American Craft Beer Gets Weird

You’ve probably noticed that craft beer is tapping into the mainstream market. In 2015, it bottled a 12.2 percent share of the $105.9 billion beer market in the United States. To give you a stouter perspective, 24.07 million barrels of craft beer were brewed last year – nearly five times the number of barrels brewed in 2004.

Beer gardens and bars aimed at highlighting craft beers are on the rise, but chain businesses are also making an effort to stock brews made more locally, which means Americans are indulging in craft brews at home and at their favorite Friday night spot. As if friends needed more reason to get together over a pint, some apps transform trying new beers into a competition. Untappd allows users to log beers as they try them, awarding different badges for types of beers or number of beers tried. (For anyone worried about friendly beer competition encouraging bad behavior, I discovered while sampling flights during a tour of breweries in Arizona that it will gently remind you to drink responsibly if you check in a certain number of beers in a short time span.)

With the hundreds of beer styles currently defined by the Brewers Association and thousands of breweries in the United States, an app like Untappd also helps beer enthusiasts keep track of which beers they’ve already tried and which ones they liked best. The rapid craft brewery growth has sparked conversations about the market’s saturation, and although craft brewers show no signs of slowing down, the populated market does make it harder to stand out.

Some breweries are banking on visual appeal by rebranding their merchandise with updated logos and redesigned bottles and cans, but others are pouring their creativity into new brews. Sometimes, that means craft beer gets weird.

Barley, Beards, and Brains

Beer is made with four basic ingredients: cereal grains, hops, water, and yeast. Barley is the traditional cereal grain used in beer, but other types, like sorghum and rice, can be substituted. Beer without barley might seem strange, but using an alternative cereal grain, or extracting the gluten from barley, is done to create gluten-free beer. This makes the beverage accessible to those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but most weird beer isn’t made to account for dietary restrictions.

Rogue Ales of Ashland, Ore., offers dessert-esque brews through a collaboration with famous doughnut shop neighbor Voodoo Doughnut, but the brewery is probably better known for its Beard Beer, which is brewed with yeast collected from their Brewmaster’s beard. Beard Beer won gold at the 2015 World Beer Championships and is one of the few weird beers brewed as a constant offering, instead of a limited edition beer. If beard yeast sounds unappealing, it’s actually tame compared to some of the other ingredients breweries have used.

To celebrate The Walking Dead, the Dock Street Brewing Co. of Philadelphia crafted its Walker beer with brains – well, roasted goat brains. In keeping with the animal theme, Right Brain Brewery of Traverse City, Mich., offers the Mangalitsa Pig Porter, which takes bacon beer to the next level by using the rest of the pig. On the vegetarian side of beer, an avocado beer from Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles might be particularly appealing for guacamole enthusiasts.

Weird beer has also been inspired by aquatic ingredients, with a handful of breweries producing oyster stouts. 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan, Wisc., used real squid ink for its small batch of Nimble Lips, Noble Tongue Vol. 3, while Marshall Wharf Brewing Co.’s Sea Belt Scotch Ale uses seaweed, a hook for a brewery near the Atlantic coast in Maine.

American Craft Beer Week

Craft beers, especially weirder brews, vary in availability because of limited batches and/or shipping restrictions, but you can still support American craft beer by cracking open a local favorite. To celebrate American Craft Beer Week May 16-22, find a craft brewery near you by searching the Brewers Association’s brewery directory by state or name.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English. Passionate about Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, and all things geeky, she spends her free time playing tabletop and video games, collecting beer caps from craft breweries around the country, and celebrating the Cubs' 2016 World Series win. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.

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