Ah, late-December. That time of season for year-end reviews and Top Ten lists. But while some beer-writers decided to go with a straight-forward Top Ten Beers list, I decided to take a stranger road. A lesser traveled road of lesser-traveled beers, as it were. Now, since I live in Denver, I could only get my hands on so many beers. But being a virtual epicenter of craft beer, Colorado has more than enough craft beers to make a list of. Not only that, but the Craft Spirit (yeah, capitalized like a proper noun) is so alive and well in this state that it was not difficult at all to make a list of the Ten Weirdest Beers of 2012.
(unfortunately some of these beers may never be made again in 2013 or beyond, due to either critical unsuccess or the whimsy of that particular brewer. But some might. Who knows.)
Blue Moon Caramel Apple Spice Ale
This beer isn’t on this list because it’s brewed with nutmeg, caramel malt, apple juice and cinnamon…though it would be enough to turn heads if it were any other brewer. What made this odd was that it was brewed by the folks over at Blue Moon (Coors). Now, “Craft vs Crafty” debate aside, it takes guts and a special sort of ‘devil-may-care’ attitude to brew up a wheat beer full of caramel, apples and spices. Coming in at 5.8%ABV, this autumn special release caught my attention about a week before Haloween, when the craving for a candy apple is at its highest. The result was a little bit of a letdown, no surprise considering the wide appeal Blue Moon attempts to cater to–but it was indeed a step in the right direction. Craft brewers trying something new or outlandish is nothing new, but Blue Moon filling a spot that not even Craft brewers are filling? That’s novel.
SKA SkaWork Orange: Imperial Orange Cream Stout
An especially rare brew, this stout was released in February to commemorate the 2012 Durango Independant Film Festival. Only a couple of cases were distributed to the Denver-metro area, so if you got yourself a bottle you’re pretty lucky. Otherwise it was more-or-less only available in Durango, particluarly at SKA Brewery or thereabouts. And with a label and name to celebrate one of the finest cult classics in film. Basically, this is an imperial milk stout with orange peel. Sounds like a good idea right? Creamsicles are good, imperial stouts are good, all should be well with this beer. And while it garnered 6 raves on BeerAdvocate, it got unanimously slammed on RateBeer. And myself. I mean, I applaud the creativity and the attempt, but something didn’t quite come together for this beer. The consensus seems to be too much orange and boozy phenols. Either way, the approach was noteworthy.
River North Whiskey Aged White Ale
While there is nothing new about a whiskey-barrel-aged beer in modern beer times, a whiskey witbier is still a pretty odd choice. More or less every ale style has been whiskey’d by now, even pale ales and altbiers, but a delicate Belgian white? Well, there certainly are no boundaries. With notes of spicy fruit, yeasty biscuit and vanilla/oak/whiskey, the lads over at River North prove with certainty that you can throw anything in a whiskey barrel and come out with a great product, so long as that product was delicious to begin with.
TRVE Diotima: Smoked Tea Saison
“F*** style-guidelines!”, this beer shouts. The name of the beer more or less says it all. It’s a Saison, with smoked green tea. Let that settle into your brain while you imagine what that tastes like. Even if you live in Denver you probably didn’t try this beer, since TRVE’s heavy-metal scene can scare away some of the non-pierced, non-tattoo’d ‘normals’. Named for an album put out by black-metal band Krallice, this odd concoction balances the dusty malty saison essence, and smoked-green tea notes so perfectly, it’s difficult to nail down which of those dynamics takes prominence. Its unique juggling act creates perhaps one of the most unique beer-experiences on the palate I’ve had all year.
Denver Beer Co. Swineheitsgebot: Coffee-Bacon Rauchbier
Denver Beer Co. is known for a couple of things: a kick-ass porter, always having at least one wheat beer on tap, and flipping a bird to the olde German Beer Purity Law. The greatest example of the latter came back in February during The Coffee Beer Fest, an in-house event hosted by DBC celebrating coffee, beer, and the lovely marriage of the two (and bacon). The beer was Swineheitsgebot, a blantant and playful poke at the aforementioned purity law. A single-batch brewed for the fest was a classic German Rauchbier, aged on coffee beans and bacon. And it was fun. Not mind-blowing delicious, but certainly not bad. The bacon notes weren’t really prominent and it was served perhaps a bit too cold to taste much of the coffee tones. But damn if it didn’t make you think.
Twisted Pine Roots Revival: Carrot IPA
Yes. The Craft Sprit in Colorado finally brought about an IPA with carrots in it. Further proof that the Nappa Valley of Beer is perpetuated by a bunch of renegade homebrewers (and I mean that in a good natured familial way). Brewed to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Boulder Farmers Maket, the Roots Revival Carrot IPA is certainly for the adventerous palate, as carrot isn’t really considered a typical beer additive. In all honesty, the beer tasted pretty ok. Really restrained bitterness like a British IPA, but with a light steamed-carrot flavor on the finish–but not in a terrible way that takes away from a beery experience. I applaud beers like this, that make you think twice about even purchasing it due to its weirdness. Seriously, I do. Reach for different things; being like everyone else is not ‘Craft”. Doing something ballsy like putting carrots in your IPA is.
Odell Totes McGotes: Oak-aged Wheat Ale with Riesling Must
Admittedly, I am a sucker for I Love You, Man references. Offered as a one-time specialty for the Small Batch Fest in the summer, the Odell brewers decided to recreate the magic of Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot with a wine-beer of their own. But it didn’t really turn heads at the fest, from what I could tell. The idea was in the right direction, but it wound up being too funky, too boozy, or too whatever for fest-goers. Or maybe it was because it was balls-hot outside during the fest and a wine-flavored oaked-wheat wasn’t in the cards for many of us.
Crooked Stave WWBB: Brett Blueberry Black IPA
Crooked Stave will never make a ‘normal’ beer. That is their promise. Everything will be barreled, bretty, or both, or something else, but never ‘normal’. Nothing really captures that spirit so well as their WWB (Wild Wild Brett) series. Every so often they will perpetuate the series with a new ingredient (usually fruit[s]), but they kinda struck gold with ‘-Blue’, a black IPA with blueberries on brettanomyces yeast. ”Brett” and “Black IPA” are enough to draw the Denver beer-nerd crowd, but thankfully the blueberries in there tempered the bretty sourness and the hoppy bitterness at the same time. Too many oddities in a beer can throw the whole thing off, but WWBB hit the sweet spot of ‘odd’ and ‘well-made’.
Renegade Banana Split: Imperial Hefeweizen with cocoa nibs
Another example of that crazy homebrewer spirit alive and well in the Colorado beer scene. And actually, I think it came off pretty well. It was a little too boozy and a little too yeasty, but tasting cocoa and banana in the same beer brought out the little fat kid in me. It’s been brewed twice at Renegade now, so just keep an eye on their Twitter account for the next release. As well as an open mind. Though it may not make it to wide distribution or cans, it’s just one more reason to visit the brewery in-person. You never know what kind of weirdness you’ll get to try.
Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout: Stout brewed with bull testicles
While this list is in no way ordered, this definitely takes top spot for weirdness…and deliciousness. Yes, I’ll admit it. I thoroughly enjoyed this beer. While the specialty ingredient may drive many away, the lure of the oddity drew many in. I mean, bull testicles in a stout?! What started as an April 1st YouTube joke turned into a full fledged batch of foreign stout brewed with roasted testicles–3 balls per barrel, to be exact. Released in time for GABF, patrons from all across the country got introduced to this beer. It even got a fair bit of national media attention by The Today Show and Anderson Cooper. If you’re too scared to try it, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that it tastes like a deep roasty stout with a hint of chocolate, and a lingering flavor of what I can only describe as beef char. If your interest is piqued, look for it next month in cans, as Wynkoop will be distributing it to local liquor stores (in 2-packs, no less…)
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