The Reihneitsgebot, Germany’s beer purity law, was enacted in 1516 and controlled what ingredients could go into German beers: barley, hops, and water (yeast wasn’t known yet). Well, America’s brewers don’t live under such strict ingredient requirements and have really stretched the limit of what goes into their boil kettles and fermenters.
Margherita pizza? Burgers and fries? Breakfast cereal? Rocky mountain oysters? I’m not making this up; for better or worse, all have gone into beers recently.
Thankfully, Charlotte’s breweries haven’t gone as far off the deep end ingredient-wise, but they’ve certainly shown a willingness to push the perceived boundaries of what can go into their wares.
Drink: “Jalapeno Pale Ale”
I know what you may be thinking, “peppers aren’t that interesting,” but these aren’t simply jalapenos thrown into a fermenter. Birdsong designed this beer so according to the can label, “you can enjoy a subtle flavor and the aroma of the green peppers without the heat,” which means a lot of additional behind-the-scenes work.
Deseeding and deveining peppers is no simple task: it takes brewery staff four hours to prepare the 40 pounds of peppers that go into each 60-barrel batch of Jalapeno Pale Ale. I’ve done the math; that’s about five pecks of peppers.
Interesting fact: All Birdsong’s jalapenos for this year-round offering come from just north of Charlotte, thanks to Concord’s Green Thumb Gardens.
Drink: “Trapper Keeper”
Back in March, this liquid homage to Lisa Frank took the internet by storm. Sure, this saison was loaded with an interesting mix of lemon peel and pink peppercorns, but it was the addition of edible glitter that got Buzzfeed and company’s attention.
Give the beer a swirl and you’ll see a noticeable shimmer, which is a welcome derivation from the murky haze of trending IPAs. Beer purists rolled their eyes and wrung their hands, but that won’t stop Bold Missy from rolling out the second batch of this cult classic.
You have a few weeks to prepare yourselves: The Trapper Keeper sequel returns to taps on Aug. 10. Who says beer has to be boring?
Drink: “Mother Shucker”
This collaborative stout between NoDa and Wilmington’s Front Street Brewing first rolled out in 2013 to commemorate April’s designation as NC Beer Month, and the tradition has continued ever since. This year’s release on April 8 coincided with an oyster roast, and was also the first time this beer was canned.
It takes a team of three to five shuckers around four hours to process the bushel-and-a-half delivery from Stump Sound, just north of Wilmington. Shells go in the mash tun, giving the beer a crisp mineral finish that works well with the roasted flavor of the stout. The meat and liquor are saved for the boil kettle, which gives some savoriness.
Pro tip: This springtime treat pairs well with both surf and turf, so grab a four-pack next spring before you fire up the grill.
Drink: “You’re Everything I Knead”
When you think about it, brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast aren’t all that different; it’s possible to make bread using brewer’s yeast, so Free Range teamed up with Plaza Midwood’s Dukes Bread to find out what beer made with baker’s yeast would taste like.
The yeast starter itself is over 200 years old, and is the workhorse for the bakery’s sourdough production. Free Range uses this starter in an ongoing series with names punning on “Knead,” with previous entries like “Who Do You Knead” and “All You Knead Is Love.”
What to expect: Expect just a lactic nip from the sourdough yeast, with that tartness blending well with the IPA’s citrusy hop selection.
Saké Yeast, Rice, Lychee
Drink: “Righty Tighty Lefty Lychee”
Follow along with me: this collaborative effort between Resident Culture and Triple C is an IPA that’s generously hopped with trending Citra and Motueka, before taking a sharp turn by being fermented with a yeast traditionally used in Japanese rice wine-making. Oh, and in a homage to that sake yeast, 20 percent of the grain bill is a blend of wild and red rice.
But wait, there’s more! Once the beer is finished fermenting, it’s aged on lychee: odd little fruits, with a sweet and fragrant flesh surrounded by tough, inedible skin. Cross an armadillo with a grape, and you’re grasping the concept.
What to expect: The liquid sum of these odd parts carries a citrus-forward hop profile, light sweetness, and a pleasantly dry finish. Limited kegs remain at Triple C, so don’t dawdle.
Drink: “El Banquito”
Salud is no stranger to the wild side (waffle beer, anybody?), but hearing that a large dose of Nilla Wafers was going into a batch of hazy IPA? Sign me up.
The trademark soft mouthfeel of NEIPA coupled with the biscuity vanilla sweetness of the wafers provided a great anchor for this beer, letting the Mosaic hops and addition of Meyer lemon intermingle and shine.
Pro tip: This batch recently hit taps, so come drink your dessert while it’s fresh.
Scorpions, cotton candy, catnip, black tea, Tonga vanilla beans
Where do I begin with Unknown? How about with scorpions: 99 of them went into “Escorpion En Fuego,” an imperial Mexican lager brewed with agave nectar and serrano peppers then aged on tequila staves, for their second bottle release.
Since then, we’ve seen a plethora of ingredients go into Unknown’s beers, ranging from cotton candy (Rise Against Clowns), catnip (Kitten Snuggles), black tea (Hospitali-Tea), but it’s the coffee-and-vanilla combination in their Rarest Bean that grabbed my attention.
The Tonga vanilla beans that went into this imperial stout are beyond bold and are highly sought, with each pod costing over $10. Then, there’s the matter of the equally-rare Black Ivory Coffee, which costs over $100 a bag, with around 1000 pounds produced each year. Much like how kopi luwak is tied to civet cats, these beans pass through the digestive tract of an elephant before being roasted.
Don’t roll your eyes too hard: Bottles of this decadent offering sold out in under an hour, and it was, in a word, delicious.
Photos by Jonathan Wells