Strange Brew

With the craft beer boom of recent years, many brewers have begun pushing the boundary of beer styles, creativity, and taste. Brewers have started experimenting with ingredients that you would not normally consider when brewing beer.

We all know the different kinds of beer, or at least the majority.  First there are only two types of beer: Ales and lagers. Ales are fermented with top fermenting yeasts which work best at what most would consider room temperature, and lagers are fermented with bottom fermenting yeasts at cooler temperatures.

Within those 2 types are many different styles of beer. Within ales there are blonds, pale ales, IPAs, ambers, browns, porters, and stouts, and more.  Within lagers there are of course lagers and pilsners, bocks, dunkels, marzens, and others. And within these styles there are even more styles. For instance stouts can be Imperial, milk, chocolate, Irish, and coffee. You can also bend elements of different styles to make even more styles of beers.

And then there are the really creative beers. Ones that can make you scratch your head and say, “Hmmm.” Here is a short list of some experimental beers from across the country. Most are not currently in production, but some are still available.

Catawaba Brewing in Asheville North Carolina brewed a beer they call Peanut Butter Jelly Time, which is apparently brewed with raspberries and aged with peanuts.

The Veil Brewing in Richmond Virginia released an Oreo cookie chocolate milk stout, which is conditioned with real Oreo cookies. Many described it as tasting like Oreos dipped in melted chocolate- and no one is saying that’s a bad thing.

Herbert B Friendly Brewing in Renton Washington brewed a Nutella Stout. It had a complex, slightly sweet taste with the flavor of chocolate, a bit of coffee, peanut butter, and hazelnuts.

Coney Island Brewing in New York brewed a Cotton Candy Kölsch. It’s a light golden beer with a pink tinge, a fruit-forward strawberry and floral aroma, and a caramel malt and strawberry flavor.  The taste is remarkably similar to cotton candy.

Hardywood Park Brewing in Richmond Virginia has a Peach Cobbler Ale that smells like you have your nose in a desert dish. The aroma takes me back to Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house and the fresh hot cobbler we would sometimes have after dinner in the summer. The taste is only slightly sweet, with a nice roasted caramel flavor with a light taste peach and a medium hoppiness.

Wynkoop Brewing in Denver Colorado brewed Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. Now I know what some of you are thinking. What’s strange about that? Oyster stouts are great. Right? Well rocky mountain oysters are not the type of oysters you get in a seafood restaurant. This beer is brewed with roasted barley, seven specialty grains, “steerian” golding hops, and roasted bull testicles. And how does it taste? I don’t know. I will never know.

Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn New York brewed bacon beer. It’s a brown ale infused with bacon fat and aged in bourbon barrels. That’s right. Bourbon, bacon, and beer. Sounds like the makings of a perfect Saturday night.

Shorts Brewing in Bellaire Michigan brewed Key Lime Pie beer. It’s made with fresh limes, milk sugar, graham crackers, and marshmallow fluff. Sounds good? Well, it is. This beer’s sweet-meets-tart flavor won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010.

3 Sheeps Brewing in Sheboygan Wisconsin has brewed Squid Ink beer. It’s an IPA made with squid ink imported from Italy. It had an almost black color with a purplish grey head and a mild citrusy aroma.

Clipper City Brewing and Heavy Seas

The Clipper City Brewing Company was founded by pioneer Hugh Sisson, with the intention of restoring a rich brewing tradition to the entire Baltimore area.  While focusing on classic beer styles made with fresh ingredients and high standards, Clipper City became the largest brewing company in Baltimore, giving the entire Bay area residents reason to celebrate.

According to their web site, Hugh’s family owned a tavern called Sisson’s, and in 1980 Hugh went to work there with the intention of help out for a short while. However, on very his first day his father tossed him the keys to the pub and said “OK, don’t f*** up!” and promptly walked out the door.

In 1987, Hugh and many others lobbied the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation to make brew pubs legal in the state. When they succeeded, Hugh promptly converted the family tavern into a brewpub, making Sisson’s Maryland’s first pub brewery to operate since Prohibition. He finally left in 1994 to found Clipper City Brewing.

For a time, Clipper City Brewing marketed and distributed their beer under the name Heavy Seas. However in 2010 Clipper City was absorbed into the Heavy Seas brand and became no more.

The Heavy Seas Brewing Company produces a number of regular year-round offerings such as: Loose Cannon Hop³ IPA, Double Cannon Double IPA, TropiCannon Citrus IPA, Peg Leg Imperial Stout, Cutlass Vienna-style Lager, and Powder Monkey Pale Ale.

They also have an extensive line of limited release beers such as The Alpha Effect Hazy IPA, Smooth Sail Summer Ale, Treasure Fest Oktoberfest Lager, Winter Storm Imperial ESB, Siren Noire Imperial Chocolate Stout aged in bourbon barrels, and Blackbeard’s Breakfast Imperial Coffee Porter aged in bourbon barrels (just to name a few).

For many years, Clipper City was the dominant brewing company in the entire Baltimore area.  Now as Heavy Seas they are continuing to set standards for what a craft beer should be.

Alaskan Brewing

The Alaskan Brewing Company is the oldest operating brewery in Alaska and they brew a wide variety of year-round, seasonal, and limited-edition beers, with their amber beer being their most popular.  If you’ve never had one and you enjoy a good amber beer, Alaskan Amber will not dissapoint.

As you can probably guess, brewing beer in Alaska is not an easy thing to do.  The coastal community of Juneau where the brewery is located doesn’t have road connections to the lower 48 states. This means everything arrives and leaves by water or air, assuming the weather permits.

There are some benefits to brewing in Juneau AK. Arguably the most important ingredient in brewing an exceptional beer is the water, and Alaska has just that. The 1,500 square mile Juneau Icefield supplies the brewery with a truly remarkable source of water.

In 1986 the Alaskan Brewing Company became the 67th brewery to operate in the United States, and the only one operating in Alaska.  Since then, Alaskan Brewing has received more than 49 medals and awards at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, most recently winning gold in 2017 for their Heritage Coffee Brown Ale.

Over the years the popularity of their beer has made it difficult at times to keep up with the demand from consumers, and has required increases production and most importantly efficiency. They hold the unofficial record for the production on a 10-barrel brewing system, which produces an amazing 42 batches a week. Unfortunately these award winning beers are currently  only distributed and available in about 20 states.

Here are just a few of the Alaskan Brewery’s most popular beers:

  • Amber – This is the company’s flagship beer and is based on a turn of the century recipe that was used during the Gold Rush era.  It provides a smooth, malty, rich taste that goes well with meals – or friends.
  • Big Mountain Pale Ale – This beer is fresh, crisp, and inviting.  The aroma of Asian pear, citrus and pine are beautifully balanced by the complex combination of biscuit, toasted pine nuts, and caramel flavors from the malt.
  • Freeride APA- If you like hops, the combination of cascade, Citra and Centennial hops in this beer will amaze your nose while providing a wonderful crispness to both the flavor and the finish.  This beer is great with spicy food, wild game, and other wintery food.
  • Smoked Porter – This very exclusive Alaskan porter has a world class reputation for excellence.  Brewed in the fall with malt that has been smoked using alder wood, this beer has a unique flavor that is anything but ordinary.
  • Winter Ale – This amazing brew uses the tender new growth from the tips of Sitka spruce trees to give this beer a subtly sweet floral flavor. The practice of using spruce tips in brewing has been used in Alaska since the late 1700s.

The growth of craft breweries: How many is too many?

Look around your city. Head out to your favorite bar. There’s a common theme emerging: craft beer is America’s new obsession.

From lagers to porters to ambers and beyond, craft breweries are offering up tasty alternatives to the nation’s 11 national breweries that own up to 90 percent of the beer in the US.

Let’s take a brief look at when this obsession started and whether or not this is a good thing for those of us who love beer.

The Explosion of Craft Breweries

According to the Brewers Association, the number of craft breweries in the United States in 1942 reached about 500. By the year 2000, that number had risen to 1,500. Seventeen years later and we have now reached the all-time high for craft breweries weighing in at over 5,300 independent breweries throughout the states.

The only other time we even came close to that number was in the late 1800s, which was long before prohibition and the monopolization of the industry. And even though the number of breweries might be relatively close now to what it was back then, you have to keep in mind that the population of the United States was much smaller back then.

In the 1870s there was approximately 1 brewery for every 11,000 people. To do that today we’d have to have some 30,000 breweries, a heck of a lot more than the 5,000 we have today.

And that number continues to rise. Independent brewers take their craft seriously and are absorbing ancient recipes and modern technology to create new species of beer.

Craft Beer Diversity- Why It Matters

Despite the growing number of craft breweries, over 90 percent of the beer available is still brewed by just 11 companies as we mentioned earlier. What does that mean for beer lovers? It means less variety and lower quality.

However, the good news is that this is beginning to change, little by little, and with each new brewery new flavors of beer emerge, giving beer lovers more options to choose from. The growing number of brewers are discovering new ways to brew, reviving lost or forgotten styles, and putting new twists on classic styles.  And it’s not just beer. Local brewers are using local ingredients and brewing beer with true local favor!

So the next time someone says to you there are too many breweries, let them know we still need another 25,000 just to catch up with the 1800s.