Intrigue Pepper Infusions: An Experiment
Distilling liquor is hard. It's also expensive and, at a homebrew scale, completely illegal. Despite this, new craft distilleries are popping up all over the place. With startup costs an order of magnitude higher than starting a new brewery (conventionally, it costs between $200,000 and $500,000 to open a new micro brewery and upwards of $2,000,000 to open a craft distillery), combine this with substantially longer time to market for a new batch of product (aging liquor is an important step) it is amazing that this new market is growing so quickly.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that rather than bearing the cost of owning and operating a still, craft distillers commonly buy industrially produced spirits and modify it into their own craft spirit. There is, after all, no discernible difference between the ethanol (ethyl-alcohol, aka the stuff that gets you drunk) that is created in a winery, brewery, or distillery and the stuff that is produced at a massive scale for powering cars (yeah, the 10% ethanol they put into gasoline at some stations is the same stuff you get drunk off of each Friday. Fun fact: your car can basically run on Everclear (don't try this, I didn't really fact check)). The process is even the exact same: sugar from corn, grain, potatoes ect. is fermented by yeast and is then distilled into high purity ethanol (95% or so, the max). The ethanol produced this way, whether in an actual distillery or industrially produced and bound for a distillery, is filtered and watered down to the traditional 80 proof to make vodka and/or thrown into a barrel to age to make most dark liquors and/or combined with herbs, fruit and spices to make gin or flavored vodka. Not all liquor can technically be made this way, but most can. Snobs will shirk this simplistic definition, but it's good enough for Intrigue's interest to get piqued. You could say we were Intrigued.
Every now and then people come along and try to make pepper beers, beers infused with spicy chilies like jalepeno, serano, habanero. As a native Texan, I have always had high hopes for this style, but it always fails to impress. It's either too spicy or not spicy enough or not enough of the pepper flavor or too much! The best ones are the ones with nearly indistinguishable amounts of pepper, but those might as well be normal beers. I know there is a good pepper beer out there. My favorites are the ones from Bad Jimmy's in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle and No Label in Katy, Texas. Great beers to be sure, but even those don't live up to the potential that I know this style can reach.
Time for Intrigue Brewing's grand entrance to the world of craft distilling and pepper beers. In the search for that blend of peppers that will yield the perfect pepper beer, and to try our hand at craft distilling (in the industrially produced sense), we have set up an experiment. Twenty-four four-oz. jars of vodka each infused with a different combination and dosage of serano, habanero, jalepeno, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. One month from now, when the vodka has had time to infuse, there will be a tasting and the winning blend will be added to an experimental batch of beer. This is the first step for Intrigue to realize it's inner Texan and brew the perfect spicy pepper beer.
Prepare your tongue.