Trio’s cold brew has a hot kick

Biochemistry major Valerie Ebenki, left, assesses chili spiciness with Sarah Smith, a professor and alumna. [Suzanne Carr Rossi ’00]

A former physics major, a biochemistry student, and a chemistry professor are teaming up to brew the world’s spiciest beer. Ray Parrish ’91, co-owner of Maltese Brewing Company, was obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records as a kid, so he decided to look up the world record for spiciest beer. When he found none, he contacted Guinness about establishing one. 

Parrish asked UMW for help and connected with Sarah Smith ’12, UMW visiting assistant professor of chemistry. Smith thought biochemistry student Valerie Ebenki ’22 might be willing to join in the pursuit of record-breaking beer. The UMW-centric trio set out to determine the heat content of Maltese’s Signal One 2.0, a pineapple IPA infused with 500 Carolina Reaper chilies, the world’s hottest pepper. 

Smith and Ebenki are using the Scoville heat index, which calculates chili spiciness, to determine the concentration of heat-making chemicals in the brew. They’re working in the Jepson Science Center labs, Ebenki said, using a ventilator hood and protective wear to guard against the powerful irritants capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin, the chemicals that add spice to peppers. Ebenki doesn’t drink beer, so she’s analyzed, not sampled, the brew. 

Parrish estimates the new 2.0 version of his Signal One is roughly 70 percent hotter than its predecessor, which was never officially tested. Despite the pandemic, this past year has been Maltese’s most successful in its six-year history. Many loyal customers have attempted the Signal One 2.0 challenge – down 10 ounces in 10 minutes – but few have succeeded. 

Regardless of outcome, Parrish planned to toast their efforts at the end of the spring semester. 

– Jill Graziano Laiacona ’04 

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