We Tasted Some Of The Weirdest Beers America Has To Offer

Pickle beer: now a thing.
Photo © Brewers Association

Question: What do oysters, glitter, assorted pig parts, birch tree sap and barbecue sauce all have in common?

Answer: They’re just a few of the ingredients featured in some of the more adventurous beers poured at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, an annual early-October gathering of breweries from across the country in Denver.

2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the festival, which this year boasted more than 800 breweries and upwards of 3,800 different beers ― the largest collection of U.S. beer ever assembled ― all served in a sprawling, delightfully chaotic convention center:

Attendees swarm a section of the main hall at the Colorado Convention Center during the Great American Beer Festival.
Photo © Brewers Association
Attendees swarm a section of the main hall at the Colorado Convention Center during the Great American Beer Festival.

How do you make an impression when you’re one of close to 4,000 beers? Going weird is a good bet. So we went in search of the most boundary-pushing brews we could find.

A note about our methodology: This is far from an exhaustive list of all the festival’s most adventurous beers. It does, however, represent a pretty solid cross-section of the more unique offerings. We selected the below beers for tasting because they were either highlighted as “odd/unique” by the beer blog Porch Drinking, pulled from the Great American Beer Festival’s own “fear no beer” list, or entered into the competition under the “Experimental” category.

Weird is good. Weird is different. And, for the most part, weird is delicious.

Beer For Breakfast
Ryan Grenoble / HuffPost
Ever heard of scrapple? (No relation to the board game. Or the drink.) No, this scrapple is a meat product consisting, in part, of pork livers, fat, snouts and hearts. Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery incorporated it in its Beer For Breakfast, a surprisingly lively winter stout that also includes Guatemalan Antigua cold press coffee and maple syrup. Pair with a large stack of waffles, a crackling fire, and a snowbound cabin. Delicious.
Seven Region Oyster Saison
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1,500 oysters from each of Virginia's seven distinct oyster flavor regions went into Lickinghole Creek's Oyster Saison, which co-owner Sean-Thomas Pumphrey described as a "light, lemony beer."

Lickinghole brewed the beer in collaboration with the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program, a nonprofit that uses shells to reintroduce oysters into threatened waterways. Great beer for a good cause? Shuck yeah!
Ryan Grenoble / HuffPost
Sometimes the newest, most adventurous beers have old, old roots.

Such is the case with Off Color Brewing's "Wari," based on an approximation of a more than 1,000-year-old recipe used by the ancient Wari culture of Peru to make "chicha" (a corn beverage originally produced by chewing the grain and spitting it into large fermentation vessels). Researchers at the Chicago Field Museum helped the brewery reconstruct the recipe using residue from ancient pots found at a Wari dig site.

The brewery imported purple corn from Peru to stay true to the original recipe, which brewery representative Andrew Tader says delayed production by about a year, because "customs thought we were smuggling drugs."

Another brewer, who goes by "Bocce" (and whose business card identifies him as Baron von Boccenheimer, with the title of "duct tape gladiator"), said they did make some alterations to the recipe, however: Unlike authentic chicha, "We obviously didn't chew it up and spit it."
Mermaid Tail Ale
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Mermaid Tail began life as a golden ale brewed with beets, but brewmaster Cat Wiest of Santa Cruz's Seabright Brewery found the beets too earthy and overpowering. So she added lemon drop hops and blood oranges, turning the creation into a bright citrusy bit of sunshine. Then she added FDA-approved edible glitter, she says, "just because I can!"

"It didn't occur to me I was making a pink sparkly beer," Weist told HuffPost with a laugh, "I just ended up with it."

Inset: Glitter. Loads of it.
Mushroom Ale
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"Most people hate mushrooms," concedes Adam Milne, the owner of Portland Oregon's Old Town Brewing, who hopes the establishment's Mushroom Ale "bends [people's] minds a little bit."

Consider this reporter's mind bent: The beer, which tastes like pancakes and maple syrup, gets its flavor from a pound of Candy Cap mushrooms per 14 kegs brewed. According to Milne, the mushroom, commonly found in the pacific northwest, is a favorite of the region's pastry chefs for its delicate, sweet flavor.
General Washington's Secret Stash IPA
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Colorado brewer "Dad & Dudes" earned one of the longest lines at the festival for its offering of several beers that incorporate Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabis oil also known as CBD. Co-owner (and "The dude") Mason Hembree told HuffPost a family member with epilepsy inspired him to begin using the ingredient (CBD has been shown to have a positive effect on controlling seizures).

"It took awhile to muster up the courage" to brew cannabis beer, Hembree acknowledged, "and another year to figure out how to do it legally." The brewery is the first in the country to win federal approval for its cannabis beers.
Mateo BBQ Stout
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What possessed Ironworks' head brewer Wade Maslen to concoct a beer with a gallon of barbecue sauce in every keg? Sudden inspiration, mostly. That, and the pub's chef had just wrapped up making a fresh batch of the stuff when he decided to go for it.

With a laugh, Maslen told HuffPost that Ironworks' owner "did not support or condone the idea," but he decided to try it out anyway. The resulting stout comes across as subtly smoky, with a bit of tomato and black pepper.
Pipe Tobacco Porter
Ryan Grenoble / HuffPost
There's no smoking allowed in the Great American Beer Festival (a smoking area is provided nearby), but if all you're craving is the flavor and not the nicotine, New Helvetia Brewing has you covered. The Sacramento brewery's Pipe Tobacco Porter attempts to replicate "walking through the mall and smelling the pipe tobacco shop," said general manager Owen Largent. Largent assured HuffPost the beer doesn't actually contain tobacco, but declined to share the brewmaster's secrets for imparting the flavor. Notes of rich mahogany and many leather-bound books abound.
Tomato Gose
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Tin Man brewer Jack Sranek originally set out trying to capture the flavor of a Chicago-style hot dog for the brewery's Tomato Gose. While he failed to accurately create "hot dog beer," he did end up with a pretty tasty, less meat-driven approximation. Brewery co-owner Sara Davidson told HuffPost no hot dogs whatsoever were used in the brewing process; instead, there's a healthy dose of tomato, poblano peppers, cucumber and assorted spices. Davidson said it tastes more like a Bloody Mary or a Michelada than a hot dog, and we agree.
Pickleball IPA
Ryan Grenoble HuffPost
Ever get the urge to crack a jar of pickles and take a big, deep drink? If so, meet your beer. The briny aroma of "Pickleball IPA" belies a hoppier, crisper beer than you'd imagine, albeit one with plenty of garlic. Ty Nash, the head brewer at Big Horn brewery's sister location in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, told HuffPost no pickles actually go into the beer, just a smattering of herbs and spices to "replicate the brining process." Nash said Pickleball "sells fantastic."
Chaga Old Ale
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Scratch Brewing Company added chaga mushrooms and birch sap foraged from near their secluded Illinois brewery to this barrel-aged strong ale, which weighs in at a deceptively drinkable 9.1 percent alcohol by volume (most beers are closer to 5 percent). Brewery co-owner Marika Josephson told HuffPost they collect the sap and boil it down just like you would for maple syrup: over a wood fire. The beer was then aged in chambourcin barrels (a red wine varietal) for an incredible, deliciously complex drink.
LSD Honey Ale
Ryan Grenoble HuffPost
Whoa, there. Nothing illicit in this LSD, just lavender, sunflower honey, and dates. Indeed Brewing describes the creation as "kaleidoscopic" and "mind bending," but we'll just stick with "floral." This beer tastes like you're running through a field of flowers with an open mouth.

Before You Go

President Obama Drinking Beer