Pepper beers are often the overlooked extreme beers. They gained very brief popularity a few years ago but quickly faded, now eclipsed by the wild-yeast and barrel-aging style modifications.
This is truly a shame, as so much is left unexperimented with in the vast permutations of chiles and brewing. This is why Peticolas Brewing’s newest beer caught my attention immediately, dubbed The Ghost of Alfred Brown (most often ordered as simply “Ghost”) and brewed with the legendary and exceptionally hot ghost chile.
The Indian pepper bhut jolokia, known in the West as the ghost chile, was awarded the hottest pepper in the world in 2007 (it has since been overtaken) with a listed 1 million Scoville units. Previous brewing attempts such as Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah have been miserable beers, sacrificing flavor for a blistering heat that renders it undrinkable. Other beers like Ballast Point’s Habanero Sculpin have been more successful at marrying the pepper with the brew, and some like Left Hand’s Fade to Black (Vol. 3) or Stone’s Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers are simply blissful for the cross of chilehead × beernerd.
The Ghost of Alfred Brown is based on Peticolas’ year-round Alfred Brown English brown ale (5.5% ABV) with a special batch infused with ghost chiles. From what I gathered, the concept was somewhat contentious internally as Michael Peticolas tends to be very conservative and risk-averse with his brewing, but I am happy he stretched a little with this rare experiment. And with the backstory of his great-great-grandfather, Alfred Brown Peticolas (1838-1915), The Ghost makes a great Halloween seasonal.
The beer itself is enticing. Not much chile is evident on the nose but the thick, off-white head is maintained on top of the dark brown body, something often diminished with the oils present in peppers. The infusion of ghost chile does not substantially change the flavor of the base beer — moderate roast, mildly sweet malt, some dry chocolate flavors — but its presence is obvious from the first sip. You get a gentle sting on the palate, never enough to overwhelm but just enough to keep your attention and compliment the malty notes of the beer.
Heat will build as you progress through The Ghost but it is never harsh or acidic, and it remains pleasant through the end of a glass, even two glasses. The Peticolas Subtle Touch (PST) is very apparent in this brew, as is characteristic of his beers, and its success may be rooted in the very choice of base beer for this experiment. Such a pleasing result might not work using Velvet Hammer (9% ABV) or Wintervention (10% ABV), as alcohol as a solvent could extract more capsaicin from the chiles and render those combinations far too hot.
A great beer from a brewery that seldom experiments. It would make a great sipper in cold weather but this batch won’t last that long, and hopefully A.B.’s Ghost will haunt us again next year.
Availability: A very limited quantity, debuting this week at LUCK, Lone Star Taps & Caps and probably a select few more before it runs out. Peticolas does not yet package any of their beers.