OK Cincinnati microbreweries – this is getting crazy! Hopping the alpha acid out of your beers and then souring them with wild bacteria wasn’t enough. Now you’re ‘collab-ing’ with food companies, adding extreme ingredients, and driving into the high-occupancy lane! I commend the creativity, but wonder how weird our microbrews will go in one-upping each other. Are we in for a horchata porter, or a durian flavored hefeweizen?
It’s odd how elegantly some of the most disgusting sounding ingredients pair with beer! One fall Sunday last year, a fellow beer aficionado friend and I stopped at Listermann Brewery’s tap room across from Xavier University. I saw their BeetsMe – a hefeweizen flavored with beet and thought, ” I MUST try this strange brew. It’s got to be the weirdest flavor pairing I’ve ever seen.” And it was AWESOME. It wasn’t a smack- you-in-the-face beet flavor, it had a mild earthy note, but you could definitely taste the beet. It was refreshing and drinkable and I fell in love.
Listermann Brewery also figured out a way to spray-dry peanut butter into a powder that could be used as a flavor without adding off flavors from peanut oils during fermentation – brilliant and delicious. Thus was born their peanut butter stout.
Then, the BeetsMe beer was outranked by the Cherry Sour Kriek I tasted at Taft Ale House a few weeks later. It wasn’t too sour, it wasn’t an overwhelming cherry flavor – it was nearly perfect! Only available on tap onsite, I was able to coax a gruller of it from a friend who worked there. Taft Ale House, with Brewmeister and co-foudner, Kevin Moreland, probably has experimented with the most unusual flavors of any local microbreweries. They have a key lime beer, and they’ve announced a pairing with Over-the-Rhine neighbor, Macaroon Bar, for an upcoming Pistachio Macaroon Porter.
In time for the Ohio PawPaw Festival in September last year, Fifty West Brewery created their Eastern Standard Bitter, flavored with pawpaw fruit from their friends at Fox Paw Ridge Farm in Manchester, OH. PawPaw is a tropical-like fruit with creamy, fruity flavors of banana, cantaloupe, mango and custard. There were over 15 other pawpaw flavored beers at the festival from other Ohio microbreweries.
We’re used to berry flavors being paired with beers. The Blueberry ale was popular several years ago. National chain, Rock Bottom Brewery, had one for a while, before the microbrew craze took off. Strawberry, cherry, and raspberry beers popped up as large national brewers were trying to bring back women to beer drinking, pandering to their sweet tooths.
But now it seems a lot of brewers are pairing with confectioners for the sweet-savory balance. But, they’re not being used to flavor the light ales and hefeweizens used to pander to the feminine taste. It seems men like their stronger, meatier beers with a sweetness too. Blank Slate is pairing with the wildly popular Bonbonnerie Bakery in O’Bryanville, for a uniquely Cincinnati flavor – an opera cream stout. Last holiday season, Warped Wing Brewery in Dayton, Ohio, paired with their local confectioner, Esther Price Candies, to create “Esther’s Little Secret,” a milk chocolate brown ale.
In 2014 MadTree Brewing teamed up with Findlay Market based bean-to-bar craft chocolatier, Maverick Chocolate, to create Rubus Cacao. Rubus Cacao (pronounced “roo-bus kah-cow”) is a sweet chocolate stout with a slightly tart raspberry flavor, fusing the two in perfect harmony. Maverick sourced the cacao nibs from the Dominican Republic to create the rich chocolate flavor that tickles your taste buds with each sip. First released in draft only form, it became an instant fan favorite, selling out crazy quick. The partnering worked out so well, MadTree went on to use the Maverick cocoa nibs to partner with Blank Slate for their Banana Stand chocolate-banana-coconut beer.
My beer aficionado friend, who is well known for his saltiness when it comes to food and drink critiquing, found a weird brew called Shroominous at Blank Slate Brewery near Lunken Airport. It’s a brown ale flavored with shitake mushrooms. I’ve not tried it but he claims it’s now his favorite regional beer.
This new beer craze is big business for restaurants too. James Beard Award winning Chef Todd Kelly at Orchids announced a five part seasonal alliance with Blank Slate for five new beers this year. The first in the series is called Orchids Bloom, a French-style Saison brewed with coriander and hibiscus, and is to be available at the Orchids bar. There’s also a very limited amount on draft at the Blank Slate taproom.
There’s certainly more to come in this extreme flavor train. What’s next – a rye and corned beef flavor smoked brown ale? Actually that sounds delicious – somebody please team up with Izzy’s for that one!