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Kay Witkiewicz is a brewery assistant for Twisted Pine, avid forklift enthusiast, master of labeling, and dominator of kegs. A graduate from the University of Florida, this German enjoys writing, drinking beer, and, of course, brewing. 

Among all the awesome jobs that go into making our beers at Twisted Pine Brewing Company, there is one that everyone covets.

Nope, it’s not mashing in the grain.

Nope, it’s not tossing hops into the kettle.

And, nope, it’s not sipping samples to ensure our beers are of the finest quality.

It’s the glorious, incomparable, and mostly solitary act of cutting the cornucopia of chili peppers that define the flavor and aroma of Billy’s Chilies and Ghost Face Killah, the latter of which contains one of the hottest peppers on the face of the planet—the ghost pepper. On the surface, it may seem like a delightful little job: surrounded by colorful piles of Fresno, Serrano, Anaheim, Jalapeno, and Habanero chilies, all you have to do is weigh out the correct amounts, cut off the gnarly stems, stuff them through a commercial food processor, and catch the chili confetti in a cleaned and sanitized mesh bag to be added to the base beer later.

You may say, “What’s the big deal? I make salsa at home all the time!” Well, that’s lovely and I’m sure your salsa is superb, but let’s delve into this delightful little job a little deeper.

A typical batch of Billy’s Chilies contains about 50 total pounds of peppers; if we’re making Ghost Face Killah at the same time (a frequent coincidence), that’s another 55 or so pounds, meaning someone is cutting over 100 pounds of peppers in one day. Working with so many witty and funny colleagues, quietude is hard to come by…unless when you’re cutting peppers. The vicious, invisible cloud of chili pepper aromatics tends to permeate the entire brewery and stifle the wit and humor of said colleagues with irrepressible coughs, while uncomfortably creeping into the backs of the throats of our esteemed taproom patrons. Therefore pepper-cutting is an exercise in self-reflection, generally relegated to the cooler or to the loading dock outside, which is as refreshing during the summer as it is frigid now.

So, to sum it up, as pepper-cutter you’re stuck all-alone with over 100 pounds of deceiving vegetables, freezing your fingers and toes off for hours, with only a filter mask to protect your precious lungs. But wait, there is more! Hiding in the depths of the cooler, in an unmarked cardboard box, the devil incarnate is lurking—bhut jolokia, the mighty ghost pepper! The key ingredient in Ghost Face Killah, nothing can stop this hellish invention of nature, let alone a filter mask. Wheezing and whining through the last few pounds of peppers for the day, there is no relief for the pepper-cutter even after half a dozen mesh-bag-lined buckets are filled with a rainbow of chili ribbons because then it’s time to clean up. As the pepper-cutter changes gloves for the 13th time, eyes and lungs still stinging from this prolonged exposure to capsaicin, there is no greater joy on that day than emptying the last bucket of hot water and acid in order to hopefully clock-out soon, and enjoy a delicious, cold beer to ease the pain.

Now, that’s a lot of work and a lot of capsaicin-induced tears and coughing to produce Billy’s Chilies and Ghost Face Killah. However, the real reason why this job is so coveted is because if you’ve never endured this trial by chili-pepper fire, you can’t fully appreciate how much others love our chili beers. Cutting peppers is a rite of passage at Twisted Pine and it is inherently a character-building exercise, but it becomes glorious when a burly stranger randomly bear-hugs you because he loves Billy’s Chilies so much or when someone returns for their eight sample of Ghost Face Killah at a festival, or when someone tells you that we make the best chili beers around.

So, cheers everyone for making this the most coveted job at Twisted Pine!


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