8 of the Weirdest Things People Have Brewed Beer With

According to historians, beer has existed for at least six millennia and has been savored on every continent (even Antarctica!). With credentials like that, it’s no wonder that brewers have occasionally turned to some highly unusual techniques and ingredients to make their beverages stand out. Here are eight of the oddest.

1. Dead Whales

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Last year, an Icelandic brewing company called Steojar made headlines when word of their making a low-fat beer with processed whale meat (obtained from beached carcasses) got out, prompting outrage from conservationists. Steojar’s official website boasted that those who drank it would become "true Vikings," but their product was subsequently banned by Iceland’s health department.

2. Elephant Dung

Dubbed "Un, Kono Kuro" (a play on the Japanese word "unko," meaning "crap"), this Japanese concoction was made "using coffee beans that have passed through an elephant." How did it taste? One brave recipient said "there was an initial bitterness that got washed over by a wave of sweetness."

Unfortunately, this limited edition treat sold out within minutes (even at the heavy price of $100 a bottle), so if you want to get your hands on some elephant poop beer, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and start from scratch.

3. Human Beards

Plenty of brewers claim to put a little bit of themselves in their bottles, but only Rogue Ale’s The Beard Beer takes that idea so literally. As the name implies, the beer is created thanks to a beard—specifically, the beard of the company’s master brewer, John Maier. The Oregon-based company was looking for a new source of yeast when someone joked Maier’s beard might be a perfect place to grow it. Sure enough, it worked. "John has had the same old growth beard since 1978 and for over 18,000 brews, so it is no great surprise that a natural yeast ideal for brewing was discovered in his beard," Rogue proudly boasts.

4. Dead Christmas Trees

Spruce-based beers have been around for centuries, a practice some believe should be revived to help curb the wasteful discarding of Christmas trees en masse after the holidays.

5. "Rocky Mountain Oysters"

"Fried bull testicles—or 'Rocky Mountain Oysters'—are a Colorado favorite. This makes them the perfect ingredient to showcase the new style of beer we’ve created that really pays tribute to one of Colorado’s unique culinary jewels," Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Company says in this hilarious (and slightly NSFW) video for their eyebrow-raising "Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout." The beer, which started off as an April Fool's Day prank, became a reality when some viewers mistook the video for a true advertisement. Wynkoop did a limited edition brew with three bull testicles per barrel, and they kept up the testes-in-cheek humor with their online publicity: "Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is an assertive, viscous stout with a rich brown/black color, a luscious mouthfeel and deep flavors of chocolate, espresso and nuts." Heh. 

6. Actual Oysters

Rest assured, seafood fans: you can also find beers that contain real oysters. Their meat and shells have been used in stouts since the 18th century, giving the beer a silky, salty finish and becoming regional favorites in countries such as Belgium and New Zealand.

7. Hemp

Two drugs for the price of one! Flavored with hemp seeds, Joint Effort beer is, as Washington's Redhook brewery calls it, "a dubious collaboration between two buds." Made to celebrate the legalization of marijuana in the state in 2012, the beer tap was fittingly shaped like a large yellow bong

8. Frankincense & Myrrh

Fittingly called the Gift of the Magi, this gold-colored seasonal ale from The Lost Abbey is flavored with frankincense bark and "the smallest amount of myrrh."

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Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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