Unusual brews that will really make you drop your jaw

Bottles and a glass of Coffee Stout
(c) Pelicon Coffee Stout, Photo Miha Bratina

Creative brewers are no longer scared of experimenting with truly outlandish ingredients. Whilst more tame refinements include the addition of pumpkin, chocolate and cold-brew coffee, the really unusual brews, such as those that use sheep’s heads, algae or octopus, offer truly adventurous flavor profiles.

Pumpkin beers

Anyone rummaging around in beer stores or browsing online during the Advent season is sure to come across some truly fascinating beers these days. When grinning pumpkin faces jump out at buyers on brightly colored labels, experts know that pumpkin beer season is upon them. Even if the guardians of the German Beer Purity Law turn up their noses, real beer fans can’t wait to sample the first pumpkin ale.

Beers with added pumpkin, which for our palates here in Europe is rather unusual, are primarily a specialty of brewers over in the US. Every year, shortly before Halloween, they stir their gargantuan squashes into their brewing kettles to the delight of an ever-growing fan base. In addition to pumpkin purée, they also add winter spices to the mix – such as ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg. But the variety of possible recipes is pretty much endless: In addition to pumpkin ales, many brewers also boast pumpkin lagers, pumpkin chocolate porters and pumpkin stouts. The Elysian Brewing Company from Seattle brews around 15 different pumpkin beers alone.

Coffee beers

During the cold season, connoisseurs look forward to particularly aromatic and punchy specialty beers. Just as the range of styles is expanding, so too is the variety of unusual brews incorporating more bizarre ingredients. Alongside pumpkin beers, international brewers are also focusing on specialty beers with added coffee during the cold season – not as morning pick-me-ups, however, but rather as delicious and adventurous concoctions. As such, producers at the Slovenian Pelicon brewery in Ajdovščina flavor their “Imperial Coffee Stout” with cold-brew coffee. But while this 8% pitch-black drink has “coffee” in its name, itpredominantly produces special toasty and chocolate notes. “It actually started out as an experiment at a private party, but the prototype was a real hit with everyone,” says enthusiastic head brewer Anita Calavita.

If you thought pumpkin and coffee sounded strange: here come really unusual brews

Two breweries from the far north also focus on highly aromatic stout. Harking back to old Viking traditions, Iceland’s Brugghús Borg and Norway’s Voss Bryggeri brew with some truly bizarre ingredients – even placing sheep’s heads in their kettles as part of their collaborative stout project. However, the Icelandic skulls were used in their natural state, whereas the Norwegian ones were added to the mix once salted and smoked. The project was designed to evoke the cultural connection between the two countries, since it was ultimately the Norwegian Vikings who discovered and settled on the island on the Arctic Circle around 1,000 years ago.

Such wild brews would presumably turn the stomachs of squeamish beer fans, but the world of strange beers is also full of weird and wonderful creations containing all sorts of ingredients from the ocean. Particular favorites, primarily in Ireland and Scandinavia, are beers brewed with fresh oysters. But German brewers also don’t shy away from using seafood as unique flavor enhancers. Tilmans Biere from Munich and Buddelship from Hamburg experiment with mussels, which, on account of their high protein content, give their stout a creamy texture.

In addition to mollusks, there are also beers that are brewed with various different types of algae, lobster and now even octopus. The Italian brewer Giuseppe Granello brewed a dark black octopus beer in his microbrewery in Tuscany that incorporated the octopus’s ink. But anyone who really wants to taste the salty sea on their palate should try the American Blonde Ale “Er Boquerón” from La Socarrada brewery in Xàtiva, Spain. This unusual drink is brewed directly using seawater.

While these may all sound like bizarre concoctions, the flavors they produce are truly intriguing. Now the question remains: What other strange or unexpected ingredients will craft brewers begin brewing with next?

Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).