Earlier this week, it was announced that Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgo-Brazilian conglomerate that owns Budweiser, Stella Artois, and a great many other beers you hate, is trying to acquire SABMiller, the British and South African concern responsible for all the Miller, Coors, Leinenkugel (it’s true!), and suchlike beer crudding up the warm-watered bottoms of dirty styrofoam coolers worldwide.
Large-scale consolidation is usually bad for consumers, and the last thing we need is some MillerWeiser monolith dominating the world’s supply of broken rice grains and sports sponsorships, but I just can’t make myself give a shit.
For all my professionally derelict indifference, however, I did greet the news with a second’s worth of surprise based on my family beer history. My father was one of the 20th century’s great drinkers of American adjunct lager. He had at least six and often 10 or more cans of Budweiser every day from ages 18 to 30, when he abruptly switched to Miller Lite. Therefore, I was somewhat startled to learn that Anheuser-Busch had bounced back so completely from losing the lucrative Gordon account in 1986.
The only other liquid I can remember my father drinking with any regularity was a bygone grotesquerie called Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer. (A modified version is still contract-brewed in Mexico, I believe, but the original Cave Creek brewery in Arizona is defunct.) I remember trying it and hating it, but my memory is too hazy to offer a formal review. I will just say that I recall it being moderately hot and maximally shitty. My dad’s tolerance for both spicy foods and bad beer far exceeded mine, and I think he got a kick out of the gimmick, which is reason enough for the gimmick to exist. But I have mostly steered clear of hot-peppered beers ever since.
Mostly. Night Shift Brewing in metro Boston makes a nice rye ale with agave nectar and habanero peppers called Viva Habanera, which I’ll order a few times a year. And this year, Ballast Point introduced most of the country to the Habanero Sculpin they’ve been distributing on a smaller scale since at least 2011. I haven’t tried it yet, because I already raved about Grapefruit Sculpin here, and I can only write about so many different iterations of the same beer, plus the Sculpins consistently cost at least a dollar more than similar IPAs. So I haven’t been boycotting Habanero Sculpin by any means, but my own lukewarm history with hot beers has prevented me from dropping $8 on a pint of an unknown quantity.
I like hot peppers, but ordering a spicy item blind is a risky proposition, because if it’s too hot, you’re fucked—particularly with beer, which takes so poorly to a soothing poultice of blue-cheese sauce and celery shards. But I recently got to try a very good jalapeño brew at a beer fest in Connecticut.
In late August, a beer-internet pal of mine in Rhode Island’s western annex organized CT Hops for Hope, a fundraiser for the Smith-Magenis Syndrome Research Foundation. SMS is a developmental disorder that can cause intellectual disabilities and behavioral problems, among other symptoms. I’d never heard of it, but I will gladly support any fundraiser that gives 100 percent of the profits to real research rather than vague “awareness raising.” Plus they had beer.
In addition to all sorts of Connecticut beer I’d heard of but never gotten to try, including the renowned imperial IPAs from Beer’d and a great Pineapple Gose from Relic, there was a Mystery Beer Wheel. Every attendee got two spins, and both times I landed on the “Maryland Beer” spot. I can’t remember my first one—something stoutish, I believe—so let’s discuss the second: Jailbreak Brewing’s Welcome to Scoville Jalapeño IPA, made with fresh peppers and cilantro.
Jalapeños are a tricky pepper, because they straddle the line between just-for-show and legitimately spicy. Half of the jalapeños I buy in Massachusetts are barely hotter than bell peppers, and the other half range all over the middle section of the heat map. It’s a gamble.
I don’t know if there’s much batch-to-batch variation with Welcome to Scoville; I assume there’d be some, as there is with Night Shift’s Viva Habanera, but I can only speak for the one sample I had, which was nicely spiced but not overpowering. It’s a 6.9-percent alcohol-by-volume IPA, and while it’s very hard to gauge the booziness of a pepper beer, the hops were surprisingly assertive. Grassy heat was the predominant flavor, but there was also a strong grain note along with floral, slightly citrusy hops and just a touch of cilantro. Jailbreak’s Welcome to Scoville is a fairly complex, very interesting beer that’s well worth tracking down if you’ve got an open mind about such things.
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Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.