There are a lot of beers out there pushing the envelope when it comes to flavour combinations. Bacon, chai, mint, liquorice, grapefruit, heather, watermelon, fir, oyster, ginger, chipotle, rose petals and well you get the idea, dream up a flavour, add it to beer and voila!
Now I know you can add almost any flavour into beer but the question becomes why. Is it a gimmick? A brewing challenge? Increased brand exposure? Generally, these one-off beers are seasonal offerings, something that makes a brief appearance on the shelf or on tap before passing into limbo or wherever it is that passé beers go to die so why bother?
Well I would like to put forward a few theories for your consideration. The rise of the craft beer industry has spawned a knowledgeable but dare I say easily bored (or easily swayed) league of followers that needs to be continually sated with an ever-evolving selection of “new” beer. In order to keep your beer geek interested you need to keep a big, juicy rhizome dangling out front so they will always stick with your brewery. “Hey, chocolate, lime beer brewed with crickets I bet none of the other bloggers have tried this yet!”
On the other hand, touting exotic beers with non-traditional flavours may assist in the creation of a new beer geek (and by extension a new customer). For instance, random non-beer drinker walks into a bar and sees Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple Beer, they pause and think I like bacon, I like donuts, I should try this and pshh (sound of a bottle opening) another beer geek gets his or her wings. At the same time posting all your flavours up front on the bottle makes it a no-brainer for those on the fence about craft beer since they are being told exactly what to expect. Chocolate Cherry Porter, no surprises there.
Perhaps brewers just like to experiment, to push stylistic boundaries and see if they can create something truly innovative. Once the brewing basics have been mastered, the classic ale and lager, why not explore which ingredients pair well enhancing bitterness or sweetness, changing the grain, fermenting with different sugars. Perhaps the allure of the next great beer style is always just around the corner.
But in all seriousness is a one hit wonder ever really a good thing? Do we reflect back on “Can’t Touch This” and lament the fact we did not stick it out with MC Hammer for the long haul or did we just pass him over for the next catchy tune? Do any of these one-off beers have real staying power or generate repeat business? Maybe these oddball beers draw drinkers to a brewery but I doubt you could find a beer geek who makes regular shelf space for bacon or chai beers.
On the flip side you have Trappist breweries devoting hundreds of years to perfecting a singular beer style. In this instance, love of the craft does not equate to a line-up of fifty different ales but painstaking attention to making the best beer they can brew.
And why do I need to be told what flavours are in my beer just by looking at the name on the label? Beers have always been flavoured; dark beers can have coffee, roasted cereal grains and sweetness simply by nature of the style in the same way hefeweizens have citrus and spice elements and lambics have a fruit profile. Isn’t part of the tasting experience allowing the consumer to discern what tastes emerge as they drink? Of course keep the list of ingredients but let the drinker have the pleasure of discovering what makes your beer truly great and what they enjoy in a brew.
I think I am finished now.