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The Session #68: Novelty

This month’s Session beer blogging topic (from 99pours) is about novelty beers – folks are throwing a lot of interesting ingredients into beer these days, and that can be both a good and a bad thing.

Over the past year, as we’ve developed a personality and a direction for our company, we’ve also had to develop a brewing philosophy that would be a differentiator. Inspired by the more adventurous beers we’d fallen in love with, like black pepper porters and cranberry saisons, we always wanted to create unique beers with interesting ingredients. The issue with creating beers like this, though, is that to do so flirts dangerously with novelty.

Now, novelty isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Novelty beers showcase the versatility of beer as a medium and provide interesting starting points for intense brainstorming sessions. But novelty for the sake of novelty is where, in our own humble opinion, the line should be drawn.

Not all beers made with things not normally used to make beer are novelty beers, it’s just about how much attention you call to it. When you create a beer that contains esoteric ingredients, you’ve got a big decision to make in terms of how to go about branding it. On one hand, you can let it be the star of the show, naming, branding and marketing it as such – things like Pizza Beer are obviously not attempting to be an exercise in nuance. On the other hand, you can give it a little less forward recognition and let it be part of the ensemble cast. Stone’s 16th Anniversary IPA, for instance, contains lemon verbena and lemon oil, but is not by any means a marketed or identified as a “lemon beer”. It’s all about balance.

Matt and I both have side jobs at restaurants with well-thought-out cocktail programs (Eleven and Union Pig & Chicken / Harvard & Highland respectively), and over the past few months we’ve been delving further into how cocktails are built and how flavors interact. When we see a cocktail menu citing such ingredients as artichokes and lingonberries and fennel, it makes us wonder how to combine these types of things without letting them dictate the entire character of the beer.

As we’ve already said, we want to utilize a much larger range of ingredients and flavors than the average brewery. Doing that in such a way so that adding things like chai spices doesn’t automatically make it a “chai beer” is, in our opinion, a slightly more elegant approach.

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