Craft Beer Gets Exotic – The Strangest Ingredients

When you think of craft beer, what basic ingredients do you think of?  If you're like most folks, you probably think of hops, barley (or wheat), malt, yeast and cold, clear, clean water.  If you've been enjoying craft beer for some time, then you might think of a few more – lemon, orange, strawberry and other fruit flavors are used to a considerable degree.  However, for those with more adventurous taste buds, there are some rather exotic options out there. 

What would you think about a beer with sweet potatoes listed as one of the ingredients?  Perhaps you would like to sample one with kudzu or scuppernongs as ingredients?  Seaweed and many other strange sounding ingredients have made their way into some of the world's craft beers, quite a few of which are brewed right here in the US.  Just consider the latest efforts of Dogfish Head in Delaware – they're recreating a 9,000-year old beer recipe from China, using hawthorn, grapes, honey and rice.  Of course, that's not the only ancient brew recreated by Dogfish.  They brewed up Midas Touch based on evidence from a 2,700-year old Turkish tomb.

Of course, interesting additives have always been used in brewing.  Take the Middle Ages for example.  During this period, spices were extremely rare in Europe (and quite costly), so the well-off medieval lord would show off his wealth by enjoying spiced beer – allspice, ginger root, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg are just a few of those used to flavor beer during this time.

Flowers have also been used to a considerable extent in beer brewing, both in the past and in the modern world.  Perhaps one of the strangest flavors to make its way to the world of beer brewing is the oyster – they're not commonly used, though (thankfully).  There is even at least one brewery out there right now using bacon to brew their ale (would that be a breakfast brew?).

This brings us to the question – why are so many brewers going to such great lengths to use unusual, exotic or downright strange ingredients to flavor their brews?  Part of it is certainly to help set their brew apart from others on the market.  The other part can be traced directly back to the art of craft brewing.  In essence, it all boils down to fun, creativity and imagination.  When you brew a craft beer, exploring different flavor combinations and brewing methods is all part of the enjoyment.

Posted on January 6, 2011 and filed under Brewing.