One of cold weather’s great pleasures is a nice spicy drink. There’s nothing like dunking churros into a mug of spiced Mexican chocolate, or spiking hot cocoa with pinches of cinnamon and cayenne. I’ve always loved peppery-hot alcoholic drinks, too, like jalapeño-infused tequila or cocktails made with a spoonful of Ancho Reyes liqueur.
But nothing hits the spot like a good spicy beer.
This is a controversial take. Between the don’t-put-weird-stuff-in-my-beer purists on one side, the hop-sessives on another side and the fruited sour brigade on a third, it’s lonely out here for beer lovers who want heat with their hops. Mostly, we have to make our own micheladas.
But we also have one of the best beers in Dallas: Peticolas’ Ghost of Alfred Brown, which would be a classic English-style brown ale if it weren’t for the addition of ghost peppers. Ghost chiles are notoriously hot, but this isn’t a beer you drink on a dare. Its heat kicks in as a gentle-to-moderate afterburn only, so that when you’re actually sipping, you can focus on the smooth maltiness and gentle sweetness. Then in slips some spice.
“This beer, to me, has a growing sensation,” says brewery owner Michael Peticolas. “It starts with that first sip. You think, oh, hey, I felt a little tingle. You might even question, was there pepper? Ghost pepper? But then by the time you’re done with that thing you’ve got a little bit of a warmth going on your lips and in your throat.”
Peticolas actually doesn’t like most chile pepper beers; green chiles, especially, can overpower the drink. What he loves about Ghost of Alfred Brown is the way that the drinking experience changes as it goes, from the sweet outset to the spicy finish.
Ghost of Alfred Brown started as a one-off cask twist on a seasonal staple. Chris Martinez, now Peticolas’ head brewer, asked for permission to try adding a few ghost peppers to a cask of “regular” Alfred Brown, a traditional brown ale. His boss was skeptical.
“I’m like, no way, I can’t stand chile peppers in beer,” Peticolas recalls. “And then I thought, if we cask it and it’s no good, we won’t serve the beer. At the very worst we’re going to lose 10 gallons of beer. Why not? We tapped that thing at that anniversary, and I took the first sip and I was like, wow, you know what? Not only is this good, but this is better than Alfred Brown itself.”
The brewery hasn’t made the original Alfred Brown in years, because everyone likes the spicy version better.
The best thing about Ghost of Alfred Brown is that it drinks beautifully alongside a variety of foods. I would know; I’ve purchased 48 cans of it so far this fall and my stash is running low again. The heat pairs well with moderately spicy foods, but the nuttiness of the underlying ale also makes a brilliant pairing with desserts.
This past Sunday, I opened a can of Ghost at lunch alongside some enchiladas verdes which were heavy on serrano heat. Divine. In the evening, I opened another can next to a bowl of homemade okra-and-andouille gumbo. Even better. But the best pairing came last: spicy brown beer and a dark chocolate brownie. Bliss.
Peticolas agrees about the ease of pairing this beer with foods. He recently had a pint of Ghost at Resident Taqueria, drinking it with a mushroom taco and a meat taco (he couldn’t recall which, except that it was gently spicy, like the ale).
There isn’t a lot of local competition in the spicy beer market. Tupps, up in McKinney, has occasionally canned a poblano pale ale which is more smokey and vegetal than it is hot, and which, in my experience, has shown major variation between batches. Austin’s spectacular contribution to the genre, 512 Cascabel Cream Stout, is near-impossible to find up here. And Ghost of Alfred Brown is — fittingly, given its name — mostly sold around Halloween.
Peticolas says that Ghost supplies should last another couple of weeks. But he suggests enjoying this beer in the moment, rather than trying to stash away cans in storage for later in the winter.
“I wouldn’t wait on this beer,” he says. “Frankly I kind of feel this way about almost all beer. Drink it! Spices can fade on you. Fresh beer’s better, man. Fresh beer’s better.”