It’s been said that Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa made a decree to ensure quality brewing back in the 12th century. Pre-dating the now famous Reinheitsgebot Purity Law of 1516 by a few hundred years, it stated that “… a brewer who makes bad beer or pours an unjust measure shall be punished; his beer shall be destroyed or distributed for free to the poor.” Thanks for looking out for us there, Freddy!
I have to wonder what an old-school straight shooter like Friedrich would think of some of the kooky beers being brewed these days. He’d probably rend his fabled red beard and lay siege to Milan again in a fit of rage. But, sir, you’ve already destroyed Milan. “Doesn’t matter! Burn it down!”
Why, my favorite beer of all-time happens to be an oyster stout and squiggly grey bi-valves are in clear violation of the Reinheitsgebot. Barley, hops, yeast and water. Nothing else.
For a very long time, now, folks have been tinkering with their beer and additives are nothing new. Witbier gets orange peel, lambic gets macerated fruit, Berliner Weisse gets flavored sauce and watery light beer gets lousy flavor. Zing!
One brewery is very well-known for being different with their beer. Dogfish Head has done everything from apricots in an IPA to saffron and grapes in their Midas Touch Ale. I was asked recently if I’d be interested in a keg of something of theirs that’s, well, exotic. In a slight call-back to the best beer I’ve ever had, this one is similar.
Bear with me on this one. It’s called Choc Lobster. Porter with chocolate and live lobsters.
“Okay,” I thought. “This is pushing things a bit.” I started surveying the opinions of my beer peers, questioned the bar staff and did some thinking. Sure, why not?
Live lobsters were dropped into the boil and cooked into the wort. When the beer was in the whirlpool they added over 6 pounds of dark cocoa. Now, at this point you may be asking “where’d the beer go?” It gets even better, weirder. What goes great with chocolate and lobster? Why, basil tea, of course!
Before I manage to talk myself out of this one, we need to try it. There’s a clear method to Brew Master Sam Calagione’s madness. Choc Lobster has elements of what made Porterhouse Oyster Stout so enjoyable for me. The beer is almost thoroughly jet-black with a towering head that settles to a henna cap. The combination of the shellfish’s sea salt and chocolate morphs into a flinty, smoky, lemon tea aberration that, dangit all, smells awesome! That dose of basil tea shows most prominently on the nose with a minty, herbaceous scent. Chocolate is the driving flavor here with an almost York Peppermint Patty aftertaste. Faint sea air and brine notes fill up the middle.
Congrats, Sam! You’ve coaxed wonderful out of the weird! Just steer clear of any German kings.