Beer has been around for quite some time in one form or another. In order to keep things from becoming stale, so to speak, brewers like to experiment with style from time to time. The question is: how far can brewers go before innovation is simply gimmick? Ultimately, substance has to pay off above style points; function before fashion.
In recent years there’s been a war of Alcohol By Volume (ABV) with the first shots being fired by Brew Dog. This Scottish house of passionate modernism is run by Martin Dickie and James Watt who are constantly challenging the notion of what beer could or should be. After being accused of making their beer “too strong,” Brew Dog promptly released a 32% ABV beverage. A German brewery – Schorschbräu – joined in the fun with a 40% bock only to be re-upped by Brew Dog’s Sink The Bismarck by 1 percent. Setting the bar even higher, they shot for the moon with The End Of History, a 55% ABV freeze-distilled Belgian Blonde sold in bottles stuffed inside taxidermic squirrels.
I appreciate that they’re pushing boundaries, but is it any longer beer at that point? Beer’s fermentation naturally shuts off around 16-17%. The fact that they have to resort to distillation to achieve the higher alcohol, to me, means it’s no longer beer by definition.
An Icelandic brewery is adhering to the notion that necessity is the mother of invention. As Iceland has a rather noticeable lack of trees as a source of fuel, they do what so many have done before them; use what you’ve got. In this case, they’ve smoked the malt for their new India Pale Ale with, uh, dried Sheep, how shall we put this, “field leavings?” Pass.
One brewery whose experimenting I’ve always enjoyed is Terrapin. Their newest Side Project Series might have a “leaving” in its name, but it’s only a reference to being a certain degree of touched in the head.
Guano Loco (Spanish students can do the math on their own here) takes the idea of a boring brown ale and gives it a spicy spin. Cocoa and Ancho chili peppers elevate this beer to a flavor echelon that transcends mere gimcrack. When I tried making such a beer a couple of years ago, it turned out a muddy, out of control, Ancho-warfare mess. Terrapin’s is a nice dark amber color with some pretty, sticky lacing left behind as the head recedes. The natural nutty/fruitiness of the peppers amplify the same qualities found in brown ale. Strong scents and flavors of cocoa, chocolate cake, caramel and a touch of leafy hops eventually reveal a nice chili tingle at the finish.
Different, but with a clear purpose, Brew Master Spike Buckowski and his crew have done a great job giving us something new.