Beer Man

You Have Every Right to Doubt This Nashville Hot Chicken Beer (But Try it First)

Drink your Nashville Hot Chicken at Spice Trade Brewing.
Drink your Nashville Hot Chicken at Spice Trade Brewing. Spice Trade Brewing
Jeff Tyler anticipates a fair bit of skepticism when he releases his latest beer this weekend. And rightfully so, "Because anyone who brews a beer that tastes like Nashville hot chicken should” face some, um, burning questions, says the owner of Spice Trade Brewing in Greenwood Village.

But Tyler, brewer Andrew Moore and their collaborative partners at Counter Culture Brewery + Grille didn’t enter into the process lightly. Nor did they do it for the headlines (aside from the one above).

“We didn’t want to just slap the words ‘Nashville hot chicken’ on the beer and on the label just for the sake of doing it,” Tyler explains. “As a brewer, it’s a fun challenge to make something that is both savory and drinkable. We don’t want it to taste like you’re drinking a cup of chicken noodle soup. We want each of the flavors to come out and be recognizable to people."

So for starters, there were no actual chickens used to make the Nashville hot chicken ale.

Instead, the brewers checked in with the respective head chefs at each of their restaurants for their advice and ended up with chicken demi glace, a concentrated form of chicken broth.

click to enlarge Counter Culture Brewery is no stranger to fried chicken. - COUNTER CULTURE BREWERY + GRILLE
Counter Culture Brewery is no stranger to fried chicken.
Counter Culture Brewery + Grille
From there, they built the “sandwich,” picking some biscuity malts for the “bread” and red malt to give the beer the same “angry mahogany color” the real hot chicken has, Tyler says.

Then they came up with a spice blend consisting of mustard seed, celery seed, paprika, black pepper, white pepper and Korean gochugaru pepper. They omitted a few traditional Nashville hot chicken spices, like cayenne, garlic, cumin and dill, however, so as not to “muddle the flavors," Tyler adds.

“It’s easy to just throw stuff into a tank, but it’s hard to get the balance just great. We made a few test batches, like chefs making a stock — adding a little more of this or a little less of that. … To do it right is a lot of work,” Tyler adds.

From there, they turned up the heat level — although Tyler says it is an “approachable heat” — with toasted guajillo and arbol peppers, more gochugaru and some red pepper flakes. (The brewery is very familiar with chile pepper beers: one of its flagships is a jalapeño pilsner, and last year for Cinco de Mayo, it made four different pepper beers that you could taste side by side.)

The goal was to mimic the “dangerously slow-burning” fire that the sandwiches have — and Tyler points out that he has tried just about every joint in Denver that specializes in the fiery cuisine, from Chicken Rebel and the now-closed Budlong to Dave’s Hot Chicken, Lou’s Hot & Naked, Birdcall and Music City Hot Chicken inside TRVE Brewing (the pain of TRVE’s black-metal music pairs well with the pain of the Nashville spice, Tyler points out.)

Finally, they used Sorachi Ace hops, which are known for their dill and lemon notes.
click to enlarge Spice Trade made four different pepper beers last year. - SPICE TRADE BREWING
Spice Trade made four different pepper beers last year.
Spice Trade Brewing
“You can drink a pint of this without getting blown out of the water. It’s heat that you can handle,” Tyler says. “And it came out really well, better than we could have expected. Hopefully, people are excited and willing to give it a try. … Those are the ones we are making it for.

"Running a brewpub that serves its own food, like Spice Trade and Counter Culture, is a lot different than operating a taproom brewery that only focuses on beer," he continues. For starters, “brewpubs don’t usually get a lot of overall appreciation in the greater beer market. But beer is food, and when it comes to spices and other ingredients, the combinations are endless” — and the kitchen pantry is close at hand.

“Beer should be fun,” he says. “We know there will be,,,different reactions [to it]. But we’re trying to change perceptions on what beer can be and what it should be.”

Both Spice Trade and Counter Culture will be running chicken sandwich specials this weekend to celebrate the beer, which will be tapped at Collaboration Fest on Saturday, April 2, at the Fillmore Auditorium, and at both breweries, where Tyler recommends pairing it with Spice Trade’s pimento cheese dish. The beer will also be canned for an extremely limited distribution to a few local liquor stores.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes