Every year during the Great American Beer Festival, my taste buds become the testing ground for some of the annual event’s strangest concoctions. Sometimes that doesn’t turn out so well (one cucumber-infused beer left me feeling like I’d swallowed ash), but other times the experimentation is worth it. Here, eight of the best strange beers I tried on Thursday night.
Sagefight IPA (Deschutes Brewery, Oregon): Sage and juniper from the Flatiron Trailhead in central Oregon lend a piney, earthy flavor to this easy-drinking IPA.
Wake Me Up Before You Gose (Strangeways Brewing, Virginia): My first introduction to gose—a German-style Old World beer—was brewed with ginger and French sea salt (salt is a requirement of a gose). I call this a sour-esque beer for drinkers who usually stay away from the sour section of the beer menu. (It was also the only good take on this style I tried all night. Two others were spit-them-out bad.)
Thai Peanut Brown Ale (Right Brain Brewery, Michigan): Though the brewery’s Asparagus Ale felt a little flat for me, the Thai Peanut brown ale was full-bodied, smelled exactly like peanut sauce—perhaps because the brewers make it using actual peanut butter, Thai chiles, cilantro, and coconut—and had a solidly spicy kick.
Gotta Try Apple Pie (RAM Restaurant & Brewery, Illinois): For people who want their beer to classify as dessert, this experimental brew nicely incorporates the flavor profiles (though not actual ingredients) of graham crackers, caramel, apples, and cinnamon into a subtly sweet brew that smells just like the real thing.
Coffee and Cigarettes Smoked Coffee Porter (Cellarmaker Brewing Company, California): Admittedly, the name needs some work; it was particularly unappealing for someone like me who doesn’t drink coffee and has never smoked a cigarette. But I had a hard-core coffee drinker with me, and he said this beer reminded him of a fresh brewed cup of black coffee. Morning beer, anyone?
Jalapeño Cream Ale (Wasatch Brewery, Utah): Wasatch makes this list for serving exactly what they promoted. This lush brew is punched with jalapeño flavor and would pair great with a burger. The brewery also gets extra credit for some awesome still-life logo designs for its brews.
Spiced Banana Wheat (Shock Top Brewing Co., Missouri): This limited-edition beer smelled and tasted a bit like a banana Runts candy. That may not sound appealing, but I appreciate that it actually tasted like the fruit it’s named after, as many fruit beers end up tasting watered down and lacking in flavor. I’d limit myself to just one of these to avoid over-sweetening my palate (the spice was missing), but it would definitely be a fun summer patio drink.
And the mother of all strange beers… Choc Lobster (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Delaware): Brewers threw 30 live lobsters into the boil, plus about six pounds of dark cocoa powder and a basil tea. The result: A not-too-heavy porter with a roasted flavor and just a hint of the ocean.