Posted by: Scott | February 11, 2010

Beer Basics | The Chili

My last article gave chili beers a bit of a bum rap. Don’t get me wrong; I stand by my review of Original C Cave Creek Chili Beer — the memory of which still gives me the willies — but other examples do exist, and some of them are pretty tasty. Before I name a few (and tell you how they taste), let’s briefly discuss the style itself.

Chili beers are adjunct beers. The brewer usually takes a light-bodied lager or ale and throws in some peppers to impart spicy or smokey flavors. As you saw on Monday, certain chili beers rely on marketing to sell their beers, praising their floating peppers and overblown flavors as if gimmicks make good beer. And, if this video is any indication, the people who made Original C seem to think they invented chili beer. Sounds fishy to me … perhaps because today’s first beer, Dogfish Head’s Theobroma, was supposedly based on molecular beer remnants found on ancient pottery. And Rogue, brewer of my second beer, claims that their recipe was inspired by a Mexican dish from 1575 that combined the namesake peppers with an ale. When did chili beer first scorch a human tongue? The exact date remains a mystery — but I’d bet it wasn’t born in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Despite my scuffle with that beer, I decided to go out on a vine (or a bush? where do peppers grow, anyway?) and try a few more chili beers. But Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods,” doesn’t rely on peppers alone: The recipe includes honey, cocoa, and annatto as well as ancho chilies. The golden ale itself follows a similar pattern, presenting tastes of honey, then chocolate, then subtle smoke and pepper. It’s sweet and bright but still has warmth. With this ambitious brew, Dogfish Head can chalk up another victorious experiment; they’ve once again summoned a unique and delicious beer from the black cauldron of chaos.

Next, the Chipotle Ale from Rogue, a brewery that barely fell short of my top five. This beer is darker and bolder than Theobroma and has a more pronounced profile of smoke and pepper. It can even clear your sinuses if you drink it quickly enough. Rogue’s brazen chili brew has changed my mind: Spicy beer can taste good.

Fantastic ales, both of them. I enjoyed Theobroma a bit more, but they’re too different to compare. I loved each in its own way, and I’d buy either again without hesitation. This experience has provided fresh evidence to support my theory that good beers exist in every style, and anyone who disagrees simply isn’t looking hard enough.

Tuesday: Expect a full report about the 10th Annual Arizona Strong Beer Festival, taking place this Saturday!



  1. yes! beer festivals! i like my chili separate from my beer. call me old-fashioned.

    • Old fashioned? But … the ancient pottery …

      Just kidding 🙂 I understand and respect your dislike for the style. Obviously I hated my first experience with it. But don’t write them off completely. In some cases, like Theobroma, the peppery flavors are really subtle.

      And yeah, I’m super pumped for the beer festival. Should be amazing! I’ll update the OP with a link to the info site, which has a list of the breweries that’ll be attending.

  2. I had Theobroma a month or two ago. I definitely enjoyed it.

    • Nice!

  3. I love the follow up to the Original C with some high-quality chili-beers. It’s nice to know that not all spicy beers are destined for a drain-pour.

    • I know, I’m definitely glad I found some good ones. It’s actually a pretty interesting style.

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