The Associated Press
CAVE CREEK, Ariz. Ÿ For the barfly who thinks it's macho to gulp down the worm in the tequila bottle, an Arizona brewer has a new challenge: Chili beer.
He's found plenty of takers.
Ed Chilleen's Black Mountain Brewing Co. sold 5,000 cases of Cave Creek Chili Beer when it first hit the market in 1991. Now the fiery brew is sold in all 50 states and eight countries, and sales topped 240,000 cases last year, according to an industry group.
Each clear longneck bottle has a pointed green chili about the size of a man's little finger floating inside, stem and all.
The taste? Like beer and chili pepper.
''It's a tough thing to drink,'' said Teresa Farley, a 26-year-old Tucson resident who picked up a bottle at the grocery store out of curiosity. ''It's so spicy it hurts.''
Either there are a lot of tough drinkers or the novelty of the spicy suds is winning over the weak of tongue.
Demand quickly overwhelmed the capacity of the tiny brewery in this western-theme hamlet in the foothills north of Phoenix. Chilleen signed with a larger brewery in Cold Spring, Minn., to make most of the beer under the Black Mountain name.
The idea for chili beer was born about five years ago in a conversation between Chilleen and a fellow restaurateur.
''He wanted a spicy beer for his Mexican food restaurant,'' Chilleen told a visitor to his family-run microbrewery.
He first thought of spiking the stuff with chili powder, then got a better idea: ''How about we just drop a chili pepper in it and see what happens?''
Chilleen headed for the supermarket to find his key ingredient, settling on a serrano pepper.
''I would have liked to use a jalapeno pepper, but it wouldn't fit,'' he said. The brewery, next to a restaurant Chilleen owns called The Satisfied Frog, had been running about a year. It took almost another year to perfect the process of getting the pepper in the bottle without ruining the beer.
''Any time you add something to beer, you take a chance at contamination,'' said Chilleen's son, Scott, who runs the Arizona operation.
Chili beer helped put the company in the top 20 selling microbreweries nationwide, according to the Institute for Brewing Studies in Boulder, Colo.
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