, savory, or a combination of these. When choosing chiles to use, they should either highlight or contrast with the ingredients in the beer. Certain chiles may be chosen for flavor, while others may be chosen for heat. It's usually easier to combine 2 chiles that each have those characteristics (1 for heat, 1 for flavor) than to use a single variety that has both characteristics.

Types of chiles commonly used in beer

Mild chiles: These are mostly used for flavor/aroma and can add some sweetness that pairs well with the heat from hot chiles. Varieties can include bell peppers for their strong "green vegetable" flavor, green chiles (also known as "Hatch" or "New Mexico" chiles) or Anaheims for their more piquant flavor. Medium chiles: While mostly used for flavor/aroma, these can also add a moderate amount of heat. These varieties will include the very piquant jalapeno, its slightly hotter cousin, the serrano, and the slightly milder poblano. Hot chiles: These are mostly used for their heat, but some varieties can also add a bit of flavor/aroma. These varieties will include Tobasco peppers, Cayenne peppers, Chile De Arbol, chiltepin, very hot habaneros, and the super-hot ghost peppers. Dried/Smoked/Roasted chiles: Can be used to add flavor/aroma or heat. These include chiles such as Ancho peppers, which are the ripened and dried version of poblanos, and chipotles, which are the ripened, dried, and smoked versions of the jalapeno. Some mild chiles such as hatch green chiles and Anaheim chiles can be roasted before using to add a sweeter, mildly roasted flavor to your beer.

How to use chiles in beer

Just like hops, there are many ways to incorporate chiles into your beer and different types of chiles may benefit from different techniques or a combination of techniques. To prep them, rinse them well and remove the seeds and stems and chop into small pieces. Be sure to remove the white "ribbing" inside the chiles, too, as this can add unwanted bitterness. In the boil: Boiling the chiles for 5 minutes in your brew water will add plenty of flavor and aroma to your beer. Be sure to transfer the chiles into your fermenter after the boil so they will continue to infuse the beer with flavor/aroma. This method is best for hot chiles to extract the heat into the beer. Using like a "dry-hop": Alternatively, for more chile flavor and aroma, add the chopped-up pieces to a glass container and fill it with enough neutral spirits (Everclear or high proof vodka will work) and let it sit for 1 week to extract the flavor and aroma compounds. Then add the chiles and vodka to your batch 1 week before bottling/kegging. This method is best for mild-medium chiles for flavor since the alcohol can neutralize the capsaicin in hot chiles that give them their heat. In the bottle: Some brewers like to put a chile directly in their beer and as the beer ages, it will gain more flavor and/or heat from the chile. This can be done, but it's always a risk due to sanitation issues. If this is done, be sure the beer is at least 5% ABV for best results. The alcohol in the beer should sanitize the chile, but the risk of infection still exists. The higher the ABV of the beer, the safer it should be.