The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
This session is hosted by Tiffany Adamowski at 99 Pours on the subject of novelty beers.
“With the onslaught of even weirder beers than before, ” she writes, “I can’t help but wonder if novelty beers are going too far. Or maybe not far enough? LOL! As a merchant of beer, I can see the place for novelty beers, as I am choosing for some customers who say, “I want the strangest beer you have”. We’ve even seen some novelty beers in our top-sellers. But beer traditionalists sometimes frown on these new and bizarre concoctions.”
In my world of beer there are two sorts of novelty beers.
1) The beer you pretty much only buy because of some sort of gimmick or weird ingredient and it turns out to be unpleasant.
2) The beer you pretty much only buy because of some sort of gimmick or weird ingredient but which surprises you by being quite good.
A perfect example of category No1 is a beer I once bought with the awful name of Rubbel Sexy Lager, from a brewery in Belgium (and here I was thinking all breweries in Belgium were good). On the label was a photo of a woman wearing a silver-coloured swimsuit.
That silver-coloured swimsuit was exactly the same colour as those scratch panels you find on instant lottery tickets. Because that’s exactly what it was – the idea was to scratch off ordinary woman’s clothes to reveal some Belgian nudity.
And that must have been the best thing about the beer, because I can’t remember a damn thing about the beer itself. Though I am comforted by the fact that both Ratebeer and Beer Advocate give it a caning.
In a similar vein – but without the nudity – comes Lucky Beer, which is brewed in China. The beer itself is an intensely ordinary pale lager but the gimmick here is that it comes in a squat bottle shaped like Buddha (at least I’m assuming it’s Buddha). It’s the beer you buy to go ‘‘hey, look at this bottle!’’. And then once the bottle has ceased to be a source of amusement, you never, ever buy it again.
Then there’s Cave Creek Chili Beer the most vile, evil beer I have ever tasted. After literally one mouthful I poured it down the sink.
But it’s not just the bottom end that thrives on gimmicks – it happens at the top end too. Scotland’s Brew Dog is a classic example of this. They make stupidly high-alcohol beers like Tactical Nuclear Penguin or The End of History (which doubled the gimmick factor by putting the bottles inside a stuffed piece of roadkill) which simply scream ‘‘novelty’’. You buy them, not because they’re good beers, but just so you can say you did.
The same goes for Mikkeller and its 1000IBU, a beer I reckon most people have only ever tried once. It’s a beer you buy to check off your list, not because you enjoy it (unless you’re some extreme hophead whose taste buds hate you, that is).
Which brings me to the second sort of novelty beer – the beer you expect to be a novelty but which surprises you.
One recent example of this for me was a beer called Fresh Six from a Sydney brewery called Young Henrys. Located in the musically cool inner city suburb of Newtown, brewer Richard Adamson decided to make some beer in cahoots with musicians.
One of the was Fresh Six, made with the assistance of long-time pub band Front End Loader. Because the band were fans of tequila, Adamson opted to add some dark agave syrup to a rye pale ale and get it to finish at a rocking 6.66 per cent alcohol.
To me, that just screamed novelty beer. But that agave syrup worked so beautifully with the dry rye pale that, as soon as I’d finished the sample tray of beers I went straight back to the bar to buy a pint of the stuff.
Another Australian beer that surprised was Mountain Goat’s limited run beer Seedy Goat. It featured coffee beans but it wasn’t, as you’d expect, a porter, stout or something similar. Instead it was an IPA. Yep a big fruity IPA with coffee beans – sure sounded like a novelty to me. And a potentially awful tasting one too.
But it wasn’t – brewer Dave Bonighton had the beans roasted in such a way that it brought out light, fruity flavours. And those flavours melded wonderfully, wonderfully well with the fruitiness of an IPA (well, an Australian IPA. We don’t go for the ultra-piney ‘‘I think I just drank a Christmas tree’’ sort of IPAs that are popular in the US).
We don’t get a lot of US beers in Australia but one did end up here – and which seemed like a novelty beer was Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale. The lurid pink bottle alone was enough to put it in the novelty category but coupling a beer with a weird doughnut flavour is clearly the work of someone not being serious.
And yet, and yet. They ended up with a beer that tasted like a bacon maple doughnut (or at least what I imagine one would taste like) and then managed to make it a serious beer. Sure. I would never been able to finish a whole bottle of it on my own, but I heartily applaud what the Rogue brewers managed to pull off there.
Even if the bottle still hurts my eyes every time I look at it.
So despite the chance that it may turn out to be an awful waste of money (yes, even with accompanying female nudity), I’ll always take a chance on a novelty beer.
Because, sometimes they can surprise.