I’ve been labeled a hot head in my day. No, not for having an incendiary temper. Sure, I get angry, but when you’re slight in stature like me you learn real quick that it’s in your best interest not to get loud and pick fights. The heat I’m all about comes in the form of capsaicin, the compound that gives chile peppers their fiery spice. Like a heat-seeking moth to a flame, I’ve tried many a pepper beer in my day. Early on, they all sucked. Mostly watery lagers that couldn’t stand up to the jalapeños and tabasco peppers they were infused with, they were unbalanced and largely tasteless save for undesirable vegetal notes. But thanks to one very talented local brewer, I finally got the fiery fix I sought beginning in 2010.
Like me, Colby Chandler, the vice president in charge of specialty brewing for Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, appreciates both the heat and fun flavors chilies bring to both food and drink. After years of experimentation, he has become quite possibly the world’s foremost expert on pepper-infused beers, having created one-off versions of popular Ballast Point beers like Wahoo White, Calico Amber, and Black Marlin Porter. These numbers sport spice and other special taste sensations courtesy of everything from chipotles, Serranos, Thai chilies, and more. I’ve enjoyed them all, but my favorite of the bunch is Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin IPA.
Perhaps the most well-known San Diego IPA these days, Sculpin is appreciated for its tropical fruit character and substantial but not overdone bitterness. It’s highly drinkable; the type of beer you keep going back to sip until realizing you’ve consumed an entire pint in roughly five minutes. Even though the habanero-tinged version is as hot as one would expect from the 100,000 to 350,000 units of Scoville scale heat those tiny, fruity peppers put out, it remains highly quaffable. In fact, the heat makes one instinctively crave another sip, making for one of the strangest sensory reactions in the history of beer.
When Ballast Point started packaging this beer in six-packs, I could hardly believe it. Only those who crave serious heat will want it, making it pretty risky to go in such a mainstream direction. These sixers are in major grocery stores. I appreciate this local brewing company having the faith in the quality of their product to offer it in such a big way to such a niche customer base. That’s to be commended, as is Chandler’s ability to elevate what, for so long, was considered one of the most ill-conceived ideas in the history of brewing.