Pumpkin, chocolate, and coffee beers used to be considered novel. Now they’re commonplace enough to have become regular categories at the annual Great American Beer Festival awards.
The country’s beer scene is dominated by small, independent brewers experimenting with bold flavors, said Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the nonprofit Brewers Association, which promotes craft brewing in America.
In 2015, there were 4,269 craft breweries in the United States, compared to 537 in 1994, according to the Brewers Association’s statistics.
Much like chefs, brewers are creating complex flavor profiles, balancing the bitterness of hops against fruity, tropical, herbal, or spicy notes.
Craft breweries are experimenting with unconventional ingredients. Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis, Indiana, makes a popcorn pilsner out of the state’s main agricultural product, while Beaver Creek Brewery in Montana makes a wheat ale with wild, local chokecherries. Last year, Ninkasi Brewing Company launched a limited edition beer from brewer’s yeast that was carried into outer space in a rocket.
Here are some quirky beers out on the market today.
The beer: Beer for Breakfast Stout
Brewery: Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, Delaware
Retail price: To be released nationwide in November.
Noteworthy ingredients: Scrapple, a quintessential Delaware breakfast dish of pork scraps, cornmeal, and spices.
Inspiration: Back when Dogfish Head was still in its planning stages and founder Sam Calagione was brewing beer at home, he thought of making different breakfast-themed stouts. The Beer for Breakfast is his latest take on these.
The beer: Black Walnut Wheat
Brewery: Piney River Brewing, Bucyrus, Missouri
Retail price: $7.99 for a four-pack; available in Missouri and Arkansas.
Noteworthy ingredients: Local hand-harvested black walnuts
Inspiration: Black walnut trees are found all over the Ozark mountain region, where the brewery is based. Owners and wife-husband duo Joleen and Brian Durham thought an American-style dark wheat ale would complement the fruity notes found in the nuts.
The beers: Prop Stopper Seaweed IPA and Beach Plum Gose
Brewery: Blue Point Brewing, Patchogue, New York
Retail price: $7, draft only; available in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, and Connecticut).
Noteworthy ingredients: Four types of North Atlantic seaweed in both beers; beach plum from Long Island for the Gose.
Inspiration: Head brewmaster Dan Jansen was inspired by the seaside plants growing in Long Island. The savoriness of the seaweed in the Prop Stopper cuts through the hops’ bitterness; in the Beach Plum Gose, it brings out the tartness of the plums, Jansen said in an email interview.
The beers: Thai Style White IPA and Belgian-Style Blonde Ale
Brewery: Upslope Brewing, Boulder, Colorado
Retail price: $8.99 for a six-pack. IPA available in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Texas, Montana, and New Mexico; Blonde available only in Utah.
Noteworthy ingredients: For the IPA, coriander, ginger, Thai basil, lemongrass, cinnamon, and other Asian spices; for the Blonde, pink guava.
Inspiration: For the IPA, founder Matt Cutter wanted to capture the spiciness and aroma of Thai cuisine.
For the Blonde, head brewer Sam Scruby wanting to create the ultimate session beer, low enough in alcohol to drink over a long period of time. He thought the sweetness of pink guava melded well with Belgian yeast. “We spent lots of time field-testing the beer in the sun, on the patio, and in the mountains. Light but not thin, this beer is a great companion for any and all adventures year-round,” Cutler said.
The beer: Short’s Brew Key Lime Pie
Brewery: Short’s Brewing Company, Bellaire, Michigan.
Retail price: $12.99–$13.99 for a six-pack; available in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Noteworthy ingredients: Fresh lime, milk sugar, graham cracker, and marshmallow fluff.
Inspiration: Head brewer Tony Hansen’s wife makes a delicious key lime pie from a recipe passed down from her grandmother. So Hansen set out to make a beer that tastes just like it.
The beer: Beard Beer
Brewery: Rogue Ales, Ashland, Oregon
Retail price: $6.99 for a 22-ounce bottle; sold online and nationwide.
Noteworthy ingredients: Yeast from the brewmaster’s beard.
Inspiration: Brewmaster John Maier has been growing the same beard since 1978. While trying to look for a new yeast strain, Maier decided to put his beard to the test, using the yeast from his beard hair to brew up, you guessed it, Beard Beer.