Tasting the Unconventional: 10 of the Best Eccentric Ales
Photos by Joshua Justice
We recently had a handful of friends over to help christen our new home. And we decided since they were kind enough to come visit, the least we could do would be to use them as guinea pigs for a host of oddball beers sitting in our beer cellar -- from gluten-free strawberry beer to sours. While I'm pretty sure at least a few guests may never return after being served smoked viking beer, we at least got some good feedback about some very distinct beers.
Using the commentary and tasting notes from that party, we compiled a list -- admittedly heavy on Dogfish Head, because odd is what they do -- of some of our very favorites. From off-the-wall ingredients to unusual or obscure beer styles, here is our list of 10 of the most off-beat beers available in Texas.
Samuel Adams Verloren
Part of Sam Adams newest limited series, Verloren also happens to be the only Gose-style beer I know of available in Texas. A regional German style originating in the 1700s, Gose has gone extinct as a style at least two times in the past century but now enjoys a mild resurgence both in Germany and the United States. Once fermented with lactic acid and containing added salt, Gose's soft mouthfeel and tart salty notes are unique to the style. Verloren is an approachable example of a very polarizing style, closest resembling a Witbier but with far larger yeast and malt notes. Unlike more traditional Gose-style beers, the salt notes here are tame but noticeable. An uncharacteristically adventurous beer from Sam Adams, Verloren -- along with Norse Legend -- is one of my current favorites from The Boston Beer Company.
Jester King Gotlandsdrika
This "Viking Beer" from Austin's Jester King is based on the traditional brewing techniques of the island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Brewed using birch-smoked malts, rye, juniper and sweet gale, Gotlandsdrika taste like nothing else you've had. Pouring a light fizzy yellow, this beer tastes and smells of smoke and green wood. Juniper and plum flavors are slight. Look for a sour version from Jester King in the future.
Buffalo Bayou Jaggery Black IPA
A very limited release from local brewery Buffalo Bayou, its inclusion here is self-serving; I want more of it. Known for turning more traditional styles on their head with clever and compelling additions, Buffalo Bayou took a relatively new style, Black IPA -- or Cascadian Dark Ale -- and added a true Indian twist. Infused with Thai chili notes and a distinct sweetness from jaggery cane sugar and coconut, the flavors meld perfectly with the bitter finish on this clean yet complex brew. This was one of my very favorite beers of 2012, only missing year-end lists because of its extremely limited availability. Make more, guys!
Poppy seed, guarana, kola nut, honey: Dogmas brew sheet is among the wildest even on this list of oddities. Known for being outlandish and outspoken, Brewdog is also responsible for one of the world's strongest beers, The End of History, which was bottled and encased in small, taxidermied animal carcasses. This beer pours a mild amber red and smells of a vegetal sweetness. Probably closest to a Scotch ale, this beer has a big malt body with mild underlying spices, ten people will taste this beer ten different ways. Of note, Brewdog has recently relabeled this beer and describes it quite a bit differently than in the past. I couldn't find any notes on a recipe change similar to the one their Punk IPA received however. If you know anything, tell us in the comments.
New Belgium Cocoa Mole
One of the most commercially popular beers in the past few years, Cocoa Mole has helped put New Belgium and its Lips of Faith series back on the radar. Far crisper and cleaner than what you might imagine for a chili-chocolate beer, this brew never fails to surprise first-time tasters. Be sure to serve this beer cold and enjoy it slowly, as it warms, the body will begin to change and milder chocolate and chipotle notes become present.
Dogfish Head Theobroma
This Dogfish Head beer is the beer that started my love affair with aging bottles at home. Named after the cacao tree and based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in an ancient Honduran excavation, Theobroma is Dogfish Head's attempt at recreating what is believed to be an early fermented chocolate drink. Amber in color and smelling of floral and citrus with a flavor palate that is among Dogfish's most complex beers. Like Cocoa Mole, Theobroma defies what you might expect in a cocoa and chili beer. Upon aging, Theobroma changes drastically and settles into its chocolate and cocoa nib flavors. Orange blossom and chipotle peppers under cut the strong first impression. If you come across this one at the store, buy two bottles. One for now, and one for 2015.
Dogfish Head Positive Contact
Along with Robert Johnson's Hellhound on My Ale, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Pearl Jam's Faithfull Ale, Positive Contact is part of off-beat brewery Dogfish Head's ongoing Music Series. Brewed in collaboration with hip hop collective Deltron 3030, cases of the beer shipped with Vinyl EPs featuring Deltron 3030 remixes along with chef-inspired and chef-written recipes on the packaging. As with many Dogfish releases, Positive Contact is tough to categorize but is probably closest to a Belgian Wit. Tasting notes included strong Belgian esters, brewing spices and fruit notes along with a strong flavor of minced cilantro and cayenne pepper. I have yet to try out any of the recipes from chefs like Mario Batali and David Chang, but next time a bottle of Positive Contact comes along, I'll let you know how it turns out.
I apologize in advance for Concoction. Partially, because if you have not yet had it, you are unlikely to have the privilege as it was brewed just once in 2011. Though it is likely gone forever, it deserves mention here for being one of the most peculiar beers I have ever come across. Meant to mimic a Scotch-based cocktail from famed New York City bar Milk & Honey, the Concotion tastes -- in coarse terms -- like a band-aid. And not the fancy brand-name Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids either. Like those cheap adhesive bandages the school nurse gave you after you scraped your knee playing Wall Ball at recess. I could tell you that Concoction encapsulates juniper and honey notes in its overly carbonated nose. Or about the peaty Scotch notes or hint of lemon on the finish. But really, it tastes like a band-aid.
Dogfish Head Tweason'ale
So named because Dogfish Head brews the beer four times (during their seasonal beer change over, or between seasons), Tweason'ale is a sorghum-based beer brewed for those with gluten tolerance issues. By and large, gluten-free beer is -- in addition to being fairly foul -- largely uninteresting. Following their usual M.O., Dogfish Head sought to turn the style on its head by adding honey and strawberries to the brew. While I equated this beer to drinking a bag of Pop Rocks, others found it compelling in its crisp, carbonated sweetness. If you have Celiac disease or simply avoid gluten, this one is definitely worth a try.
Jester King Das Wunderkind!
This sour Saison from the Austin brewery is one of the first all-new beers when it switched to using wild yeast late in 2011. Das Wunderkind! showed us early on Jester King's vision for the brewery and it remains one of the best beers the brewery produces. Re-fermented using souring bacteria and then blended with fresh beer to taste, Wunderkind is tart yet subtly so, leaving a traditional Saison finish of coriander and wheat. Sours are great beers for people who think they don't like beer and also for people who think all beers taste the same. Try this one, or its big brother -- Das Uberkind!-- out on a friend and see what their reaction is.
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