In Defense of Weird Beers
More than once I’ve tried explaining why a maple bacon coffee beer is one of the best things I’ve ever had, and been met with a face of disgust and utter confusion. “Really? In a beer?” they ask, unable to imagine how that assortment of flavors could possibly make sense in the golden carbonated beverage they know and love.
This very situation sits at the crux between craft beer connoisseurs and those who enjoy a more limited range of craft offerings or stick to industrial macro beers – but I know these barriers can come down because I too once did not appreciate odd or novel beers. No matter what kind of beer you enjoy, it’s possible to understand and respect surprising new things that might at first seem strange.
Appreciating the Pairing of Flavors is the Key
What do the carrot cake inspired 24 Carrot Golden Ale (Juli Goldenberg/Stone Brewing/Monkey Paw), breakfast food centric Maple Bacon Coffee Porter (Funky Buddah), and Mexican hot chocolate beer Leche Borracho (Bottle Logic) all have in common? They marry a deep understanding of a the nuances of a certain beer style with rich flavors that pair well with the underlying flavors and characteristics of the beer. In short that is what makes a seemingly weird beer excellent (obviously it has to taste good too, but this is why they taste good).
If someone mainly enjoys IPAs or light lagers they may not have much experience with the massive variety of flavors between beers like a roasted coffee and chocolate characteristics of an imperial stout and the earthy yeast tones of a saison. If you’re only thinking about the mild flavors of a lager, then chocolate flavors wouldn’t make any sense for a beer. For those acquainted with common craft beer styles like IPAs, appreciated a good fruit-IPA like Grapefruit Sculpin can be a great step in understanding the wider world of weird and more complex beers. The pairing of acidic grapefruit and bitter hops is the same underlying idea as more complex beer styles like an oak barrel aged Saison.
Your Reason for Drinking Beer is Important
If you drink beer because you enjoy its flavor and aroma, or even if you just enjoy the experience of enjoying a beer an are open to learning more about different styles then there is an opportunity for you to grow to appreciate odd or more nuanced beers. If instead you drink beer just to get drunk or simply because it’s something to do, then no amount of explanation about the subtleties of different styles is going to make sense because you aren’t thinking about beer in terms of the flavor profile. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your perspective, but to appreciate a counter-intuitive or novel beer style you need to care about the possibility of rich and interesting flavors.
Think About Foods or Non-alcoholic Drinks That you Like
One key to many odd and different beer styles is added ingredients like chocolate or coffee, and thinking first about whether you like the flavors of those foods can help you to think more openly about beers that incorporate those flavors. If you love dark chocolate and are open to a stronger beer, then try a stout that’s been barrel aged with chocolate added. It’s entirely possible that you’ll love the rich aroma and flavor present in this kind of beer and begin to explore other slightly different examples of this style.
Some sour beers bear little resemblance to what many people would think of as beer flavor. Some fruited sour beers taste more like a fruit flavored soda than a typical beer, while others aged in wine barrels or infused with wine grape must bear great resemblance to wine. If you can find a beer that is similar to something else that you like, it can be a great way to find something new and different that you will greatly enjoy.
Decide for Yourself
Some advertising campaigns seize on the stereotype that odd beers are only enjoyed by strange or isolated groups of craft beer nerds, and that “normal” people like to drink “normal” or traditional beer styles only. This serves the exact purpose that the large companies who produce such beer want it to, by reinforcing close-mindedness. Rarely does any such attempt have your best interests in mind, and you may be missing out on truly great experiences by allowing others to dictate your preferences.
Some regions of the world even have rules around what ingredients are allowed to be added to beer, like the 500 year-old Reinheitsgebot beer purity law of Germany. We won’t get into too much detail about that here (mostly since we’re not big fans of enforcing “purity” by dictating what ingredients beer is allowed to have), but suffice it to say that in some places all you can brew beer with is water, barley, and hops.
If you have an open mind, try some different beer styles with interesting ingredients and decide that none of them are for you, that’s totally fine and at least you know you’re not missing out on something that you would love. This is much better than assuming it’s not up your alley.
Not All Weird Beers are Good
If you do end up trying a beer that’s different or weird and you don’t like it, don’t assume that every other new beer you try will be the same. It’s entirely possible that one particular beer doesn’t do it for you, but another of a similar style or even a completely different style or brewing company will strike you as enjoyable in some other way. If you have an open mind and keep exploring you’ll start to see the differences that arise between different brewers, styles, and added ingredients and a whole new world will be open to you to explore.
(Surprisingly) Great Beer Awaits
My initial response to some of the best beers I’ve ever tried has been similarly skeptical as those that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I wasn’t convinced that they would be good. At the same time, I’m glad that I’ve kept an open mind and tried new things, because it’s expanded my horizon and changed my perception of what “weird” means for beer. Now I think a barrel aged beer with chocolate and vanilla is fairly normal (albeit still deserving of awe for the amount of time and work that goes into it), and being open to trying weird and new beers has helped me find some of my favorite creative beverages on earth.