Uncommon Brewers: Bacon Brown Ale (Credit: Craft Cans)
In a simpler era of brewing, beer was composed of just four core ingredients. Armed with water, hops, grain, and yeast, brewers created a range of unique ales and lagers, from bitter India pale ales to chocolaty stouts as dark as December night. But as the craft beer movement continues to grow and evolve in America, madcap brewers have begun to explore the far fringe of flavor.
They're making beers with offbeat ingredients such as algae, fungus-infected grapes, bhut jolokia peppers, and even bull testicles. (Because why wouldn't you?) And though the beers seem like a game of double-dog dare, the oddities remain surprisingly drinkable.
As cured pork continues its greasy march to artery-clogging world domination, a bacon-based beer was but an inevitability. This brown ale from California's fittingly named Uncommon Brewers is made with toasted buckwheat and plenty of bacon, resulting in a smoky, salty curiosity that'd be great for brunch.
(Credit: Big Orca Brewing)Freetail Brewing Company: Spirulina Wit
Come St. Patrick's Day, drinkers across the country toast with green beer.
They do the same down in San Antonio, but instead of dyeing beer, this experimental brewery incorporates the vitamin-rich, blue-green algae into its Rye Wit, an aromatic Belgian-style witbier.
The algae add notes of tropical fruit, meaning drinking to your health is equally delicious and nutritious.
(Credit: 365 Beers)Short's Brewing Company: Key Lime Pie
At first blush, the beers from Short's Brewing seem like a high-concept joke. What else can one think about Pistachio Cream Ale, PB&J Stout, and Strawberry Short's Cake?
But these weirdos work, none better than Key Lime Pie. Graham crackers, marshmallow fluff, and fresh limes conspire to create a tart-and-sweet treat that won gold at 2010's Great American Beer Festival.
Originally an April Fools' Day joke, this audacious beer became reality this fall when the Denver brewery cooked up a rich, inky stout flavored with Rocky Mountain oysters, better known as bull testicles.
Though the stout may only seem suited for Andrew Zimmern, it drinks like a smooth, chocolaty dream.
(Credit: Courtesy Flying Dog Brewery)Flying Dog Brewery: Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout
Are Rocky Mountain oysters too off-putting? Fine. Try this silky, roasty stout from Maryland's Flying Dog, which is made with locally harvested Rappahannock River oysters.
Drink the stout, then down an oyster, and the beer's sweetness will draw out the bivalve's corresponding flavor, while accentuating the stout's briny nuance.
(Credit: Courtesy Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales)
Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales: Noble Rot
Noble Rot is a brew that beer lovers and wine drinkers can agree upon. The daring Delaware brewery infuses the beer with two additions of unfermented grape juice, including viognier grapes infected with botrytis fungus (the namesake "noble rot"), which create dessert wines like Sauternes.
The result is tart, lightly spicy, and subtly sweet, with a dry finish.
For its Ales of the Revolution series, the Philadelphia brewery recreates historic beers inspired or created by founding fathers George Washington (porter), Thomas Jefferson (golden ale), and this ale based on an original recipe from Ben Franklin.
Poor Richard's relies on spruce tips and molasses, resulting in a beer that tastes somewhat like a sweet stroll through a forest.
(Credit: Daily Beer Review)Twisted Pine Brewery: Ghost Face Killa
One of the world's hottest peppers is India's bhut jolokia, commonly called the ghost pepper. Colorado's Twisted Pine has instead incorporated the bhut jolokia into its appropriately named Ghost Face Killa (a riff on Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ghost Face Killah).
It's as crisp as it is fiery.
(Photo courtesy of Willoughby Brewing Co.)Willoughby Brewing Co. Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter
Many beers are made with hazelnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, but peanuts have been largely overlooked. But on a recent trip to Cleveland, Ohio, I serendipitously discovered this ingenious porter from Willoughby Brewing.
It tastes a bit like the love child of Starbucks coffee and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.