When a friend gives you hot peppers, you throw them into a hot kettle.
At our last homebrew club meeting, one of our members showed up with a big pile of habanero peppers from her and her husband’s garden. Lara and I had already planned to make a pepper-infused porter for the upcoming Homebrew for Hunger, so this was a true stroke of good timing.
This is actually our first pepper beer of any kind. I’ve had several good ones (Birdsong’s jalapeno pale ale comes to mind as does Hot Pistol stout from our buddies Glenn and Dave) but hadn’t felt compelled to try one until Lara suggested it recently.
There are a couple ways to prepare hot peppers for brewing: (1) simply open them up so you can seed and slice before adding them to the boil and (2) infuse a neutral spirit with the peppers and add the infused spirit to the fermentor, keg, or bottle.
We opted for the first choice this time. I removed the vast majority of seeds and gave them a rough, ½-inch chop before adding them to the last 5 minutes of the boil. The benefit here is speed and ease because preparing the peppers took very little time. The downside, though, is that you don’t really know just how hot the peppers are. They naturally vary from pepper to pepper, and habaneros range from 150,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale. That means one pepper can be intense but citrusy and pleasant, and another can lay you out for the day.
That’s where the second option is superior. By making an infused liquor, you can control the heat addition to the beer more precisely. You chop the peppers and remove as many seeds as you prefer, then top the peppers with enough vodka to cover them. After a week, you have an infusion that you can taste test at different volumes in a sample of the beer.
Because I chose to chop them and put them directly into the end of the boil, we won’t know until we check gravity and taste toward the end of primary exactly where this porter stands. We have a few more peppers that we can use during secondary if the heat level is too low, and we can only hope the beer isn’t already a capsaicin blowout.
Another thing I’ve read is that hot peppers can infuse bitterness if boiled for too long, so it’s best if they’re added within the last few minutes of the boil, if not simply at flameout and/or in secondary fermentation.
The base beer is our robust chocolate porter, last brewed for our 2013 Oktoberfest party.
Batch: 6.0 gallons
Grains: 12.65 lb.
9.10 lb. Maris Otter
1.20 lb. Caramunich II
0.90 lb. Flaked oats
0.58 lb. Crystal 60
0.58 lb. Chocolate malt
0.29 lb. Roasted barley
2.70 oz. Willamette (5.5% AA)
0.40 oz. Centennial (9.9% AA)
Wyeast 1275 (Thames Valley Ale)
12.5 gallons RO water and Durham well water (50% RO/50% Durham)
7 habanero peppers (5 chopped and seeded, 2 remaining for secondary fermentation)
0.5 lb. Videri cocoa nibs
0.5 lb. 1 Whirlfloc tablet
0.5 tsp. yeast nutrient
0.5 tsp. gypsum
Mash (60 minutes)
Mash Out: 169°F
Fly Sparge: 169°F
Boil (60 minutes)
60: 2.20 oz. Willamette
20: 0.50 lb. cocoa nibs
05: 0.50 oz. Willamette, 0.40 oz. Centennial, 5 habanero peppers
Once we taste the fermented beer, we’ll make a decision about adding the remaining peppers to secondary fermentation. An update will follow in a couple weeks.