Easing into Extreme Beers
Does the phrase extreme beer scare you?
Do you feel like you should strap on roller blades, a crash helmet and head down a steep ramp with an extreme beer in hand—emerging on the other side of a deep trough with beer flying in the air as you chase it with your tongue wagging?
Sam Calagione understands. He had reservations about using that as a title for the book when Rockport Publishers approached him about writing Extreme Brewing.
“I struggled thinking of that [“extreme”] as the best terminology,” he said. “The name has certain connotations—young, alternative, punky. That’s why I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the book explaining what I mean by extreme,” he said. “Extreme beers are brewed with more amounts of the traditional ingredients or [with] non-traditional ingredients.”
Some of those beers qualify as more extreme than others. To ease the fears of drinkers wanting to try something a little bit different without first putting on the crash helmet, each of these five brewers suggested a training wheel beer (and forget the connotation that training wheels beers are “dumbed down” products).
Adam Avery: Ayinger Celebrator
“Even though I’m not usually a German beer guy. It’s got so many interesting flavors in there for a lager, ones that are easy to drink. You think ‘plain black beer’ and don’t get at all what you’d expect.”
Tomme Arthur: Rodenbach Grand Cru
“Perhaps the single most defining beer moment for me came when I experienced my first Rodenbach [Grand Cru]. It was a seminal moment, as I only then began to understand that beer could possess a range of flavors outside of bland and watery. The beer was ruby with brown highlights. It was at once sweet and sour, woody and dry. This beer was an epiphany for me. I soon embarked to learn as much of the process of making this beer as I could.”
Sam Calagione: Chimay Red
“Chimay and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot [barley wine] opened my eyes to the possibilities. I think [Chimay] is more accessible to either the generic red wine or lager drinker than Bigfoot, so it has the potential to convert more people into diverse beer enthusiasts.”
Vinnie Cilurzo: Orval
“At first glance it might seem to extreme for a beginner, but, here is my thinking: When the beer is young, there is little Brettanomyces [wild yeast] character, yet lots of hops. In my mind, the hops are more complex than your typical American IPA or double IPA. As the beer ages, the Brettanomyces comes forth and melds with the hops. Over time, the Brett can come and go…This is what I like about Orval; it is a beer that can age with the best of wines. Orval…can age, and change, and be a different beer. In a way that is what we are trying to do with a lot of our beers.”
Rob Tod: New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Cherry Red
“New Glarus Red came to mind because it strikes a unique balance between a) being very accessible, in that it is ‘drinkable’ and has an appeal to a broad range of tastes, and b) a clear uniqueness, in being the only beer of its kind in the market.”