When Beer Met Chiles

Jack Pine Vengeance Cream Ale // Photo by Tj Turner

Jack Pine Vengeance Cream Ale // Photo by Tj Turner

Jack Pine Brewery’s Vengeance! Jalapeño Cream Ale is no mere novelty. This beer helped the Baxter, Minnesota-based brewery land Brewery of the Year at Grand View Lodge’s Grand Tasting in 2013 and the People’s Choice Award at the St. Cloud Craft Beer Tour in 2014. A bronze medal in the Chile Beer category at the Great American Beer Festival followed in 2016.

Jack Pine founder Patrick Sundberg describes its appeal: “You get the jalapeño flavor right up front and then the heat creeps in closer to the back of throat and it builds as you drink it, but not to where it’s unbearable. It’s a great festival beer—people feel it three or four beers later. ‘Wow that pepper beer is still hanging around!’”

Sundberg came up with Vengeance! in 2013, the first year of Jack Pine’s operation. A CSA subscription left him with a massive pile of jalapeños he wasn’t sure how to use. “I’m a native of Northern Minnesota and I’m Scandinavian-German and I don’t care for spicy food whatsoever,” he says. “I was looking for an outlet for these peppers, so I took one, chopped it up, threw it in a growler, and I went down our draft list; we only had four beers at that time, so I decided to fill it with our Dead Branch, our cream ale.

“When I cracked it open and gave it a try, the flavors just melded really well,” he recalls. “It’s got just a noticeable heat to it but it’s not too overpowering, and the aroma is just like a fresh-cut jalapeño. […] The Dead Branch Cream Ale is […] made with six-row barley and it does have flaked corn in it, so it’s really a light, easy-drinking, kind of neutral cream ale, so I think that’s one of the reasons it takes the jalapeños so well.”

It takes special TLC to brew Vengeance!, owing in large part to the volatility of the chiles that give it its signature burn. An initial method of making five-gallon tinctures at a time evolved into 100-pound batches of peppers covered with Dead Branch cream ale in a bright tank. Sundberg says that method yielded inconsistent results, thanks in part to the variability of the chiles and the physical relationship between the peppers and the brewing equipment.

“We were having inconsistency in terms of where the racking arm was pulling off of the tank,” says Sundberg. “We had batches where the cans were hot, and the kegs were fairly mild, and then batches that were vice versa. The jalapeños would roll around in the bright tank, and if they dropped down to the racking arm we’d get a fairly potent run. Now to eliminate that as a variable we soak it on the cold side for 24 hours and pump it over into our second bright tank and pull it off the peppers completely.”

Vengeance! can be found at several stores in the metro area including The Vintage in Chanhassen, MGM Wine and Spirits (Eagan), Shorewood Liquor (Excelsior), Edina Liquor (Grandview), and Top Ten Liquors in Blaine and Ramsey.