Adding Spicy Peppers To Beer (Jalapeno, Habanero, Chili, and More!)

Many beers are popular because they are smooth and refreshing, but what if you’re looking for more of a bite? Can you add spicy peppers to your brew?

The best chili beers balance the heat of the chilis with the flavor of the beer. Specific pairings work better than others – for example, chipotle peppers pair well with ales. Homebrewers can brew with chile peppers by adding them during the last 15 minutes of the boil, during the primary or secondary fermentation, or directly to the bottle or keg.

Chile beers are a delightful way to combine hot peppers with homebrewed beer. Find out the best way to prepare the peppers, how many peppers to start with, and some great pairings below!

Can you really add peppers to beer?

If you’ve never had a spicy pepper beer, the combination may seem like a strange choice. To some, it sounds like a great way to ruin a perfectly good beer. To others, it is an inventive way to develop the range of flavors in the beer world. 

It is possible to use a variety of peppers in beer brewing. When the peppers are properly paired with the style of beer it is even possible to make some delicious beer that has a little heat.

No matter your stance, spicy pepper beers have a good following in both homebrewing and commercial examples. With over 170 chile beers on BeerAdvocate, there is certainly an audience for these types of beers.

While chile beers have grown in popularity with the surge in craft beers, they have been around for some time. One bad example is Crazy Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer from the early 2000s. Chile beers have been made well before this one, however.

If you’re looking to try this style of beer for yourself, try a Fatali Four from Upright Brewing Company. Another good example of a chile beer is Theobroma from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

What kind of beers can you add peppers to?

Just like you wouldn’t put just any fruit in a cheesecake, some peppers don’t go well with certain beer styles.

The best beers to add peppers to are those that would benefit from the spiciness and flavor that particular pepper would bring. One great pairing is chipotle peppers in an ale like the chipotle ale from Rogue Ales. The peppers add a nice smoky spiciness to the malty ale.

Other good pairings include:

  • Hatch peppers & Blonde ales – A well-balanced blonde ale will allow the hatch chiles to add spice without the heat overpowering the rest of the beer.
  • Serrano peppers & Imperial stouts – The spice from the chiles blend well with the chocolate of the stout.
  • Jalapeno peppers & Pilsners – This pairing is for spice lovers. The jalapeno adds some heat and some vegetal flavors to spruce up a pilsner.
  • Habanero peppers & India Pale Ale – The fruity sweetness of an IPA can provide a nice contrast to the spice and citrus notes of a habanero.

Decide what kind of pepper to use in your beer

If you want to experiment with peppers in your beer the first thing you need to do is pick the kind of pepper. The many different varieties will have different levels of spiciness, flavors, and sweetness. The spiciness of peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

Some of the most popular peppers and their characteristics include:

  • Jalapeño – Jalapeños can be as low as 2,500 SHUs to as high as 8,000 SHUs. They taste almost grassy and very vegetal. They are more bitter than sweet.
  • Habanero – These hot peppers range between 100,000 and 350,000 SHUs. They taste fruity with some citrus notes.
  • Hatch – These peppers can range from 1,000 to 8,000 SHUs or even hotter. They have earthy flavors and are fairly sweet.
  • Serrano – Most serrano peppers are in the 10,000 to 23,000 SHU range. They taste very similar to the jalapeno just with more heat.
  • Ghost Pepper – Also known as Bhut Jolokia, this pepper is famous for its heat which can range between 855,000 and 1,041,427 SHUs. This pepper is also very sweet with its fruity flavors.
  • Carolina Reaper – The hottest pepper out there with 1,641,000 to 2,200,000 SHU, this pepper has a sweet and fruity flavor, but you need to be careful as the heat can quickly overwhelm the beer flavor.

Determine how much pepper you need for your beer

The amount of each pepper you should include is very important.

Too much and the spice overwhelms any other flavor. Too little and you can’t tell you added any. Depending on the SHU of the pepper you’re using, you may need to start with a very small amount of pepper and experiment to find the right amound.

The below quantities are recommendations. Feel free to adjust to taste.

How much jalapeño should you add to beer?

Since jalapeños can be on the lower end of the Scoville Heat Units, you will need to add several to a 5-gallon batch to get a good heat level depending on how you add them.

Adding roughly 10 ounces or 10 peppers will transfer the heat.

How much habanero should you add to beer?

Habaneros are high enough in SHUs that you will mostly want them for heat.

In a 5-gallon batch, you can add ½ of a pepper for a fair heat level. Increase to a full pepper for more heat.

How much hatch should you add to beer?

Hatch chilis are another that is more for flavor than heat depending on the heat of the individual pepper.

Add roughly 10 peppers to a 5-gallon batch for decent heat.

How much serrano should you add to beer?

When brewing a 5-gallon batch with serrano peppers you should add roughly 3 peppers for a good heat level.

How much ghost pepper should you add to beer?

If using a ghost pepper in a 5-gallon batch only use ½ of the pepper.

Less than half should still give you a good level of heat if you want to experiment.

How to add peppers to homebrew beer

While the above are good starting points for quantity, the way you add peppers to your beer will affect the transfer of heat, flavor, and aroma. Additionally, the way you prepare the peppers will change them.

Depending on your goal, you will need to decide at which stage you’ll want to add peppers to your homebrew. The most common ways to add peppers are:

  • During the boil
  • During fermentation
  • When bottling

Preparing the peppers

When you get the pepper, you will want to prep it for addition to your receipe. Use gloves whenever handling peppers, especially the ones with high SHUs. The capsaicin can cause damage to your skin and will not feel pleasant at all.

To prepare a pepper for adding to a homebrew recipe:

  1. Rinse the pepper to remove any dirt or debris.
  2. If you would like the pepper to infuse a smoky quality to the beer, roast the pepper whole.
    1. If you don’t want the smoky flavor, skip this step.
  3. Cut up the pepper. Start by removing the stems then cutting open the pepper. You can reduce the heat by removing the seeds and the white parts, called pith. Either cut the peppers into cubes or strips based on personal choice.
  4. Sanitize the peppers. One method is to soak them in vodka but not long enough to make a tincture (this will be addressed in detail later). Another method involves soaking them in sanitizer such as Starsan.

If you add your peppers to the boil or roast them, you shouldn’t need to sanitize them beforehand.

Making a pepper infusion

Another preparation method is to make a pepper infusion or tincture. This preparation method is meant for the third adding method which is when you add the pepper to the final packaging.

For a pepper infusion, you can soak the whole pepper, but it is best when you cut it open. Once you have removed the seeds, you can lower the heat levels by putting the pepper flesh in a container with enough neutral spirit to cover it. Let soak for at least one week.

Once the infusion is done, you can add the pepper and the spirits to your brew at the desired stage. This method allows you to more accurately control the effects of the pepper on your beer.

Method 1: During the boil

The first method is to add the peppers at some point during the boil.

For the best results, add your peppers during the last 15 minutes of the boil just like you would aroma hops. When the boil is done you can remove the peppers. This method is good for adding heat and some flavor, but not great for adding aroma.

Adding the peppers for the whole boil will still affect the beer, but the effects will be reduced. The heat in particular will go down with a long boil.

You can also combine this method with the next by leaving the peppers in the wort when you transfer to the primary fermenter.

Method 2: During fermentation

The next method is to add the peppers to the wort after you pitch the yeast when it is fermenting. 

To get the most aroma out of your peppers, you can add them to your beer as it ferments. Keep the peppers in the primary or secondary fermenter for at least a week. This method is best for aroma and flavor. It is also good at absorbing heat.

You can add the peppers to either the primary or secondary fermentation, but the secondary allows you to sample as it develops. If the peppers don’t seem to be as effective as you want, you can add more.

Method 3: When bottling or kegging

The last method has you adding the peppers just before packaging.

For this method, you can add your pepper infusion or peppers to the keg or the individual bottles. This method is great for heat and flavor. If adding to a keg, you have the option to add more if the heat and flavor are not strong enough for your liking.

If you add the whole pepper to the packaging, be aware that most peppers have some sugar that might add some more fermentation as it sits.

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