If the craft beer revolution has brought us anything, it’s freedom from boring, bland beers. Creativity is the coin of the realm in craft brewing. The four basic ingredients used to brew beer — water, malt, hops and yeast — offer a wonderful canvas for developing all kinds of amazing flavours. Increasingly, brewers are looking to the food world for inspiration for their original creations. If it’s edible, chances are a brewer has made a beer with it.
Though several of these beers are pretty out-there, they are created with the same care as, say, a typical porter, stout or pale ale. With Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale, which comes in a pink bottle, brewer John Maier brought together the ingredients — including, yes, applewood-smoked bacon — to make a beer that pays tribute to one of Voodoo Doughnut’s (a popular Oregon doughnut maker) most sought-after offerings. This beer isn’t for everyone, but there’s no denying it’s well made.
Perhaps not quite so audaciously, plenty of Island breweries are trying their hand at using interesting ingredients. Tofino Brewing and Phillips have brewed one-off releases using spruce tips — a practice that goes back centuries to when traditional brewing ingredients weren’t always available. The results were earthy, foresty and spicy.
Last winter, Tofino released a big stout brewed with kelp that had a savoury brininess to it that worked well with the deep, rich dark malt notes. Continuing with the ocean theme, last winter Lighthouse released their Desolation Imperial Oyster Stout — which was brewed with 15 dozen oysters, shells and juice to give a real savoury ocean note to the strong, full-bodied dark beer.
Maybe oysters, spruce tips or kelp in your beer are a bit much? Fear not, there are plenty of less daunting options. Driftwood’s White Bark Ale, one of their year-round offerings, is brewed (in traditional Belgian witbier style) with Curacao orange peel and freshly ground coriander. Phillips and Lighthouse both brew porters with chocolate — Longboat Chocolate Porter and Dark Chocolate Porter, respectively — while Swans makes a lovely coconut porter. Phillips also makes a ginger beer with a palate-rousing blast of ginger.
The Artisan Advantage
These are just some examples of creative craft brews, which stand in stark contrast to the dozens of mass-produced pale lagers out there. Craft brewers are more like artists using a wide array of ingredients and techniques to create unique flavours. In many ways they have more in common with chefs. And with the brewers’ willingness to use foodie ingredients, the lines separating the two are blurring even further.
In fact, there’s more crossover between the food and beverage industries than ever. Restaurants that offered wine-pairing dinners are now trying their hands at craft beer- and even whisky-pairing dinners. Cooks are taking advantage of the flavours in craft beers, using them as versatile ingredients for sauces, desserts and more. And as brewers edge ever closer to the food world — there are even beer/wine and beer/cider hybrids — chefs are closing the gap as well.
Much as we wouldn’t want to eat a meal every night cooked with the same ingredients, adventurous imbibers are looking to the amazing styles and tastes in craft beer for 2014. Want something spicy, fruity or maybe a bit boozy? There’s a craft beer to satisfy that craving and to open your eyes to many wonderful brews being made with intriguing — and delicious — ingredients.
By Adem Tepedelen
Adem Tepedelen is the author of The Brewtal Truth Guide to Craft Beers: An All-Excess Guide to Brewing’s Outer Limits.