No idea or ingredient is off limits in today’s brewing world. There are beers made with Maine lobsters and Mangalitsa pigs, candied ginger and gingerbread cookies, human urine, Norwegian money, and yeast harvested from beard hairs (no, seriously).
Craft brewers are a creative bunch, and that means sometimes things get weird (even out-of-this-world weird). Here, 16 brewers share the strangest beers they’ve ever made.
“Like all brewers who were previously homebrewers, I dabbled in a lot of weird sh*t. But I think the weirdest beer I brewed was an imperial stout with Atomic FireBalls candy. I was hoping for a nice cinnamon-roast-sweet thing, but it ended up tasting exactly like beef jerky. That was a dumper. Another weird beer was my second brew ever, which was a fruited ‘lambic.’ I brewed this one with my college roommates, and we pitched a tube of White Labs Brettanomyces yeast, and nothing else for primary fermentation, not knowing that their pitch rates for Brettanomyces at the time were one-tenth the size of a normal pitch. Then to top it off after the extremely slow fermentation, we threw a bunch of old freezer-burned berries into the plastic fermenter. That one tasted like an old, dirty rubber band and freezer-burned berries. Ew.” — Mitch Ermatinger, Co-Owner and Head of Fermentation, Speciation Artisan Ales
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“My weirdest brew was a one-barrel batch of a kettle sour we did with Little Hug Fruit Barrels, those little sugary, fruity drinks we called ‘quarter waters’ as kids. We used no actual water, replacing it entirely with 800 containers of blue raspberry Little Hugs in the mash and sparge. The yeast struggled with the preservatives, fermenting very slowly and stopping a bit earlier than we had hoped. The final beer was bluish green, with a touch of sweetness, but tasted better than we feared. We also served it with lemonade as a shandy. People still ask us when we’re brewing the Little Hugs beer again.” — Ryan Diehl, Co-Founder and Brewer, Imprint Beer Co.
“The weirdest beer I made was a dry stout with mussels, about nine years ago when I had just discovered oyster stouts and I wanted to interpret it in a Neapolitan way. I still hadn’t opened the Birrificio Flegreo, but I dabbled in homebrewing and I decided to give it a try using mussels directly in the boiling process. The experiment turned out well and resulted in a slightly salted beer with a rich and persistent foam. I called it Stout & Co. because the Italian word for mussels is ‘cozze.’ I will absolutely retry the experiment!” – Chiara Bolognino, Co-Owner and Brewmaster, Birrificio Flegreo
“As homebrewers, there was a time we were experimenting a lot with the possibilities of gruit, changing hops for herbs. We tried all kinds of different herbs from our garden: alehoof, yarrow, mugwort… One of the most extreme versions was a test beer we made with gentian root, added both at the end of boil and on the cold side, together with bitter oranges. Because of our wild-yeast culture, the lactobacillus produced a lot of lactic acid. So it started pretty sour, but then gave way slowly to a long lingering bitter finish, as gentian root is one of the most bitter herbs. We took the beer to a festival in Amsterdam, Carnivale Brettanomyces, and it was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it beer. On a professional level, we made this beer again, but we decided to use aged hops in the beginning of the boil, just to temper the lactobacillus, and to use a bit less of the gentian root, to balance the beer more.” — Tom Jacobs, Co-Founder and Co-Brewer, Antidoot Wilde Fermenten
“My supply rep stopped by the brewpub and happened to be carrying a small baggy of food-grade glitter. He asked me if I was interested — I know this sounds like a drug deal! — and I told him I wasn’t sure, so he left the glitter behind. A few weeks later I was blending a keg of What a Trip, a 10 percent ABV Belgian tripel with a prickly pear puree when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the small glitter baggy. It was just sitting there tempting me! I must have felt the magic in the brewery that day because I didn’t hesitate to sprinkle the glitter in the keg along with the puree. The result was quite magical. The beer tasted just how I expected with complex fruity esters, spice characteristics, and a melon-fig sweetness from the puree. While the glitter didn’t affect the taste of the beer, it was a feast for the eyes! When poured into a glass it danced around like stardust.” — Nacho Cervantes, Head Brewer, New Original Breweries
“The term ‘weirdest’ is way relative. For me, I’d have to say one of my ‘weirdest’ ideas was hatched on a trip to Italy when I visited a highly traditional acetaria, a place where they have been making real balsamic vinegar for generations. My first thought was: This stuff is awesome, how can I use it in a beer? Soon after I thought of a Flanders-style sour ale, as balsamic vinegar would not be out of character in that sort of flavor profile. So I brewed a base beer and aged it in red-wine barrels, as is how traditional balsamic starts off, with appropriate cultures and added balsamic in judicious amounts at points during a 20-month aging process. The result was our Philsamic (so named without my consent, which is another story), a balsamic vinegar-infused, wood-aged, Flanders-inspired sour ale we now brew at Area Two, our new wood-aging facility down the road from Two Roads. A beer fermented with balsamic vinegar? Maybe not so weird after all.” — Phil Markowski, Co-Owner and Brewmaster, Two Roads Brewing Company
“I think it has to be our Nightwood, which we released recently but brewed back in the fall of 2016. It was meant to be a black Berliner weisse of sorts, using our usual turbid mash, short boil, aged hopping, and coolshipping, but using some local midnight wheat and foreign de-bittered black malt for color. While the wort hitting the coolship was jet black, after spontaneous fermentation in barrels it yielded an admittedly disappointing deep brown hue that we empurpled a bit with some local aronia and elderberry. And while we typically use barrels as a neutral, porous vessel for microoxygenation, here we also opted to extend the age of the beer to maximize contact with character barrels: port, red wine, and bourbon. It took a couple years, but now we’ve got ourselves a nice weird beer that would never have come into being any other way.” — James Priest, Founder and Blender, The Referend Bier Blendery
“The weirdest beer I’ve made was an experimental imperial stout attempting to resemble coquito, a Puerto Rican holiday drink. I made a base imperial stout that was treated with nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, milk sugar, and lots of coconut flakes. I also soaked oak chips in rum to impart some of the rum flavor. Or, the most extreme beer I’ve made thus far is our latest bottle release, which is a full-bodied IPA with milk sugar, vanilla, and guava. The idea was to make a beer that could resemble a guava pastelito, a staple Latin pastry. We actually added guava pastelitos to the mash tun, as well as a shot of cafecito to energize the process.” — Erik Durr, Co-Founder and Head Brewer, Beat Culture Brewery
“Weirdest thing we ever brewed was probably one of our most recent collaborations. We made a smoked helles with Westbound and Down, Pizza Port, and Freigeist. It was a slightly drunken idea during last year’s GABF. Most collaborations start out like this. We got green malt (malted but not kilned) from Coors, and got a local barbecue guy from Owlbear Barbecue to smoke the malt we got. We smoked it over local applewood and oak. We basically made smoked crystal malt. It took 24 hours to dry and smoke. Then we had to actually rub the acrospires off the malt before we could brew with it, which took eight of us like an hour to do! It made for a light orange, softly smoky, malt-forward beer.” — Ashleigh Carter, Co-Owner and Head Brewer, Bierstadt Lagerhaus
“The weirdest beer I ever made I didn’t actually set out to brew. In my early days of all-grain homebrewing I attempted to make a classic: robust porter. But something went wrong in the process and the beer ended up tasting very thin and not the least bit robust. It was the right color, but the depth of flavor was just not there. A friend of mine described it as tasting like ‘burnt water.’ Never one to waste beer, I tried to salvage the beer by aging it on oak cubes. That didn’t solve the problem either; now it was just oaky, roasty, and watery. I had read about the German process for making ice beer and thought that might improve the beer. After all, the main problem seemed to be that the beer was watery, so why not freeze it and remove the ice crystals? I sanitized a plastic bucket, transferred the beer into it and stuck it in the freezer. While the results were a slight improvement, it still just wasn’t very good… Several months later I ran out of fresh home brew and decided to revisit the ‘porter.’ I poured a glass and immediately was struck by the aroma. It was earthy and sour smelling. I tasted it and to my surprise it was sour and it was really good! I wasn’t sure how the beer had gone sour until I remembered that the bucket I had frozen it in was the same one I had once used to make sauerkraut. It was a huge mistake on my part, but in the end it was the thing that ended up saving this beer. To this day it is probably the best sour beer I ever made!” — Tony Ammendolia, Owner and Brewer, Final Gravity Brewing Co.
“At the end of 2017, we brewed and released a nontraditional black IPA called Corpse Paint. It had all the flavors of our typical New England-style IPAs — super-soft mouthfeel, juicy flavor profile — but poured tar black. It really toyed with folks’ perception of what they were tasting, and was a bit of a mindf*ck. Some people loved it, but some people definitely had a hard time with the concept, since it looked so different than what their palate was tasting… Me and my production brewer Erika even staged a photo opp to promote the release (naturally).” — Armando DeDona, Brewer and Owner, Long Live Beerworks
“I never wanted to add anything to beer which was revolting. We have made beers that are somewhat unique. Garlic beer — this goes back over 20 years. We brewed a golden ale and put raw garlic cloves in the keg. It was quite good. The aroma was pungent; the flavor evident with some heat but not over the top.” — John Maier, Brewmaster, Rogue Ales
“I collaborated with an awesome local female coffee roaster at Vent Coffee in Baltimore on a beer I felt was going to be fairly rushed to meet a festival deadline. We met at the brewery and couldn’t really get inspired. Finally I met her at the coffee shop and, other than coffee, she had a bunch of both hot- and cold-steeped cascara. It was my first intro to cascara — the coffee cherry, formerly a coffee-bean-processing byproduct that was trash but is now pretty popular for teas — and I immediately knew I wanted to try it, along with coffee, in a Belgian beer. It turned out amazing and we were both very proud of it. Since then I have been obsessed with that ingredient. It throws so many weird different flavors at you, from leather to tobacco, ripe fruit, and smoke. So cool. I’ve now used it in a bourbon-barrel-aged beer that came out super cocktail-y and also most recently in a kettle sour.” — Hollie Stephenson, Head Brewer, Guinness
“Weird is such a subjective word — but often one used to describe Stillwater itself. That said, would a beer brewed in the Amazon, with cupuaçu fruit, conditioned à la méthode champenoise, be considered weird? What about a gose with chili peppers, orange peel, and MSG? Or perhaps Premium, with its celebrated use of corn syrup and wild yeast? But then, there is also the new ASMR series with ingredient lists designed to phonetically please, coming replete with textured labels for you to create your own autonomous sensory meridian response, or A.S.M.R., sound effects. This is a difficult question to answer, simply because ‘weird’ is not really the specific intent behind our concepts, but often the outcome. Like I said, weird is a subjective word.” — Brian Strumke, Founder and Brewer, Stillwater Artisanal
“The weirdest beer I’ve brewed so far was for an art project in collaboration with Galerie Wedding and the artist Emeka Ohboh. Beast of No Nation presented the result of a collection of notions of senses and experiences of sound, taste, and smell of the multicultural district of Berlin Wedding. The slightly sour character of the beer is based on the evaluation of locally commissioned research into the taste of Wedding. The beer was limited to 500 liters in 0.33-liter bottles and was only available at the performances of the artist. The beer was a blend of a 16° plato farmhouse ale with allspice pepper and juniper to symbolize the village the district was until 100 years ago, and 8° plato Berliner weisse, cold-hopped with dill and then bottle-fermented with Brettanomyces for at least three months.” — Ulrike Genz, Founder and Brewer, Schneeeule
“We actually have done a lot of ‘weird’ — and I think of that term in an extremely positive way — beers over our 23 years, especially looking at some of our collaborations. The one that really sticks out in my mind is Tsuyu Saison, which was a collaboration we did in Japan at Coedo Brewery and with Garage Project from New Zealand. Just the experience of being in Japan with Jos Ruffell and Pete Gillespie from Garage Project was weird and wonderful as we drank tiny beers on the train, tried beer ice cream, and ate some truly amazing food. These guys are so much fun to hang out with and are adventurous souls, which also leads to lots of laughs. And then to brew with Haru Asagiri and his crew at Coedo was really amazing. The attention to detail and condition of the brewery was top-notch. The beer itself was very unique: a saison brewed with Japanese ume plums and red perilla and then aged in fresh New Zealand Chardonnay barrels. We hopped the beer with American Jarrylo and New Zealand Motueka. It’s quite a fusion and it’s aged very well… Weird is definitely wonderful!” — Jeremy Moynier, Senior Manager of Brewing and Innovation, Stone Brewing