Beer City The 13 Strangest Beers

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Thanks to globalization, Americans are encountering beers once reserved for a certain population. In some cases, there was a reason these beers were hidden or fell into almost total disuse. But some out-of-the-mainstream beers can become cult favorites. Here are 13 of the strangest brews out there, which range from outlandish to astoundingly delicious to almost undrinkable.
Sahti: Best described as Finland’s answer to the Saison, Sahti is a strange and ancient brew that originated with Finnish farmers. A hop-less beer, Sahti is brewed using juniper berries and twigs, as well as an assortment of grains, both malted and un-malted. To further set this beer apart, the wort is filtered through juniper twigs giving the beer an earthy taste and texture. Alongside mead, Sahti was a favored drink among Viking settlers of Kieven Rus (a slavic kingdom in Eastern Europe), but until recent years, it could only be found in its homeland of Finland.
Notable Version: Norse Legend Sahti by Boston Beer Company

Braggot: Mead is an ancient and potent wine made from honey that is the subject of far too many Viking myths. So what do you get when you mix the drink of the gods with one of man’s favorite drinks? Braggot! Essentially mead brewed like an ale rather than a wine, or mead mixed with beer in some cases, Braggot’s history is hazy. Some say it dates back to the Viking age or earlier, while others say it emerged as the English crown’s preferred drink of choice in the 12th century. No matter where it came from, Braggot was well received across Europe in an earlier age, appearing in taverns and royal courts.

Notable Version: Beyond 2014 Braggot by Sprecher Brewing Co.

Steinbeer : In the old days beer kettles were made of wood. Because wood will burn, it was impossible to boil your beer, forcing early brewers to get crafty. They found that superheated stones are excellent conductors of energy, and when dropped into cold water, it could be brought to boil, allowing the malts to steep and create beer. This method survived well-beyond the advent of the iron brew kettle for one reason; the stones gave the beer a distinct character. That character was a smokiness made by the caramelizing of malt sugar that came into contact with the stones. Rather than simply discarding these sugar-laden stones, brewers would then add the cooled stones into the fermenter, allowing for the yeast to eat the sugar, thus not only increasing the alcohol content but giving the beer another distinctive character; a sweet, candy-like finish. Unfortunately, due to the dangers involved in producing a steinbeer, few breweries outside its native Germany continue to produce this style. So finding this beer in the States is a challenge.
Notable Version: Hot Rocks Lager by Pizza Port Solana Beach

Gruit: Brewed across medieval Europe, Gruit is a classical un-hopped beer bittered using a collection of flowers, berries, and roots known as a gruit. By the 11th century, religious and political disorder in the Holy Roman Empire led brewers to adopt the practice of bittering their beers with hops rather than gruit to spite the Catholic Church, which held a monopoly on its ingredients. By the 16th century, hops were dominant ingredients in brewing and Gruit faded into obscurity. Half a millennia later interest in un-hopped beer has revived and with it Gruit has made a triumphant (in some quarters) return.

Notable Version: Gruit by New Belgium

Oyster Stout: Hailing from the British Isles, oyster stout originated as a traditional dry stout served with oysters as a meal, not in the drink. But at some point oysters were actually added to a stout; the benefits of using oysters in the brew, it turned out, include clarifying the beer, head retention, and mouth feel. The means by which the oysters are utilized varies from brewer to brewer: some boil them whole and remove before fermentation, while others grind the shells down and add them into the primary carboy. Either way, the oysters lend a briny, minerally, sea-like quality to the stout.

Notable Version: Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout by Flying Dog Brewery

Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout: A uniquely American invention that came as the result of an April Fool’s joke, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is similar to its Oyster Stout cousin. The only difference is that the Rocky Mountain version uses “bull testicles,” as rocky mountain oysters are sometimes dubbed. Yes, it’s strong stuff.

Notable Version: Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout by Wynkoop Brewing Company

Milk Stout: Yet another variation of traditional stout, milk stout gets it name from the addition of lactose, or milk sugar, during fermentation. Because milk sugar is non-fermentable, meaning it won’t be converted to alcohol by the yeast, the stout retains a distinct sweetness that separates it from the rest of the style’s variations.

Notable Version: Polish Moon by MKE Brewing Co.

Eisbock: Originating in Germany, Eisbock is a doppelbock beer that has been brewed traditionally but partially frozen prior to lagering. The ice that forms on top of the wort is then removed, concentrating the wort and increasing the body, flavor, and alcohol content. According to certain state laws, eisbock is technically a distilled spirit. Coupling this legal and marketing hurdle with the length and delicate nature of the freezing process has meant few American breweries touch this style.

Notable Version: Alaskan Eisbock by Alaskan Brewing Co.

Rauchbier: Originating as far back as the 16th century, this Bavarian specialty literally means smoked beer. Of course, the beer itself is not smoked. Instead, the brew is made by drying green malts over an open beechwood flame. The result is a brew that is smooth with a smoky character similar to that of smoked meat. The style nearly fell into disuse in the 18th century with advent of kiln dried malt, which doesn’t take on any smokiness. But the rauchbier style was revived by the craft brewing craze of the late 20th century.

Notable Version: Bacon Bomb by Brenner Brewing Company

Wild Ale: Tracing its origins to Belgium where the sour, or lambic, style is having something of a renaissance, wild ale’s strangeness comes from an ingredient most brewers strive to keep out; bacteria. A key rule of brewing is keeping your equipment sanitized so that wild yeast strains or harmful bacteria won’t turn your beer into malt vinegar. In the case of wild ales, this rule is relaxed, for it is the specific strain of wild yeast, brettanomyces, that brewers want to include. This then adds a sour flavor to the brew that most would consider a sign of spoilage, but that fans of wild ale, sour or not, desire. Though, in some cases, a wild ale isn’t sour. In the case of Beard by Rogue Ales, the wild yeast was actually cultured from the brewmaster’s beard! This, it turns out, makes for a mild ale without the sour character that comes from using the traditional strain of wild yeast.
Notable Version: Beard by Rogue Ales

Barley wine: First marketed in England in 1870, Barley Wine is not a wine at all, but rather a type of English Strong Ale. The wine name is because of this brew’s unusually high alcohol percentage, which tends to run between 8 and 12 percent. Today, there are two distinct styles of Barley Wine, the traditional English style, which tend to be on the high on alcohol and easy on hops, and American barley wine, which is commonly high in hops content.

Notable Version: Beer Line by Lakefront Brewing Co.

Chile Beer: Yet another odd American invention, Chile Beer is a trendy new style that is sure to turn (if not jolt) the heads of drinkers. This beer starts as a standard pale ale, or in some cases, a dark ale, but adds a variety of peppers such as roasted green chiles, jalepenos, or even the infamous ghost chile, to the fermenter. The result: a brew that’s hotter than the holes of Hell. It’s certainly not for everyone and more likely consumed on a dare than for pure enjoyment.

Notable Version: Ghost Face Killah by Twisted Pine Brewing Company

Tea Beer: Another beer with a hazy history but undeniably trendy, Tea Beer is a beer of any type, generally a wheat or pale ale, that has been infused with loose tea. It’s nothing so wild as a beer with bull testicles thrown in the brew kettle, but it is indeed a strange concoction.