I've slacked off for quite some time making my own beer and decided to get back into it. I have mostly brewed "that which cannot be bought," because, what's the point? You're not saving any material amount of money making it yourself. A good batch of beer is still going to set you back $45, and after you factor your time spent, you're in the hole for sure. Having said that, brewing things that weren't available on the shelf back in the 1990's was pretty easy. I made a Mocha Stout and a Raspberry Wheat, both of which should be pretty easy to find at a decent bottle shop these days.
Another recipe from back in the days include a Lime Agave Ale, which I did twice, the second batch receiving a fresh Chile de Arbol dropped into each bottle. Keep in mind, this predated Tequiza (for better or worse) by about a year, and Habanero Skulpin by at least a decade. The agave extract was available at my local homebrew supply store, the amazing Steinfillers, and both batches turned out excellent. The base Agave Ale was crisp and refreshing. The lime wasn't overpowering, and despite going through the fermentation process, still tasted fresh. The essence of the agave still came through and provided a hint of a Margarita.
The chilies added a whole new dimension however, which if you've ever had a chili beer, you'll know. These were pretty hot, and got spicier as they spent more time in the bottle. Two bottles was about my limit, any more and you would begin to sweat and start to feel the endorphins kicking in. It is not an entirely terrible feeling, who knows, maybe it would even be helpful for arthritis.
One of the more... adventurous brews I whipped up back in the 1990's was a Kava Cranberry Wheat. If you're not familiar with Kava Kava, it is a drink made from the powered root of a pepper plant, piper methiscum, and mixed with water. It is consumed ceremoniously all over the South Pacific, most famously in Vanuatu and Fiji.
I was first introduced to Kava sitting next to a BYU-Hawaii student on a plane while he was coming home for summer break. I was a junior in high school at the time in Hawaii checking out the University of Hawaii at Manoa - baffled that I was completely unaware that there was a BYU there. If I converted to Mormonism, I could go to school on the North Shore, not the South Shore - how did I miss this?!
In any case, he was bringing home a huge bag of Kava, which even with its mild sedative effects, are OK from a doctrinal perspective in Mormonism, and not against the "word of wisdom." I was intrigued. It was 1996, he was roommates with Donny Solomon, and while I'll never remember his name, we had some deep convos on the way back to the mainland.
When I landed, I nearly immediately sourced a pound of Kava and brewed a batch of wheat ale with it. For those of you who haven't had Kava, there's a reason why you're not going to find Kava Shiitake Risotto. It isn't an unsung culinary herb that no one has discovered yet. Not that it doesn't pair well well with other flavors, it's more because it tastes like bathwater.
If you haven't seen a Kava ceremony, watch a snip here; notice they don't savor it, they pound it - and while the Kava beer definitely tasted like the Kava, there needed something to make it palatable. Enter Cranberry. Sweet and sour. I kept adding cranberry until the result was drinkable. I may have kicked up the alcohol a few percent in the process, but the end result ended up pretty good.
I also brewed a series of Multi-grain Ales, both Multi-Grain Pale and Multi-Grain Dark. These are brewed with barley, wheat, rye, oats, and rice. They have a very complex and layered malt profile and body. After so many years of playing with hops I started playing with the grains. I'll admit, playing with the grains is much more subtle, and isn't nearly as fun, but it does make you think beyond the first dimension.
Most beers coming out these days are huge hop bombs, and while I love them, the hops wash out any inkling of flavor from the malt. They are such a stark contrast to the fizzy brown-water that had been American beer for decades. Sure there are great brewers out there brewing with a malt-forward attitude. They're just the exception right now. Every-other new bottle I see on the shelf is some variation of a high-octane piney bitter-bomb. This will change.
The people's palate is a pendulum.
The current wave of IPAs remind me of Napa Cabs in the late 1990's. Dot-com IPOs were everywhere. The stock market was hot, and everything was labeled "extreme." People had money to burn, and the "Cult Cab" phenomenon was in full effect. These were big, high-alcohol, over-oaked, and over-priced cabs. If is said Napa on it, it sold; and if it said 15% alcohol on it, it sold even better.
But that too passed, and sooner or later people started to enjoy other foods with wine besides a charred Cowboy Ribeye. The people found more subtle wines that paired with dishes other than burnt red meat - wines like Pinot Noir. I think the movie Bottle Shock in 2008 was an indication that the Cult Cab movement was over, and America was starting to develop a more refined respect for elements besides ethanol and oak.
It is worth noting that while wine drinkers often poke fun at boxed wine (like Franzia), or wine spritzers (like Bartles & Jaymes), wine industry members recognize that these were the best things to happen to them in decades, maybe ever. They got millions of Americans to try wine for the first time. Wine spritzers Franzia are gateway wines, just like Zima is the gateway to a headache.
Beer will settle into a more refined moment, mark my words. Right now it is just oiled-up and flexing in front of the mirror, making plans to attack Sparta. Like "Napa" in the 1990's, anything with the letters I-P-A on it sells. I am literally sipping on a "Black IPA" right now. That doesn't even make sense. The "P" is for Pale - how can you be Black and Pale? There's a Michael Jackson joke in that - but I'm not going to go there. Anyway, one day soon 6.5% will be the new 8.5%, hops will stop yelling at the screen, and there will be a host of new flavors to choose from.
It's going to be huge.