Out of Style: When Brewers Get Creative

Written by
Nick Oscilowski
February 16, 2017
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True classics never go out of style. It’s as true to music and wine as it is to art, cars or beer. And when it comes to beer, there are classic styles from which all other beers follow; Czech pilsner, English bitter, German hefeweizen, and American IPA just to name a few.

But while the traditional styles are held up as the benchmark, it’s often on the fringes or between the lines where the real magic happens. That’s where brewers really get to play, experimenting with recipes and changing the style or direction of a beer - a touch more malt here, a handful of hops there or a scoop of something altogether different. Unchained from stylistic guidelines, creativity becomes boundless.

It doesn’t always work and some experiments go wrong, but that’s the price of discovery because, when it does work, the results can be spectacular. Below are a handful of examples of Australian brewers working between the style guidelines to create beers that are invariably interesting, occasionally unusual, but which always pass the all-important taste test.

Rocks Brewing - India Session Ale

When the Rocks Brewing Company opened their state-of-the-art Alexandria brewery in 2014, it brought five years of gypsy-brewing to an end. As well as the relief of having a permanent home, it also opened up the possibility of adding more limited release beers to their core range. The new Rocks beer family grew quickly to include a wet hop rye ale, Belgian ale and even a one-off bacon beer, but arguably the pick of their new breed is the ISA: India Session Ale. The idea of a ‘session ale’ - or more commonly ‘session IPA’ - is a constant subject of debate in the beer world, with no one seemingly sure whether it’s meant to be a hopped-up pale ale or a dumbed-down India Pale Ale. Whatever it is, they style is growing in popularity and in Rocks’ ISA you can understand why as it delivers a massive citrus and stone fruit hop hit and a hearty bitterness while managing to squeeze it into a 4.2% abv package.

Doctor’s Orders - Iron Lung

A classic Pilsner is meant to be a light golden colour with excellent clarity. Iron Lung is jet black and impenetrable in its depth. So, no ordinary Pilsner then? Certainly not, but where Doctor’s Orders is concerned there’s no such thing as ‘ordinary’. It’s as if the Sydney brewer has set up permanent camp in the area between traditional beer styles, then wanders well out of bounds to fetch new recipe ideas. And when it comes to adding unusual ingredients to his beer, nothing is out off limits - be it squid ink, rhubarb or wasabi. It says something that Iron Lung, an Imperial Black Pilsner, is one of Doc’s more conventional releases as it forsakes unusual ingredients in favour of something more resembling straight style-bending. With rich, roasted malt characters and a bucketload of hops contained in a 7.0% abv brew, you might consider Iron Lung to be more of a Black IPA, but the clean lager-like finish should be enough to convince you otherwise.

Little Brewing - Breaking the Cardinal Rule

Port Macquarie’s Little Brewing Company make lovely beer in whichever of the traditional styles they set their mind to, but it’s their more potent brews which have really been winning the hearts and minds of beer lovers; their Belgian Tripel is a local benchmark, while their Fastidious Bastard IPA, named for head brewer Warwick Little’s attention to detail, is a knock-out. Melding those two styles has been done to great effect with Breaking the Cardinal Rule - an IPA Tripel - as the clashing styles come together beautifully. There’s little of the harshness you sometimes get from beers of this size, only intense hoppy fruitiness, a touch of typical Belgian phenolics, and a lingering sweetness. In fact, such is the ease with which this goes down, if you gave it to someone and told them it’s 9.5% abv, they might be tempted to call you a liar.

Mountain Goat - Hightail Ale

Hightail Ale is a 4.5% English-style amber ale - a beer that in no way could be considered out of style. But when Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton started the Mountain Goat brewery in Melbourne nearly 18 years ago, there was almost nothing like it made locally. Here then, you had a beer that was rich and malty with floral hops, a world away from the mass-produced lagers which had taken over Australia decades before. Hightail proved to many - not least Cam and Dave - that there was thirst for something different, and Mountain Goat went on to be a leading brewery in the resurgence of local beer, especially in Melbourne. Hightail may not be as out there as it once might have seemed but, just like catching up with an old friend, you’re always glad to see it.

Out Of Style beers

Two Birds - Taco

If the idea of modelling a beer on a taco seems a tad ridiculous, that fact that Two Birds have managed to do it so well is almost implausible. The concept for the taco beer came about while brewery founders Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen were travelling on the West Coast of the USA and indulging in the Mexican food which is so abundant in the area. The beer they created is both an homage and an accompaniment to that style of food where sharp, zesty flavours and freshness are key. At its heart Taco is a wheat beer, but one that’s had a serious dose of citrus character added thanks to the Citra and Amarillo hop varieties. Then there’s the addition of corn, coriander leaf, and a painful amount of fresh lime peel (painful, that is, if you’re the brewer who has to do the peeling) to bring the zest both literally and figuratively. Taco is unique but also quite brilliant - especially when, as would seem obvious, paired with Mexican food.