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The 30th Annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo., kicked off this past weekend. With over 450 breweries from 48 states featured, approximately 2,375 different beers were served to close to 50,000 attendees. Needless to say, it was a drinking party not to be missed. Joining a growing cocktail trend, brewmasters delved into the deviant side of beer by adding basil, guava, chilies, and even bacon. Here are nine breweries that went on a limb to experiment and did it well.
Bull & Bush Brewery: Turnip the Beets
Eating your veggies takes on new meaning with this 2011 bronze metal-winning beer, Turnip the Beets. Head brewer Gabe Moline first came up with the name, then made the actual beer. Moline said they brought Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay barrels to their Denver location and filled them with chardonnay grapes, Champagne yeast and organic beets and turnips. After multiple tries, they finally got a flavor they liked. The resulting beer has a nice cotton candy head, a mildly sweet smell, and a smooth earthy flavor, which, in the end, isn't like salad at all.
Steelhead: Guava-licious IPA
This Eugene, Ore brewery has been turning out inventive beverages since 1991. Their pinkish guava-licious IPA is perfect for brunch: Who needs a mimosa when brewmaster Eddie Leal has put so much fruit into a beer? “I was eating a fresh guava one day and was inspired,” he said. The flavor of the guava really comes through in the light ale, and, even though you can taste the fruit, it's not too jammy.
Uncommon Brewers: Organic Bacon Brown Ale
Yes, this is a meat beer. The Santa Cruz, Calif., brewery chucks in hunks of applewood-cured pork into the process to give this sweet brown ale a smoky, meaty taste. "I enjoy bacon and I thought using a nut brown would be the way to do it," said brewmaster and founder Alec Stefansky. Stefansky developed the beer with fellow brewer Reed VanderSchaaf as a companion to yet another strange brew, the Rubidus Red Ale. They weren't pouring it at the festival, but Stefansky said the latter was made with candy cap mushrooms, which grow wild in their area and give off notes of maple. The best part, he said, is that if you drink a few pints at night, then in the morning, you smell like maple syrup -- with the bacon beer, it's a complete meal experience.
BJ’s Brewhouse: Juniper Rye
This 13-state brewhouse and restaurant chain constantly produces solid beers, but none are quite as unique as their Juniper Rye. Made with fresh juniper berries, this strong, 8.9-percent beer has a heady aroma of a gin that mellows out once you actually sip. The flavor has a story, too: One that involves the floral liquor marring a rich, brown rye and then producing this love child . “It’s a traditional style -- since before hops were used, fruits like juniper berries were used to balance flavors," said brewer Alex Puchner. No wonder the brew has won them two medals at the past Great American Beer Festival.
Dad and Dudes Breweria: Basil Agave Blonde
Open just shy of a year, this new Aurora, Colo., based brewery and pizzeria has captured the appetites of the young and old with its beer-grain-laced pizza and solid brews. Owner Tom Hembree, aka Dad, said each batch of beer is brewed one keg at a time, which gives them reins to experiment more. With the Basil Agave Blonde, they started out adding five pounds of fresh basil to the batch, creating a light, effervescent ale with a sharp, spicy green body. It smells like fresh pasta sauce yet the flavor remains crisp, clean and surprisingly light. "It’s super popular," said Hembree. "The second keg of this blend sold out in three-and-a-half hours."
The goddess has landed with this bubbly pink beer. Brewed in Ommegang's New York facilities, this traditional Belgium-style ale debuted this year and has a limited run. Lucky us, this raspberry and pear melds beautifully with the grains of paradise, which are the seeds of a West African flower that lend a slight peppery taste. The brewery also uses Brettanomyces yeast, which gives the brew a roundness and floral tone that helps make it truly a beer of love.
Cambridge Brewing Co.: Banryu Ichi
Forget advice that warns against mixing your tipples, because sake and beer go perfectly together. “We like making beers that haven't been made before," said brewmaster Will Meyers. "I am a big fan of Asian cultures and knew a man who did a sake homebrew in Japan." In the Cambridge, Mass., brewery Meyers used polished rice, sake yeast and Koji to make 50 gallons of sake and built his wort using barley malt, flaked rice and brown rice. The name, Banryu Ichi, means "10,001 ways" in Japanese, and given the complex flavor profile of sweet rice, green apple, fennel and grape, it fits well.
Six Rivers Brewing: Chili Pepper Spicy Ale
There are chili beers and then there are super spicy, bold and beautiful beers infused with peppers. The chili-heavy wheat beer at McKinleyville, Calif.'s Six Rivers Brewery is one of them. “Our brewer Carlos Sanchez claims he is the originator of the chili beer,” said co-owner Talia Nechshon. It combines so many chilies that the brewmaster wears a protective mask while he makes it. At first sip, the refreshing light wheat beer cools a parched throat, but within minutes the burn blossoms on the back of the tongue and throughout the whole mouth.
Brooklyn Brewery: The Concoction
While this brewery has a following, head brewer Garrett Oliver may be one of the most well known men in the beer world. With one sip of The Concoction, it's clear why. The sparkling beverage contains a heady lemon flavor with traces of honey and faint notes of whiskey. The result? A beer version of the cocktail Penicillin. “I just love the cocktail and thought about how they put all those elements together," said Oliver. “In the cocktail they work together, so, I thought it would be interesting to see it done in a beer.” Oliver conditions his brew in old whiskey barrels to give it that special, slightly smoky kick. The perfect medicine indeed.