Brewing Specialty Beers - dummies

By Marty Nachel, Steve Ettlinger

Specialty beers are one of the most fun and popular beer categories in the world. This category is fun for the brewers and popular for the consumers because it really has no clearly defined boundaries or guidelines. It’s kind of an anything-goes and rules-be-damned category.

So how did specialty beers come to be? Well, most craft brewers approach their profession with the same passion as an artist; they love the creative aspect of their job. Although beer style guidelines are fundamental to their creations, they’re also occasionally seen as confining. Craft brewers are often at their best when they’re allowed to cut loose in their brewhouse. When they shed the constraints of conformity, they prove themselves to be impressively gifted artisans capable of producing nothing less than the nectar of the gods.

Part of brewers’ creative drive is constantly searching for new and unique ingredients to add to their beers. This search is done mostly to push the envelope and expand horizons, but it’s also done in the name of marketing. In other words, the more out there the ingredients, the better.

Here’s just a partial list of oddball ingredients that have recently gone into commercial beers around the world:

  • Bog myrtle

  • Cedar tips

  • Coconut

  • Heather tips

  • Hemp

  • Hibiscus flowers

  • Hot peppers (ancho, jalapeño, ghost)

  • Juniper berries

  • Kopi Luwak coffee

    The beans used to produce Kopi Luwak coffee are collected from the scat of the feline Asian Palm Civet. The civets first eat whole coffee cherries for their pulp, after which the inner beans ferment inside their stomachs. After defecated, the beans — still whole — are collected, cleaned, and roasted. The result is a remarkably complex, full-bodied coffee. At least three brewers are known to have made a beer with Kopi Luwak coffee as an ingredient.

  • Peppercorns

  • Rose hips

  • Seaweed (Kelp)