11 Obscure Beer Styles That Are Worth a Try
Sure, stouts, India pale ales, and hefeweizens are tasty, but if you want to venture away from the beaten path for your next beer, give one of these styles a shot.
1. Grodziskie (Grätzer)
A smoky wheat ale that originated in Poland, Grodziskie is a long-lost cousin of Berliner weisse. Like Berliner weisse, it is low in alcohol, occasionally tart, and highly carbonated, but it also features a unique smoky twist thanks to the oak-burning kilns used to malt the wheat. Lichtenhainer is a very similar German take on the style that historically tended to be wilder and sourer in character.
This medieval German style is currently enjoying a renaissance in the United States. Gose is a top-fermented wheat beer brewed with salt, coriander, and souring cultures. While gose originated in Goslar, it became the regional specialty of Leipzig and as such was allowed an exemption from the Reinheitsgebot (the German purity law). A traditional gose showcases notes of lemon, spice, and salt, but modern takes have added quirkier ingredients like cherries, yuzu, and dry hops. Some examples have even been aged in tequila barrels.
The official beer of Peru is literally made with spit. Traditional chicha brewers chew on maize to allow natural enzymes from their mouths to unlock the grain’s fermentable sugars. While this practice may sound unsanitary, the grains are then boiled and sterilized of wild yeast and bacteria. Although there are very few commercial examples available in the U.S., there is a thriving culture of homebrewed chicha in South America, with variants ranging from unfermented, sweetened chicha for children to more adult-friendly chichas brewed with spices, fruits, and chiles.
Examples to Try: Dogfish Head Chicha, many unlicensed chicherias in Peru
Beer has historically been defined as a beverage made from hops, malt, water, and yeast. How do drinkers deal with a climate that won’t support hops? They improvise, of course! Sahti is a traditional Finnish ale style that is bittered using juniper twigs. It generally features rye malt and estery yeast, giving it notes of spice and banana. The Gruit style is more varied in execution and can combine numerous bittering herbs, the most common being sweet gale, yarrow, and heather.
Before there was steam beer, there was dampfbier. This Bavarian style uses a wheat beer yeast strain without actually including any wheat in the grain bill. Brewed mainly in the summer and fermented at high temperatures (70 degrees Fahrenheit or more), a classic dampfbier will feature notes of clove and banana.
Another German beer that defies the German Reinheitsgebot purity law that restricted the definition of beer to only including barley, hops, and water, kottbusser recipes include adjuncts like oats, honey, and molasses. While this style originated in Cottbus, roughly an hour’s drive southeast of Berlin, it was essentially extinct until North American breweries revived it. A kottbusser drinks like a sweeter, smoother, nuttier altbier.
Another historical style rescued from the grave, Joppenbier is a high gravity, spontaneously fermented Dutch beer that combines elements of English barleywine and Belgian lambic. While the only commercially available example is a speculative recreation, historical sources describe the beer as having a port or sherry-like sweetness followed by a vinous acidity and sourness from the wild yeast.
Example to Try: Witte Klavervier Joppenbier
8. Burton Ale KK
What’s old is new again! Originating in Burton-on-Trent, the Burton ale was a popular English ale before being supplanted by pale ales and IPAs. The KK designation denotes that the beer was for “Keeping,” meaning it was high in both alcohol and hopping. When Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project attempted to recreate the style using a historical recipe from 1901, the brewers discovered that the combination of roasty, dark malts and aggressive hopping was a dead ringer for a more modern beer style: the Black IPA.
Example to Try: Pretty Things Once Upon a Time 1901 KK
If you find lambic too wild or sour, you might be interested in its kinder, gentler cousin. Faro is sweetened with candi sugar and may also include common Belgian spices like orange peel and coriander. A true historical faro would never have been bottled, as the added sugar would ferment and cause the bottle to explode, but modern versions are pasteurized to avoid this problem. Faro has historically enjoyed a poor reputation that continues to this day—Charles Baudelaire likened it to sewer water, calling it the “beer that you drink twice.” You’ve got to be at least a little curious after reading that description.
10. Koyt (Kuit)
Before this Dutch ale was driven to extinction by the rise of lager, it was mainly brewed with oats and wheat. There is some debate among beer historians on whether koyt was lightly hopped or bittered with herbs and spices like gruit. While we may never know the truth, modern interpretations come across as a creamier take on the pale wheat ale.
11. Kentucky Common
A pre-Prohibition ale brewed in the Louisville area, the modern version of the Kentucky common is a distant cousin of bourbon that also uses corn and rye in a sour mash. The result? An easy-drinking brown ale with a slight tartness and acidity.