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Chile pepper beers are heating up at Charlotte festival

By Daniel Hartis
Daniel Hartis
Daniel Hartis is the author of “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City” and the editor of the website CharlotteBeer.com.

With Cupid coming Friday, you might have expected this column to focus on beers that are chock-filled with chocolate. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind, but after attending the third annual Queen City Brewers Festival earlier this month, I opted to swap sugar for spice.

The first beer I sampled at the festival was Highway Chile, a collaborative effort from Charlotte’s own Birdsong Brewing and Four Saints Brewing Company, which plans to open in Asheboro later this year. It was an especially fitting collaboration, since both breweries feature a chile beer (sometimes called a pepper beer) in their lineups. For Birdsong, it’s the Jalapeño Pale Ale, which has become a fan favorite here in the Queen City; for Four Saints, it’s the St. Augustine Jalapeño Rauchbier, a wonderful marriage of smoke and spice that will be one of that brewery’s fall seasonals.

Highway Chile, then, was something of a mashup between the two that came in with more heat than both of the beers that inspired it. It was brewed with smoked malt and smoked jalapeños, resulting in a malty amber ale with the kick of chipotle.

Birdsong also poured its MexiCali Stout, brewed with coffee from Central Coffee Company as well as cacao and cinnamon from Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte’s South End.

That shop’s owner, Scott MacCabe, said many of Charlotte’s brewers buy their spices at Savory Spice Shop. Triple C Brewing’s Cajun Stout, which was also available at the festival, is brewed with the shop’s cayenne powder and aged with Fresno peppers after fermentation. Here, too, smoked malt plays a complementary role.

Cornelius’ Ass Clown Brewing brought a bevy of beers to the festival, including its Jalapeño Simcoe IPA, which brought more heat than most of its peppery peers. Other exhibitors got in on the chile beer action, too. Rob Johnson from Bulldog Beer and Wine poured Uinta Brewing’s Hop Notch IPA infused with baked habanero peppers, a beer he refers to as “Habanero Hop Notcho.”

Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse poured a New Belgium and Cigar City collaboration that was brewed with Anaheim and marash peppers. Like Rob Johnson, they weren’t content to leave well enough alone and infused this beer with strawberries and serrano peppers.

If the Queen City Brewers Festival was any indication, chile beers are becoming more and more popular. And with some of the coldest weather of the season upon us, who couldn’t stand a little extra heat?

Daniel Hartis is the author of “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City” and the editor of the website www.charlottebeer.com. Email: cltbeer@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter, @charlottebeer.
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