Most people will know that it only takes four ingredients to brew beer: water, malt, yeast and hops. Using those few components, brewers are able to concoct a seemingly endless combination of flavours, colours and aromas. But when ingredients beyond the basic four start getting added to the mix, the possibilities really do become endless.
In an increasingly inventive brewing scene, nothing is off-limits when it comes to adjuncts. With relative ease you can now find beers that have been brewed or infused with the likes of spices, truffles, honey, hibiscus, carrots, rhubarb, squid ink or bacon. Some of these apparently unusual ingredients have a long history of use in beer - consider the likes of coriander in witbier, oyster stouts and rice lagers - while many are experimental, one-off brews. Because of this nature, not every creative beer comes out as intended, but when they do it’s more than worth it. Here are a handful of local examples to show how extra ingredients can make all the difference.
Temple - Bicycle Beer
Ask most people and the idea of adding salt to beer is only something that happens by way having some residual saltwater from an ocean swim fall from your lips into a beachside quencher. But salt has an enduring connection to beer, particularly through the Gose style. Originating from the German city of Goslar, this is a variant of a wheat beer originally brewed with slightly salty water, thanks to the high saline content of the water found in the region. It’s a rare style, but for the curious and determined, Gose can be found; two local examples are the Nomad Freshie which uses seawater from Freshwater Beach and Willie the Boatman gose which uses pink rock salt. But adding salt to the slightly more familiar style is what sets Temple’s Bicycle Beer apart. To a base recipe that’s somewhere between pale, blonde and wheat ale, they add a concoction of hops - seven varieties in all - which gives it a citrus character with a little spice. For its part, the salt is subtle - if you didn’t know it was in there beforehand, you mightn’t know at all - but it’s there to bring out a little dryness.
Mountain Goat - Coffee Porter
A few years ago Mountain Goat teamed up with fellow Melburnians at the Seven Seeds coffee roasters on a coffee IPA named Seedy Goat. It was released as part of the brewery’s Rare Breed series, occasional brews which go above and beyond the kinds of flavours offered through the brewer’s regular range of beers. For winter 2015, Mountain Goat and Seven Seeds teamed up again for another Rare Breed, this time a coffee infused porter. Five different malts were used to get a suitably chocolatey base with rich roast characters, to which the coffee was added after being cold extracted. The coffee comes through clearly on the nose but melds together on the palate for a surprisingly easy-drinking experience. It’s the perfect partner for the Surefoot Stout which Mountain Goat released in cans for the first time this winter.
Holgate – Temptress
The name invokes something seductive and alluring and it’s an apt description for this beer. Porters, thanks to the make-up of the malt profile, commonly carry chocolate and coffee characters which make them an excellent way to introduce beer to people who claim they don’t like beer, but Holgate’s porter goes one step further by adding a generous dose of cacao and a touch of vanilla to the mix. The result? A luxuriously smooth, beautifully balanced beer that’s an absolute delight to drink. You’ll frequently find the Temptress in critics’ selections for top Aussie beers and with good cause.
HopDog BeerWorks - Alluvial Peach
What happens when you add a whole bunch of fresh peaches to a beer, stick it inside oak barrels and leave the bacteria to run riot? Magic is what. This annual release comes from HopDog BeerWorks, a tiny brewery in Nowra on the South Coast of NSW, and it’s a bit of a departure from the rest of their range. Metal music-loving Head Brewer Tim Thomas isn’t afraid of aggressive flavour in his brews - whether it’s bitter, smokey or intensely hoppy - but this beer is surprisingly delicate. The flavour of the peaches, grown in the nearby Araluen Valley, comes through with the fruit’s characteristic sweetness, while the month it spends in barrels adds a luscious hint of vanilla and oak. The natural bacteria in the beer create a dry and tart finish, with sourness becoming increasingly prominent with age.
O’Brien - Gluten Free Pale Ale
When it comes to interesting additions, a beer can be notable for what it doesn’t have as much as what it does. In the case of the O’Brien pale ale, what it doesn’t have is gluten. Gluten is a compound naturally found in wheat and grains like barley and rye - all of which are common base ingredients in beer - and the majority of the population has no trouble digesting it. But for those with coeliac disease, a serious condition of reactivity to a protein found in gluten, or who shun gluten for their own reasons, drinking beer is usually off the table. But with beers like those produced under the O’Brien label, anyone whose diet is determined by gluten exclusion can still enjoy a cold one. In this case, it’s one with fairly light and fruity flavours that’s best suited to warmer weather.