99 Pours is hosting the October Session and the theme: Novelty Beers
“With the onslaught of even weirder beards…erm…beers…than before, I can’t help but wonder if novelty beers are going too far. Or maybe not far enough? LOL! As a merchant of beer, I can see the place for novelty beers, as I am choosing for some customers who say, “I want the strangest beer you have.” We’ve even seen some novelty beers in our top-sellers. But beer traditionalists sometimes frown on these new and bizarre concoctions. And I can’t help but wonder if Martyn Cornell will participate, sharing bizarre but notable historic brews.
And what better time for novelty, than the month that holds Halloween?
What novelty beer comes to mind when you think: Is this beer just to strange to stay around? Why in the world would they choose ingredients most beer drinkers have never heard of …what the heck is a qatar fruit? If it’s okay for beer to taste like tea or coffee, why not pizza? If wild yeasts are allowed to ferment beer, then why not beard yeast? If oysters, why not bacon? If pumpkin’s good enough for pie, why not beer? Since hops are flowers, why not brew with actual flowers?”
I am all for stretching the box. Breaking through the box. Heck, even making the box a circle when it comes to beer. I have had beer that has organic fennel in it, L.A. Beer Week’s “Top Chef” style ingredient for 2012 was the prickly pear and I just read about an Oregon beer made with golden raspberries. I lived part of my life with only industrial water lagers to drink and I am certainly not going back to just corn as a base ingredient.
And if I think of the past, some of those beers that I thought were extra hoppy or too roasty would be considered XPA or a light porter in 2012. Today’s “weird” may be “boring” in a few years time but it could also just as easily be today’s fad that does not last until the keg is dry or tomorrow (whichever comes first). And I think that the truly great “novelty” beers should be called Beer from a novel approach because it must be about the beer first. The inspiration can come from Halloween and you can devise a way to add black licorice to a beer (Ladyface Ales did it this year) but if the beer is just black licorice roughly grafted onto any old beer then it won’t take. It has to be which beer would match with black licorice to add an extra dimension to the beer.
Another point to consider. If a consumer tastes a wacky beer and it goes down all wrong then what are the chances that the person picks up another beer from that brewery? Or on the flip side, if that same beer becomes the next “whale” that becomes the first thing that people think about when they think about the brewery and/or the beer is a mess to brew. Either way you need to have established a loyal consumer base that will still drink all the “other” beers in your portfolio.
The third wrinkle that novelty beers bring to the pint glass is that they take up valuable space in a fermenter. Is your local nano working overtime and then some to keep up with the demand for their flagship ale? Then they turn around and throw chipotle peppers into it? I am not saying that it is wrong or bad or an affront to the beer gods but it is something to consider.
Novelty beers to me are like a basketball player who launches an off kilter half-court shot when there is still 24 seconds on the shot clock. You know the coach will yank that player before seeing if the ball goes into the hoop. If it goes in, you get applauded and put on ESPN. If it doesn’t you end up riding the pine watching the game.