At its most basic, beer is composed of just four ingredients: barley, hops, water and yeast. The world’s oldest food purity law, the 500-year-old German law known as Reinheitsgebot, defines beer as having no more than these components.
Anyone who’s been caught up in the craft beer craze knows that many brewers, even quite a few German ones, make beer with more than just those ingredients. Anything used beyond those four is known as an adjunct. A wide range of adjuncts are used as alternatives to fermentable sugars and as flavor additives.
Other flavors may also be infused into beers after they’re finished, using a hop rocket (sometimes called a randall), a device that’s much like a water filter, only it works in reverse. The filter can be loaded with various ingredients to enhance flavor, on the spot, immediately. While they are most often used with hops to add more bitterness or flavor, brewers can also load them with just about anything you can imagine to flavor the beer immediately before it is served. Think peaches, blueberries, strawberries, fresh coconut flakes, even ground coffee. You might come across infusion beers regularly at Octopi in Waunakee and World of Beer in Middleton.
If you’re not a total conformist to the strictest traditions of German brewing, this is exciting. What might you find in beer that you’re not expecting?
Fairy Tail Ale from One Barrel Brewing is a saison with both wheat and honey in addition to malted barley. Brewer Matt Gerdts adds rose hips and cherries for additional flavor. The rose hips lend a light color but also a nice tartness. Golden oats in the grist add smooth body. Fairy Tail hit the One Barrel taps in late August, but if you missed it, watch for a return.
Watch for Belgian Prairie from the Great Dane, due to come back later this fall. It’s a tripel, fermented with Wollersheim Winery’s Prairie Fumé. There’s lots of grape sweetness and warmth from its 10 percent ABV.
Another very limited release in August was a version of grapes with beer and a sour twist from New Glarus Brewing. Its Champ du Blanc features Chardonnay grapes and a blend of 2015 and 2016 lambic-style sour blond ales.
MobCraft Beer is well known for creating unusual concoctions based on suggestions received via social media. One of the stranger brews it’s offered in recent months was Don Durio’s Filthy Mustachio, which features durian, a fruit from southeast Asia with a distinctive odor that some find sweet and others describe as smelling like rotting sewage. The beer was initially produced in 2014, but received somewhat of a mixed reception — bottles continue to turn up at the back of shelves at a few liquor stores.
Another fruit you don’t hear about every day in connection with beermaking is soursop, which appears in 3rd Sign’s Pollux Belgian wit. Soursop, also called guanábana, is a South American fruit that lends citrus hints of pineapple, strawberry and banana to this light wheat beer.
These brews are made with heavy doses of pumpkin pie spice, pumpkin puree or even fresh pumpkin, depending on the brewer’s preference. Among those to watch for this fall: Pumpkin Pie Lust from New Glarus, Painted Ladies from Tyranena, Pumpkin Ale from the Great Dane and my favorite, Pumpkin Lager, and its big brother (a brandy barrel-aged version of the same beer) from Lakefront Brewery. In the same vein, Milwaukee Brewing Company’s fall seasonal is Sasquash, a sweet potato porter.
It’s a given that gluten-free beers all feature at least one adjunct to replace the barley. At Alt Brew, brewer Trevor Easton has a long list of substitute ingredients that he draws on in making gluten-free beers. His list has included rice, teff, honey, candi sugar, orange peel and coriander. One of his most recent brews is a version of his Copperhead Copper Ale made with chicory, a woody plant in the dandelion family that lends the beer coffee-like flavors along with a nutty earthiness. A limited release of that beer is expected to be offered this fall.
Bent Kettle Brewing of Fort Atkinson recently released K’Paui, a coconut porter. It’s a full-bodied American porter made with enough coconut extract that you’ll swear you’re drinking a candy bar.
Sheboygan-based 3 Sheeps Brewing Company will again release Paid Time Off this fall. It’s an imperial black wheat ale made with walnuts, cocoa nibs and coconut. The brewery toasts the nuts before adding them to the fermenter. Sweet coconut and earthy walnut flavors result, with big alcoholic warmth from its 10 percent ABV.
MobCraft also has a new beer for fall made with toasted hazelnuts. Aunt Hazel is an imperial stout that also features cocoa nibs and lactose, which combine for rich flavor and body.
Spices and tea
Godzilla, a monster of a wit beer, was first released in 2011 by Milwaukee Brewing Company. Now with the name O-Gii, it has big body and strength at 9 percent ABV, well beyond expectations for a Belgian wit or anything falling neatly within Reinheitsgebot. Made with a variety of spices, coriander, orange peel, fresh cut ginger and Rishi green tea, it’s assertive, with spicy warmth and the sweetness of tea and chamomile. It’s part of the brewery’s Herb-In Legend series that also includes a jasmine tea-infused IIPA called Hop Freak.
“It’s definitely our oddest beer,” says 3 Sheeps owner Grant Pauly of the brewery’s black IPA called Squiddy. I first discovered it at 2013’s Great Taste of the Midwest. It’s made with squid ink imported from Italy. Squid ink is sometimes used in other foods like pasta; in beer it adds color and a hint of briny saltiness. The beer is not currently on the brewery’s production schedule; however, Pauly says, you never know when it may come back.