With the continued and explosive growth of craft beer in the market, the old rules have been expanded on a bit. Brewers are always looking to create new beers, and some enterprising brewers have been putting very unique ingredients in beer.
According to the ancient German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot beer could only be brewed with four ingredients: water, hops, malt and yeast. Pretty much all beers have these ingredients; we have just been expanding the list over the past 30 years or so. The choices today are virtually limitless. Some strange ingredients I have tried or heard of include peanut butter and jelly, rocky mountain oysters, hot fudge and marshmallows, juniper, cardamom, pizza, beef jerky, pancake mix and Hi-C.
The hottest trend right now in brewing is the fruit-flavored IPA. I like a lot if these beers because they really are so tasty. Grapefruit, blood orange, cherry, blueberry, mango and pineapple are some of my favorites. The mix of fruity hops and actual fruit is a winner, seek them out.
During my career, I've used many ingredients. Here's a short version of the long list:
• Grains: Rye, wheat, oats, corn, rice.
• Fruits: Raspberries, apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, pumpkin, blood orange, lime, orange zest, lemon zest, lychee fruit, apricots, peaches, kiwis, pineapple, coconut, mangos, grapefruit, papaya, strawberry, watermelon, black current, clementine, tangerine.
• Vegetables, nuts and plants: Chile peppers (serrano, habanero, jalapeno, ghost pepper, and my favorite, hatch chilies) walnuts, vanilla beans, oak, birch, agave.
• Spices and herbs: Salt, pepper, hemp, cardamom, Old Bay Seasoning, ginger, star anise, peppermint, licorice, coriander, cinnamon, lemongrass, nutmeg, grains of paradise.
• Other flavorful "pantry" ingredients: coffee, honey, maple syrup, cocoa.
Many American breweries use unusual ingredients to push the boundaries of flavor and to invent new styles. Here are some more interesting beers I was made aware of after talking with colleagues:
• Mushroom beer
• Potato and yam stout
• Stout made with squid ink
• Tea beers (green and black varietals are popular)
• Bloody mary beer
• Pina colada beer
• Bacon beer
• Mini doughnut beer made for the Minnesota State Fair by our friends at Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater.
I'm a fan of so-called healing beers that are brewed using various plants and herbs. Some claim to have medicinal values like anti-flu properties or possible weight-loss benefits. A few highlights:
• Birch beer
• Maple beer
• Spruce beer
• Pine ale
• Fir ale
• Dandelion beer
• Sarsaparilla ale
• Ginger beer
• Coriander ale
• Wintergreen ale
These are mostly brewed by homebrewers. It's a bit hard to find commercial examples of many of them, but an internet search may be helpful if you are looking.
Most beers today incorporate the original four base ingredients mandated by the restrictive Reinheitsgebot, but creative new additions are presenting awesome choices for the palate. Ultimately, a great beer can be whatever you enjoy.
A light golden lager from a big producer or a fun vanilla bean cherry porter from a tiny nano brewery in your friend's kitchen — whatever tastes good to you is just that, good. Seeking out new beers is never a bad idea, but finding a beer that is your jam, your happy place is really the goal. Just like wine, soda and even your food menu, all the flavors of the rainbow are represented in the beer world.
Highlighting some of the extremes is a way to show what's going on out there. As the still-young craft brewing industry matures, I'm watching with great interest what more creative inventions will come our way.
Dave Hoops lives in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.