We’re Asking: Do You Know How Weird Beer Can Be?

Is this a weird beer being poured? You never know!

Beer started weird. It wasn’t particularly on purpose, but when that wild yeast found its magical little way into someone’s gruel and began to bubble and bubble toil and trouble, weird beer began. Sure, we’ve finessed it over time, seemingly taming the weird beer essence before swinging the pendulum right on back to full scale strange and then hovering over sesionable and simple. When it comes to craft beer, we’ve got all the descriptive words under the sun (or borrowed from the cannabis industry) to capture just how unique the category can be: dank, heady, hazy, juicy, sour, smoky, cripy boi, fruity–the list goes on and on to tell you “yo, get your weird beer here.” But did you know that any number of the seemingly approachable “normy” beers, beers you probably order by default, can be weird beers in their own right?

Ancient things often seem strange to our commercial prepackaged version of the world, and beer is one of the most ancient things we imbibe. Follow me down the rabbit hole, Tippler Nation, we’re about to get real wavy weird up in this brew pub!

Unicellular Fungus

Yeast by any other name doesn’t sound as sweet, does it? In ancient Mesopotamia, the birthplace of both beer and civilization, we may not have known what yeast was, but we sure loved what it did. Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Ale), or Brewer’s Yeast, is the strain we are mostly concerned with here, but there are more than 1,500 species of yeast out there in the world. Within the Brewer’s Yeast strain, we’re also going to break it down into Ale and Lager (Saccharomyces pastorianus), or top fermenting vs. bottom fermenting strains and then things get, well, weird. 

You see, this unicellular fungus is everywhere and, if it’s weird beer you seek, it’s weird brewer’s yeast you want. Brettanomyces bruxellensiscommonly referred to as “Brett” (no, not that one) is a wildly occurring yeast that gives sour beers their lip smacking pucker (hey, every rose has its thorn!). Saccharomyces cerevisiae variety diastaticus lends itself to the creation of funky farmhouse Saison styles, this yeast strain is also weird and wild. Some brewers will leave cobwebs, build new roofs over old structures, just to cultivate the wild yeast in their environment. Let’s not forget Bacteria-positive yeasts, which can actually be purchased to create your weird sour beer. Purchased…or procured from a very specific location, if you happen to be Yoni Beer from Poland.

Hey, Ninkase is both the goddess of brewing and fertility and Yoni works with a reproductive health charity, so that’s pretty rad.

Meanwhile, in the weird beer mecca of the Pacific Northwest, Rogue sourced wild yeast from their brewmaster’s beard to make “Beard Beer” for charity. He hasn’t shaved since the 70’s.

 

 

oysters

Fish Bladders, Oyster Shells, and Irish Moss-Oh My!

Let me just take a minute to clear some weird beer things up for you, clarify them, if you will. During fermentation, the weird little beasties called yeast gobble up all the sugar and leave behind CO2, alcohol, and sediment. Not every brewer wants that sediment although several do keep it (I’m looking at you, Belgium!) and it does contain vitamin B, which is good for you! Brewers that want to remove the sediment and clarify their brew have a few options, one of the oldest clarification processes involves isinglass, the collagen in fish bladders. The collagen binds to the sediment and your beer becomes crystal clear! Traditionally, isinglass was sourced from sturgeon (not Kosher btw), but as of late it has been coming from invasive species of fish. So a weird beer practice is good for the planet, who knew?

A vegan fining or clarifying option that has been used for over 200 years, Irish Moss is a purple, brown or dark red fluffy seaweed that creates a similar substance to gelatin that bonds with the proteins in the brew and pulls them out.

A few other things you may view as weird brewing practices for clairfication include using centrofuges, bentonite clay, pea extract, and pectin enzymes.

But let’s continue on our under the sea adventure, shall we?

In addition to sturgeon bladders and seaweed, oyster shells will also clear that weird beer right up! Oh, you thought oyster stouts were invented to pair with bivalves? They are so much more, my friend!

 

But Is My Weird Beer Vegan?

 

While most breweries these days make a point of being animal friendly and suitable for vegans, some take a bold and different approach. Why simply clarify with an animal biproduct when you can chuck in an entire moose head?

Yeah, you read that right.

Feel like you’d do anything for weird beer but you won’t do that?

How about a literal meatloaf brew with local beef? 

Weird beers brewed with meat aren’t a modern craft beer thing by the way, one British recipe from 1780 calls for a rooster in a bag. It was aptly named “Cock Ale.

Sounds kind of like cockles, which are great steamed in beer, but also make an appearance in NJ based Carton Brewing’s Digger Ale. Don’t clam up on me, Tipplers, we’re not done here.

Outside of straight up throwing BBQ into your brew tank, another non vegan beer addition can be found in the form of milk sugar, also known as lactose. Adding lactose to beer may not yield the weirdest beer results, but it will create a creamy mouthfeel. The yeast cannot ferment the lactose, so you are left with texture and sweetness. Honestly, one of the weirdest beers I’ve experienced was a milk sugar smoothie sour ale and it was on camera while leading a live beer tasting. 

weird beer ingredients

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We’re Weird on Purpose, Bro

Sometimes, Tippler Nation, brewers brew weird beer for weirdness’ sake. Take, for example, Evil Twin’s Big Ass Money Stout, brewed with frozen ham and pepper pizza and Norwegian currency. Or how about the other half of the twin coin of brewing over at Mikkeller? Their Beer Geek Brunch Weasel brewed with Vietnamese cà phê Chồn. For those of you that aren’t fluent in Vietnamese, that would be coffee made from berries that have been partially digested and then excreted by a civet cat. Speaking of Other Half, they feature special brews with bananas and birthday cake and an entire spontaneous fermentation wild yeast series. Weird brewing boys don’t get to have all the fun: a collaboration between North Fork Brewing and the Lady Brewsters, Lunar Ascent IPA was brewed with ginger, locally sourced hibiscus tea and hops,  and infusions of moonstones and black obsidian for their reported metaphysical benefits. There have been goat brains, bull testicles, grains and hops that have traveled to space, squid ink, cannabis, and let’s not gloss over the sheer amount of pickle beers available out there.

It’s giving Portlandia.

 

Friends cheers with beers

Admit it, you found yourself wanting to try some of the weird brewing combinations on this list. Right now you are googling how to try hops from space or contemplating how, exactly, various forms of yeast from intriguing locations could influence what weird beer you pour in your glass.

What, do you think squid ink tastes like in a can?

It’s a natural human impulse and yo, it’s that impulse that got humans to try that first quasi beer in the first place!

I dare you.

Just a taste.

How weird could it be?

I don’t know if curiosity killed the cat, but it did make the Mesopotamians try the fermented gruel, the civet eat the coffee cherry, the brewer scratch his beard in thought, and the rest is weird beer history.

 

A Little Thanks To My Weirdos

I’m not the only craft beer nerd to go down this weird beer rabbit hole, I could not have gotten nearly as wavy if it weren’t for the insight of Larissa Clifford from Birds Beer, Jon Kielty from Allagash, and Amy Litt from Women Who Whiskey Hudson Valley.

 

 

 

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