There’s a new brewery set to open soon in my neighborhood, and I couldn’t be more excited. They’re gonna have hot dogs and tater tots! And also two flagship beers: a 100-percent brettanomyces IPA and an amber ale/Belgian strong hybrid. That’s nuts, but I get it. I was hoping for maybe a Pilsner and a Pale Ale, but I can respect the desire to make a splash with some strange stuff if you’re trying to set yourself apart from the pack in a marketplace that’s suddenly gotten very crowded.
Even bigger, established brewers are starting to get weird. Sierra Nevada has a new cactus-grapefruit gose, and rumor has it they’ve got a chocolate-chili stout on the way. Rogue’s been making donut-themed beers for years, and Ballast Point is trying to capitalize on the remarkable success of Grapefruit Sculpin by pairing just about every conceivable agricultural product with every style of beer. I predict they will have an asparagus Berliner Weisse on the market before baseball season starts, and I expect that I’ll quite like it. Sometimes the wacky stuff just works, you know? Here are eight great beers brewed with unlikely ingredients.
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Tallgrass calls this new seasonal a “salted caramel Belgian-style dark ale brewed with salt and brown sugar.” Now, I have to admit a certain bias, because it’s 9.2-percent ABV, and Tallgrass sent me a free sample, which are two of my favorite attributes in a beer. Here are some other nice things: It smells like toffee and caramel, and reminds me of a Belgian tripel blended with an English winter warmer. A hint of orange makes it taste a bit brighter than expected, and the light dose of salt dries the finish out nicely.
Okay, I’m biased on this one, too. Off Color employs one of my favorite political pundits, plus I’m a sucker for an excellent beer. This is a 5.2-percent ABV German-inspired dark ale brewed with honey and molasses. It’s drier than you might expect, with a robust nuttiness deftly balancing the sweet stuff and bringing to mind a shot of nice mead dumped into high-end cola.
This is the sort of beer that’s going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, for a few different reasons. First of all, it’s 3.8-percent ABV, and while I’m all for session beers in general and session IPAs in particular, this is 10 percent weaker than Bud Light. And if you’re the kind of armchair beer accountant who gets all fired up by mergers and acquisitions, you may not be thrilled that Constellation paid a billion bucks for Ballast Point last fall. Plus, a lot of people think adding fruit flavors to beer is cheating. I agree that it might be more artful to coax tropical flavors out of hops, but I can’t argue with the way Mango Even Keel tastes. Mango dominates, for sure, but there’s also some pineapple and a bit of resinous bitterness on the finish.
This is simply the iconic Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA with a bit of Syrah grape must added, which is to say it is the world’s finest spritzer. If this sounds weird to you, it’s going to taste weird to you. If your mind is open to such a thing, though, it’s hard to imagine a better version.
I was not optimistic when this freebie hit my mailbox: I don’t much care for cream ales, and while I like coffee as much as the next guy, I’ve found it rarely works for any beer style other than stout. C.R.E.A.M is really freaking good, though. The coffee is relatively restrained and light-roasted, with a sweet and nutty character reminiscent of pistachio candy, and it doesn’t overwhelm the clean, crisp beer underneath.
This 13-percent ABV imperial stout is aged on espresso beans, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers, all of which, frankly, sounds like overkill. But the whole glorious mess makes perfect sense in your mouth, with the traditional stout flavors coming to the fore while the pepper spice hangs back and adds just enough kick to make things even more interesting.
Viva Habanera draws spice from two sources, with the rye malt adding black pepper and the habanero added post-fermentation contributing a pleasantly herbal burn. Agave nectar adds a balance often missing from pepper-infused beers.
This is a traditional farmhouse ale brewed with the offbeat Sorachi Ace hop, which imparts lemongrass and dill flavor unmatched by any other hop I’ve come across. Like most beers on this list, Sorachi Ace isn’t for everyone, but it’s an exceptionally well made beer that will change your perception of just what “hoppy” means.