No idea or ingredient is off limits in modern brewing. There have been beers made with moon dust, goat brains, human urine, Norwegian money, and wild yeast cultured from a dead author’s writing chair.
These examples might be some of the most outlandish, but craft brewers have always shown they are unafraid to explore the unconventional — and we applaud that resolve. Because, the results won’t always come in the form of unnecessary novelty, like a stout with stag semen. It could, instead, spur substantive change and innovation in the industry, like an entirely new category of IPA, cloudier in appearance than its precursors, that welcomes a different audience to the beer world.
Sure, it’s easy to see these types of brewing attempts simply as attention grabs — strange just for the sake of it. But why can’t it instead be accepted as a craving for creativity, another example of humanity’s innate desire to seek out what else might be possible? What one considers absurd could challenge the very notions of our drinking desires and become the next big style.
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So, let’s look again at brewing’s pleasingly wild and wacky pursuits. Below, 10 producers around the country share the stories behind the weirdest beers they’ve ever made. And with inspiration ranging from Malört to meat, we bet you’ll be intrigued by the responses.
The Weirdest Beers, According to Brewers
- Malört saison
- Occult-inspired golden ale
- Koji beer
- Tepache smoothie-style sour
- Oyster gose
- Pizza Time “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” beer
- Cake! Coffee cake amber beer
- Smoked sage beer
- Vanilla Villain Reserve vanilla barrel-aged stout
- Light lager with cucumber, cantaloupe, and honeydew
- Bacon and coffee stout
“As somebody who started off as a homebrewer before going professional, I’ve done a lot of experimentation. The strangest concoction I created as a homebrewer was a beer inspired by Malört, a bitter Swedish liqueur that’s all the rage at Chicago dive bars. The grapefruit-licorice combination I get from Malört inspired me to brew a black saison dosed with star anise and Simcoe hops, which turned out surprisingly good. One of my friends back in Chicago demanded that I save a 6-pack for him every time I made it. Even professionally, I’ve gotten to do some oddball beers: At Goose Island, I designed an ‘Indian pale ale’ focused on amchur, powdered green mango, and other Indian spices, as well as a Polish-inspired beer with caraway seeds where we got to smoke our own wheat malt. At Empirical Brewery, we had a one-barrel pilot system where we were encouraged to go hog wild, and I brewed everything from an oyster stout to a barrel-aged wheatwine on that system. At one point, a local occult shop brewed with us for our Halloween party using some of their herbs like galangal root and tears of myrrh, which made for a strange but delicious golden ale.” —Julia Davis, brewer, Burke-Gilman Brewing, Seattle
“One of the weirdest, and quite possibly most interesting, beers I’ve brewed at Allagash was an idea submitted through our pilot program by our quality data analyst, Lee Reeve. Most normal beers rely on enzymes within malt to convert the starches in grain to fermentable and unfermentable sugars during the mashing process. Lee’s idea, which was inspired by a shochu highball, utilized koji for this conversion. Koji is a fungus and critical ingredient that’s better known for the production of sake. We used a clean, neutral yeast strain for Lee’s pilot to really emphasize the contribution of the koji in the brewing process. The finished beer had notes of pear, stone fruit, as well as noticeable sake-like aromatics. I’ve never had anything quite like it.” —Patrick Chavanelle, R&D brewer, Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, Maine
“We love pushing the limits, but what we really love is turning a classic on its head. Tepache’s naturally bold flavors have always been an inspiration to us, so we decided to blow it up and then cram it into a smoothie-style sour. If you’re unfamiliar, tepache is a historical, low-alcohol beverage made from pineapples, peppers, piloncillo, and cinnamon sticks. For our recipe, half of the pineapple puree was made up of freshly smoked pineapples, courtesy of a local BBQ joint. We also threw in handfuls of smoked fatali peppers and limes, cinnamon sticks, piloncillo, cloves, and allspice. The heat of the fatalis complemented the sweetness of the pineapples in a way that just really makes all the flavors shine in one big spotlight. Most people haven’t ever heard of tepache, much less tried it, so we were so stoked to bring them a beverage that’s inspired us for years in our own weird way.” —Travis Richards, owner and head brewer, Nothing’s Left Brewing Co., Tulsa, Okla.
“If you ask people that drink our beer, they would probably say our oyster gose was the weirdest beer we’ve brewed. But for us brewers, especially those with culinary tendencies, the combination couldn’t be more appropriate. The brininess and body that is contributed by the oysters in a tart wheat beer worked really well. We also added lemongrass in an attempt to balance out the saltiness and provide something reminiscent of shooting an oyster with lemon juice. As a bonus, the boiled oysters were a delicious lunch on brew day!” —Pete Beauregard, co-owner and head brewer, Stoneface Brewing Co., Newington, N.H.
“I would say a beer we did for our Hop-Con 3.0 festival with Kevin Eastman, called It’s Pizza Time. It was a challenge in itself when the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wanted to brew a pizza-flavored beer with his favorite toppings, pineapple and jalapeño. Not knowing where to even begin, I went after a style of beer that would be perfect for the mid-July weather and a Saison yeast strain that gave off some notes of pineapple and black pepper. The bill was comprised of a summery feel with pilsner and wheat malt, but I also used some CaraRye and Carahell malt that, to me, had a bready, pizza crust flavor to it. For hops, we kept it light and added a touch of Amarillo and Sorachi Ace. But the main driver was the pizza sauce spices we had to figure out, eventually going with a mix of basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and fennel. When the beer was finished fermenting, we added some pineapple and jalapeño and were surprised with how it turned out. The phenolic yeast mixed with the pineapple and helped balance out the over-aggressiveness that the herbs tend to bring out. A slight touch of jalapeño was noticeable after drinking a few ounces. It tasted like pizza and you actually wanted to drink it. I will take it as a win. We looked into adding a tomato component to the beer, but did not think it complemented the beer, so we ended up leaving it out. Maybe in a Michelada, it would have worked.” —Kris Ketcham, head brewer, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Liberty Station, San Diego
“The idea for Cake! began many years ago when my longtime friend Seth suggested we brew a coffee cake beer. And what a coincidence that he worked for My Grandma’s of New England, a coffee cake company. So, of course, using real coffee cake in the process was a requirement. Pumpkin coffee cake, cinnamon, whole bean vanilla, coffee from local Share Coffee Roasters, and pumpkin puree all combine to create a delicious fall amber beer. It’s smooth and rich just like its namesake, but doesn’t finish overly sweet. The process isn’t too complicated, but adding cake to the mash tun is not part of our typical lautering process, so it definitely took some getting used to.“ —Matthew Steinberg, co-founder and head brewer, Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company, Framingham, Mass.
“I was a homebrewer for 15 years before turning professional, and in that time, I had some interesting experiments — and some failures. One memorable beer was a smoked sage beer, which was inspired from a meal I’d eaten while on a date with my wife. The beer was moderately smoked, with sage added in the whirlpool, and fermented with American ale yeast. The combination of esters, phenolics, and herbal-meaty sage character was memorable, and not for all the right reasons.” —Daryl Hoedtke Sr., brewmaster, Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago
“I think the weirdest, or maybe the craziest, at The Bruery is our Vanilla Villain Reserve. This beer started its life as Monster Stout — an internal name for one of our base stouts we use to blend for barrel-aged projects; it’s a sweeter stout that has more residual sugar to add some thickness and body, balancing our original Black Tuesday recipe in blends, and came with the moniker because it is a monster to brew, so to speak — barrel-aged for a year in bourbon barrels, then for a second year in rum barrels. This beer tasted so good at the time that I didn’t think it could get better, but we then added 17 different varieties of vanilla. It was a learning experience because we were using vanilla I had never heard of, and at almost three pounds per rum barrel, which is about one-third of a vanilla bean per pint! It’s a lot of vanilla and a lot of barrel-aged stout, married together with a tinge of spice from the rye.” —Nathan Watkins, production manager, The Bruery and Offshoot Beer Co., Placentia, Calif.
“I wanted to make something super light and low-ABV that felt ‘healthy’ or refreshing to our customer base, so we released a light lager with cucumber, cantaloupe, and honeydew in January of 2021. We started with all pilsner malt, super-low kettle hopping and 34/70 lager yeast. Lagered after fermentation for about five weeks, then house-processed cantaloupe, honeydew, and cucumbers with an immersion blender. The resulting beer was really refreshing, a tad green from the cucumber skins, but overall really fun and easy to drink. It was totally a love or hate beer though. It was consumed mainly in flights, with most people not really digging it or ordering a pint after. It is, to date, our lowest-scored beer on Untappd, and we ended up dumping the last few kegs because it was moving so slowly and wasn’t well received. Lesson learned. I will say that I was really happy with the results of processing our own fruit and vegetable products and have used this process successfully with other fruited beers.” —Rob Tarves, co-founder and head brewer, Our Town Brewery, Lancaster, Pa.
“It was a bacon and coffee stout. It had two names: Speed Hog/Wake and Kevin Bacon. This was the first beer I touched when I joined the company. It had about 10 pounds of bacon added to the three-barrel batch. We initially blanched the bacon to try to get the fat out and keep the beer from going rancid, but we couldn’t get enough bacon flavor out of it, so we added another five pounds. Still wasn’t enough. So, we got a bacon extract and added a bunch to finally get that savory bacon flavor we were looking for, then added coffee. It came out pretty good — weird, but good. Never will attempt to incorporate meats into beer again.” —Zack Stoll, head brewer, Historic Brewing Company, Flagstaff, Ariz.