May 21, 2022

Mary Washington Trio Brews Guinness World Record Opportunity

 When Mary Washington alum Ray Parrish ’91, now co-owner of Fredericksburg’s Maltese Brewing Company, decided to set the Guinness World Record for the spiciest beer, he turned to his alma mater for help. Now UMW Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah Smith ’12 and junior biochemistry major Valerie Ebenki are trying to determine the heat content of Maltese’s Signal One 2.0 beer, a pineapple IPA infused with 500 Carolina Reaper chilies, the world’s hottest pepper. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.


When Mary Washington alum Ray Parrish ’91, now co-owner of Fredericksburg’s Maltese Brewing Company, decided to set the Guinness World Record for the spiciest beer, he turned to his alma mater for help. Now UMW Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sarah Smith ’12 and junior biochemistry major Valerie Ebenki are trying to determine the heat content of Maltese’s Signal One 2.0 beer, a pineapple IPA infused with 500 Carolina Reaper chilies, the world’s hottest pepper. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

As children, Ray Parrish ’91 and his brother were obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records, devouring the new, hardbound volume they unwrapped each Christmas morning. It was a lifelong dream, Parrish said, to see their own names among the recordholders.

Fast-forward to last Christmas, when Parrish, now co-owner of the firefighter-founded Maltese Brewing Company in Fredericksburg, decided to look up the world record for spiciest beer. When he found none, he contacted Guinness – started in the early 1950s by Guinness Breweries ­– about establishing one.

That set off a chain reaction with Parrish, a former physics major at Mary Washington, reaching out to his alma mater, where he connected with another alum, Sarah Smith ’12. Now a visiting professor in the recently merged Department of Chemistry and Physics, Smith looped in junior biochemistry major Valerie Ebenki.

The trio’s quest? To determine the heat content of Maltese’s Signal One 2.0 beer, a pineapple IPA infused with 500 Carolina Reaper chilies, the world’s hottest pepper. The professor and student both said they came to Mary Washington for precisely these kinds of experiences – not necessarily attempts at world records, but high-impact learning opportunities where faculty and students work closely on endeavors.

“Being able to participate in real world research, proposed by an alum who is now working in the local community, is a fantastic opportunity,” said Ebenki, who’s applying skills from Smith’s analytical chemistry courses – literature searches, data collection, results interpretation – to this project. Read more.