Friday, October 5, 2012

The Session: Novelty Beers

To participate in this month's Beer Blogging Friday, aka. The Session, where each month the "think tank" of beer bloggers across the country roll up their sleeves and tackle the intricacies of all things beer, and by that I mean we sit at a computer (sometimes with a beer) and pluck away at the keyboard till our glass is empty.

This month's foray leads us into a discussion on "novelty beers" (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Clearly beer reflects a seasonal quality, as well it should since back in the day when we had no electronic temperature controls fermentation temps were somewhat dependent on ambient temperature; therefore, more lagers in the colder months and more ales brewed in the warmer months. There were ways to circumvent that, to a degree, but early brewers did what they could with the seasons and the grains, fruits and botanicals that were available to them.

Today, however, it seems one of the many "trends" in craft beer is to see how far down the rabbit hole these brewers can get. Forget things like Blueberry Ale or Pumpkin Spice Lager. I'm talking about extreme beers that do and will exist, such Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (made with real bull testicles) and Rogue's Beard Beer (made from yeast harvested from the wiry, gray beard of Rogue's brewmaster, John Maier).

Of course, beer traditionalists and devotees of the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) will immediately turn their noses at such creations, and I myself will probably not imbibe (even for curiosity's sake). However, I offer that the booming market that is craft beer (up 12% so far this year) is forcing  brewers to think and brew creatively in order to distinguish themselves amongst each other. On one hand, craft beer tries to be different than macro-lagers; most of us can understand that. But now we have 2,126 breweries in the United States, and they are all trying to do something a little different than the other guy/girl.

Without the mega advertising dollars at their disposal like the "kings of beer" have, craft brewers rely heavily on word-of-mouth, and I'll claim here and now, sometimes a gimmick or two to catch the audience's attention, so maybe brewing up a batch of "Peanut Butter and Jelly" beer will be just strange enough to catch someone's attention (including the media, beer bloggers included).

It's not all smoke and mirrors, mind you. We have to give credit to the true creativity at work when brewers come up with these ideas and bring them to light, for better or for worse. I'm sure many-to-most are concocting these "novelty beers" just because they want to challenge themselves. I get a little suspect, though, when a brewery bottles up and peddles something that clearly should have been poured down the drain (I won't name names here, but I've got my little black book of beers that never-should-have-been). The essence of craft beer is the expression of (usually) one person's vision.

In the end, novelty beers have a rightful place in the craft beer scene. It would be hypocritical for any of us to applaud the spirit of micro-brews with one hand and dis every seemingly strange beer with the other (which reminds me, what is the sound of one hand clapping?). Ultimately, like every other market, there will be a level playing field and the customer will have the final say with their hard-earned dollars.

Prost! (wait a sec, is that a hair in my beer? Dang it!)

-Ryan Newhouse


  1. You know the rule. Never kiss and tell, especially if she ain't that pretty! ;-)

  2. For me also there are plenty of extreme beers "I myself will probably not imbibe", as a vegetarian, meat beers aren't on my list - I even find the smoked sausage flavours of a Schlenkerla Urbock too much to stomach!

    But to paraphrase, I might disapprove of a brew, but I'll defend the right to brew it. As you say, novelty beer has its rightful place in the craft beer scene.

    Then you joke about a beer with hair in it and I wonder how strongly I support novelty beer ;-)

    1. I too defeed the right to brew. I admit i like a challenge. The bacon maple donut created a great coverstation this summer in my back yard. While this may not compare to the Rocky Mountain Stout, it certainly was a novelty beer in their eyes.

      This months sessions have really intrigued me.

  3. As one who frequented the Rock Creek Lodge Testy Festy (as well as a number of fresher offerings at brandings), I can't say I'm too proud to try the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. I'm not sure about the beard beer, though.

    Good post. We definitely shouldn't stifle innovation and risk-taking, otherwise we'll end up missing out.


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