Specialty Beers

November 19, 2009

Beyond the classic beer styles exists a wide range of other creations. Some are based on old obscure brews, but most are examples of American ingenuity. These beers go beyond the range of familiar flavors and aromas venturing into unexplored territory.

Fruit beers are a style that can vary widely depending on the whim of the brewer. Raspberries, cherries, apricots and blueberries are the most commonly-used fruits, and many variations are possible.

Honey beers have honey added to the wort, which surprisingly, creates a dry, crisp beer with honey aromas.

Pumpkin beer is a popular fall seasonal in which pumpkin is added to the mash. This is one of the oldest American-style ales originating when colonists, lacking a reliable source of malt, used whatever fermentables were available for brewing. Some pumpkin flavor is present in most pumpkin ales, but most of the flavor comes from pumpkin pie spices added late in the boil.

Chili beers are a more recent creation with a spiciness ranging from subtle to intense. There are many ways to make chili beer, but all include adding peppers to the mash or fermenter.

Herb/Spiced beers include a whole cupboard of possibilities. Perhaps the most popular are the spiced holiday beers, often loosely based on traditional English wassail. They are typically strong and dark with complex spice cake notes.

Smoked beers continue an age-old tradition originating in the Franconia region of Northern Bavaria. Most beer in the past had some smokiness, but with advances in kilning technology, this passed by the wayside. Some American craft brewers have embraced the tradition by using peat-smoked malt in porters and Scotch ales.

Barrel-aged beers are typically barleywines or strong stouts aged for a few months or longer in oak barrels or used bourbon barrels. While aging, the beers pick up delicious vanilla and toasted coconut aromas.

Hyper beers are ales that feature experimental yeasts that can survive in high alcohol environments. These super yeasts produce extremely strong beers that can exceed 20% alcohol by volume. These beers share many characteristics with sherry or port.

Seasonal Beers are some of the gems of the brewing world. While some are brewed annually, others are produced as one-time releases. These beers are often unique and showcase a brewer’s creativity and passion. Seasonal beers utilize seasonal ingredients and highlight flavors in harmony with seasonal fare.

Spring Beers

Mai-Bock
Mai translates to May in English This German-style lager was purported to have been consumed by monks when fasting! Malty and satisfying, but not too heavy, this is a perfect beer to help ring in the Spring.

Red Ale
This style is characterized by a light-to-medium caramel malt sweetness. American-brewed versions often use the beer’s malty base to support aggressive hop aromas, flavors and bitterness.

Irish Stout
Also known as a dry stout, this roasty, dark ale is perfect for cool, rainy spring days or for celebrating your Irish heritage (even if you’re not Irish the rest of the year).

Biere de Mars
A malty version of the Biere de Garde, Biere de Mars (March) is often partially fermented with a wild yeast strain such as Brettanomyces. It is a spring beer for those who love funky fermentations!

Wheat Beers
These refreshing beers are brewed with 30-60% wheat malt. There are many different types of wheat beer, each with their own distinctive characteristics.

Summer Ales

Though not a defined style, these are seasonal beers brewed for enjoyment in the warm weather months.

Saison
French for “season”, Saison is a rewarding beer style to get to know. It is traditionally a farmhouse ale from the French-speaking region of Belgium. Saisons are brewed in the winter and served in the summer. With liberal hopping and some pleasant acidity to balance the malt, saisons are fun to explore and are a great accompaniment with many different foods.

Autumn Beers

Oktoberfest
Originally referred to as Marzen, meaning March, these are brewed in the spring for drinking in the fall. In Germany, they were fermented in caves in March and tapped at summer’s end. This amber lager style was first created in 1840. It is a malty beer with good body and complexity averaging 5% alcohol by volume.

Pumpkin Beers
Pumpkin is a versatile brewing ingredient and pumpkin beers come in all styles, flavors and strengths and can be ales or lagers. Enjoying your local brewer’s interpretation is a fine way to usher in the chill of autumn. Harvest Ales – Featuring local ingredients or ingredients of the season, fall harvest beers can be wet hopped (undried hops are added straight from the field), or use freshly malted grain or have other seasonal variations. These beers are usually above-average in alcohol and may feature ingredients harvested annually in the fall.

Winter and Christmas Ales

Winter and Christmas Ales
These big-bodied, high alcohol beers beg to be enjoyed during the cold weather months. In addition to malt, wheat, and other fermentables; winter ales are often flavored with spices and herbs that we typically associate with holiday festivities.