It's beer, but not as we know it

Five crafty concoctions that began life as beer but took a left-turn somewhere along the way.

Spend any length of time at your local bottle shop and you'll notice that people nowadays spend nearly as much time choosing a six-pack as they do a bottle of wine. All this perusing in front of the beer fridge is of course a result of the growing number of craft beers available. And while umming and ahhing at the bottle-o is the downside to having greater choice, the upside is clear: Australians have never had such a range of quality beers to choose from.

The greater range of beers also means that some craft brewers are choosing to head down the road less travelled to find their niche in the market. For beer drinkers who want the taste of creativity, even eccentricity, in their beer there has never been a more interesting time.

“In Australia over the last couple of years it's certainly taken off with people adding coffee, chilli, chocolate and even truffles,” says Chris McNamara of the Craft Beer Industry Association.

“It's often brewers having a bit of fun in the brew house but also showing the consumer what is possible with beer. Pushing the boundaries and stepping outside what we think beer is and showing what can actually be done.”

So with your imagination and appetite whetted, here are five craft beers of the more creative variety to keep your eye out for.

Kwencher – Clingstone Peach and Black Tea

Developed by beer-making novice David Burns, this fusion was inspired by a holiday to Morocco in 2008 in which he and his wife discovered the delicious flavours of peach tea and icy local beer.

“We joked about blending the two and we both thought there was something in it so when we got home I did a bit of experimenting,” David says.

In November 2011 brewing began in Geelong, and the Clingstone Peach and Black Tea fusion was born.


Red Duck – White Garden

Most would call a beer made with a rhubarb and raspberry jam wildly unusual but Scott Wilson-Browne, owner of the Red Duck brewery, would simply point out that from a historical perspective it's not that unusual at all.

“The Belgians have been brewing beers with fruit for thousands of years. It's only in the last 30 or 40 years that 99.9 per cent of beers in the market and the perception of beer is that it is carbonated, clear, bubbly and tastes the way it does,” Wilson-Browne says.

Taking his inspiration from the sourer Belgian Wit and Berliner Weisse beers, Wilson-Browne decided to make a tart beer, but didn't want to add lactic acid cultures that are traditionally used to achieve this taste.

“I thought, 'how else do you make a beer tart' and lateral thinking said you use a fruit whose natural flavour is tart.

“People see the rhubarb and raspberry jam and think it's going to be sweet and when they taste it, it's quite tart and refreshing and quite different from their expectations.

“I like it because it changes people's perception of what beer is and also because it makes a really beautifully refreshing beer.”

Moon Dog – Bock Naked & Jumping the Shark

Bock Naked is one of the new creations from the Moon Dog Craft Brewery, located in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Abbotsford. With this brew they've taken a big malty dark lager and infused it with smoked chipotle chillies.

“The chilli flavour gives it something different, a subtle hotness, so there's a bit of heat as well as a good malt body. The chipotle chillies we use are smoked so it gives it a Mexican-style chilli flavour,” says Moon Dog co-founder, Karl van Buuren.

But if you thought a chilli infused beer is pushing the envelope, the boys have an even bigger surprise with a beer they've appropriately named Jumping the Shark.

“This is probably the biggest one which we've ever released,” van Buuren says. “What we've done is make a 15.4 per cent imperial stout, then we've aged it in cognac barrels for four months and infused it with black Tasmanian truffles. It's a huge beer, very truffly flavour, big imperial stout with lots of the oak and cognac flavour from the barrels.”

Murray's – Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep

Beer goes brilliantly with a plate of shellfish, but what about a plate of shellfish in your beer?

Well, that's what happened when Melbourne beer writer James Smith teamed up with Murray's Brewery of Port Stephens in order to take part in the media brew challenge for last year's Beervana festival in New Zealand.

The result was a seafood stout that featured Port Stephens oysters and blue and green-lipped mussels.

“I was a bit taken aback when James started talking about putting mussels in beer,” says Murray's head brewer Shawn Sherlock.

“But it came together really well and we did a small batch for the competition, which we ended up winning. Nearly 12 months later we decided we'd reproduce it in a small commercial batch, so it's a one-off which was released in July as part of our dark beer month.”