By Kendall Brunette
Take a look at the beer menu of any Colorado craft brewery and you will notice a peculiar trend — the ingredients used to brew some of your favorite drafts seem more fit for a smoothie than a beer. Chai tea, key lime, guava, pineapple, watermelon, mango, passion fruit and chili pepper all add to a growing list of quirky flavors found in today’s craft brews.
A survey of this year’s Great American Beer Festival medal-winning beers proves that America’s appetite for craft beer is changing. Conventional lagers, pale ales, pilsners, stouts and wheat beers now compete with specialty beers that use an array of adjunct ingredients not commonly associated with beer.
One local craft brewery that brought home a medal from this year’s festival was Avery Brewing Company of Boulder. Avery was one of 580 breweries that attended GABF, the country’s premiere beer festival and competition. Every year, brewers from across the country convene in Denver for three days to showcase their beers in hopes of returning home with a medal or two to hang on the brewery walls. This year’s festival saw 2,700 different beers entered into competition.
On a recent tour of Avery Brewing Company, Kyle “Hair Kevin” Howard, tour guide and beer enthusiast, explained the craft brewing industry’s shift toward strange brews with unique ingredients.
Howard’s love of craft beer is obvious from the minute you meet him. There is a certain twinkle in his eye as he describes the brewing process. He lists off the ingredients of his favorite beer with a child-like giddiness. His body literally gyrates with excitement as he talks about having the best job in the world.
Experimental brewing is common in the world of craft beer. Howard explained that every good beer is the product of experimentation using different kinds of ingredients and tweaks throughout the brewing process. In an effort to keep customers interested in their product, Avery uses a variety of unique ingredients to produce beers that everyone can appreciate. Variety is the key to engaging a wider customer base who will keep coming back for more.
Avery uses the collective creativity of its employees – waitresses, brew masters and everyone in between – to brainstorm recipes for new beers.
Avery’s Bhakti Chai Brown Ale uses locally-sourced chai tea. Boulder’s own Ozo Coffee supplies the coffee used in one of Avery’s coffee stouts. The Ermita VI is one of Avery’s barrel-aged sour beers that uses key lime puree in the brewing process before it is aged in Suerte tequila barrels.
Fate Brewing Company, another Boulder craft brewery, jumped on the strange brew bandwagon with their Watermelon Kolsch — a light beer brewed with watermelon puree. Just down the road, Mountain Sun Pub sells its Colorado Kind Ale — a hop-filled beer locally referred to as, “The Dank.” Similar to Avery, Mountain Sun produces a coffee porter called Isadore Java Porter, which is brewed with fair-trade coffee from Boulder’s Conscious Coffee.
Each of these unique beers uses the same general brewing process, but with different ingredients introduced at various times. The resulting beers please crowds from all different walks of life.
Some of the more serious craft beer connoisseurs show their appreciation for these strange brews on Beeradvocate.com.
One satisfied Avery customer from Missouri posted, “The best thing I had was called ‘Samael’ — a 17 percent, five-ounce pour that was like whiskey and beer had a beautiful, beautiful baby.” “Every sip was the best thing I’d ever tasted,” the customer exclaimed.
Perhaps one of Avery’s most popular craft brews is its Lilikoi Kepolo, which means passion fruit devil in Hawaiian. This passion fruit-infused Belgian-style witbier won a bronze medal at this year’s GABF.
The list of Colorado’s strange brews is expansive and ever-growing. Avery’s Rumpkin Ale, brewed with pumpkin innards and aged in rum barrels, marked the onset of fall in Boulder. As winter nips at the heels of craft brewers, suds-sipping customers eagerly await the next batch of inspired brews. Next season’s flavor possibilities are endless – limited only by a brewer’s imagination.