While purists may scoff, inventiveness is one facet of the craft-beer boom that not only entices new beer drinkers but has also influenced and expanded the offerings of mainstream beer.
The ability of nimble brewing companies to integrate experimental and limited-release brews into their regular output has led to many creative concoctions.
Here are four crafty trends you can try when visiting taprooms and at home.
Infusions. 12 Gates Brewing Company in East Amherst offers weekly “Randall Thursdays” for which they infuse various ingredients into a beer to generate a one-time-only, drink-it-fresh flavor profile. Infusions range from obvious combinations (caramel apples into an amber, for fall) to more wacky experiments (unicorn cereal to make a glitter IPA).
Inspired drinkers can try this technique at home by using a French press, a device traditionally used for steeping coffee. Start simple, with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks or fresh fruit, and then get more imaginative if you wish. Flowers? Herbs? Doughnuts? It’s a small batch, so why not have some creative fun?
Milkshakes and smoothies. Taking inspiration from other beverages—as well as from the continued popularity of opaque, hazy IPAs—brewers have incorporated lactose or pureed fruit into beer. This creates brews that are thicker than usual or just feel that way in the mouth.
For example, Elmwood Avenue’s Thin Man Brewery added loads of fresh raspberries to its super-thick Fresh Fruit Minkey Boodle smoothie. Community Beer Works’ Strawberry Vanilla Milkshake IPA is brewed with lactose as well as 10 pounds of strawberries per barrel.
Although creaminess can be added to any style even without milk sugars—something Old First Ward Brewing Co. accomplished with Heisenberg, its Imperial Hefeweizen— lactose-intolerant drinkers would be advised to pay attention to can and bottle labels and to ask their beertender about ingredients before trying.
Mixing. Similar to infusions, this practice is inspired by the overall ingenuity of the craft brews on the market. Commonly done at home, mixing can involve proportionally blending two different beers to create a new flavor profile or mixing a beer with other liquids. Some drinkers dub this practice cuvéeing.
Founders Brewing's Rübæus Raspberry Ale is one example of a beer that’s often mixed to create a more complex beverage. Its effervescent fruitiness can be used to enhance a malty, chocolatey porter or a rich Russian Imperial Stout; it can also shine in a beer cocktail mixed with frozen lemonade concentrate and vodka.
Collaborations. Community Beer Works uses the phrase “the collaboratory” to indicate its process of partnering with other brewers for joint beer making. Since brewing is both science and art, it’s an apt descriptor.
Collaborations can be far-flung, like Thin Man pairing with Mikkeller Brewing NYC, or hyper-local, such as the IPA jointly brewed by all of the Buffalo-area breweries in honor of the 50th anniversary of Buffalo watering hole Mr. Goodbar.
Collabs can even be between a brewer and a third-party who inspires them, such as when Dogfish Head of Delaware partnered with psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips for the tart pale ale Dragons & Yum Yums.
Collaborations are a great way for brewers of differing capacities and resources to learn from and motivate each other—and for beer enthusiasts to reap the benefits of makers who view their industry as a creative community.