Beer Review: Ballast Point Habenero Sculpin

photo by Kevin Gibson
photo by Kevin Gibson

Two things I love in life are IPAs and habanero peppers; enter Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin.

I’d heard tales about this beer, and I’ve had the award-winning original Sculpin IPA, but have had no luck finding the habanero version until recently on a road trip to Ohio. I bought a lot of beer that day, and of course, part of my bounty was some of this spicy IPA. I could barely wait to pop one open.

When I did, I got what I was expecting and more. Here’s what I mean: I’ve had a lot of pepper beers, including a couple with habaneros, but typically what that means is they have a hint of the pepper, and maybe a touch of spicy heat, but for the most part, brewers keep the beer front and center.

Hey, I get that – not everyone likes to have their face burned off, and not everyone likes the distinctive taste of habanero peppers. But, dammit, what about those of us who do love these things? I need my endorphin rush. Well, that’s where Habanero Sculpin comes in.

What I like best about this beer and pepper pairing is that the brewers knew that, like most IPAs, a habanero has its own citrusy fruit quality – these two are made for each other.

When the beer pours into the glass, you get what you expect from a medium-bodied IPA – a slightly hazy amber beer with about half an inch of tan head. But when I brought the glass to my nose to take in the aroma, at first I was stunned to find that it was almost entirely hops and malts I smelled. I got a sense of the pepper, but little else.

I thought, “Damn, another one that only gives us a hint of the habanero.”

Then I took a drink, and BAM. It all opened up. Once the flavor and heat hit my palate, my nose caught on. It may be the closest I have ever been to nirvana – throw in some bacon, and I may have had a stroke.

Once the habanero flavors roll across the tongue, the heat follows, and it is cumulative with each successive sip. The distinctive flavor I love is unmistakable, and the beer – which is a classic 70 IBU, 7 percent ABV India pale ale – is there to balance it. The body is right where it should be, with a crisp drinkability, at least texturally.

That said, I am fully aware (and so are the Ballast Point geniuses who created this) that this is a beer aimed at a niche audience. My girlfriend wouldn’t even take a drink once she got a whiff of it. Heck, she refused to even make eye contact with it. I get that. But apparently, it sells enough, because this is not a one-off, small batch brew in Ballast Point’s portfolio. It’s available year-around.

But I have to admit that by the time I reached the end of my 12 ounces of blazing glory, I realized this is a one-and-out beer for me. It’s heartburn waiting to happen, and I am pretty immune to that kind of heat. It’s delicious, but be forewarned that it may come with a price. If you can drink more than one of these in a sitting, you’re a champ.

Don’t get me wrong, I have one left, and I’ll buy more. All this means is that they’ll be available in my fridge longer.