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11 Obscure Beer Styles That Are Worth a Try

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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.

Examples to Try: The Monarchy Grätzer, Professor Fritz Briem Grodziskie, Lichtehhainer Freigeist Abraxxxas

2. Gose

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.

Examples to Try: Bahnhof Liepziger Gose, Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose, Westbrook Gose and Gozu, Off Color Troublesome

3. Chicha

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

4. Sahti/Gruit

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.

Examples to Try: Lammin Sahtia, Off Color Bare Bear, Professor Fritz Briem 13th Century Gruit, Upright Special Herbs

5. Dampfbier

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.

Examples to Try:  Dampfbierbrauerei Zwiesel Dampfbier, Surly Dampfbier, Local Option Dampf Loc

6. Kottbusser

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.

Examples to Try: Off Color Scurry, J Wakefield Kottbusser

7. Joppenbier

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

9. Faro

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.

Examples to Try: Cantillon Faro, Girardin Faro 1882

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.

Examples to Try: Witte Klavervier Kuit, Jopen Koyt, Reuben’s Brews Koyt, Beau’s Dubbel Koyt

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.

Examples to Try: Local Option Kentucky Common, Against the Grain Kamen Knuddeln, New Albanian Phoenix, Lervig / To Øl Kentucky Common

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Big Questions
Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby?
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Whether you plan to enjoy the race from Churchill Downs or don an elaborate hat in the comfort of your own home, if you're watching the Kentucky Derby, you may find yourself sipping on a refreshing mint julep this weekend. But, why?

The drink—a cocktail traditionally composed of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint—has been a Kentucky favorite since long before Churchill Downs came into play. In fact, in 1816, silver julep cups were given as prizes at Kentucky county fairs (a change from the stuffed animals they offer today). And before that, a “julep” was considered medicinal, “prescribed” for stomach problems and sore throats.

Though mint juleps have likely been enjoyed at the Kentucky Derby since the beginning—legend has it that founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., planted mint for cocktails when he founded the track in 1875—the cocktail wasn’t declared the “official” Derby drink until 1938.

It was just a few years ago that the Derby switched to a more “authentic” version of the mint julep. For almost two decades, the 120,000 mint juleps served at the races were made with Early Times. Based on the aging process, Early Times isn’t considered bourbon (just “Kentucky whisky”) in the U.S. In 2015, they switched to Old Forester, which is also owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Even with the switch to “real” bourbon, what most revelers actually get is the Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, not a handcrafted mint julep—unless you’re willing to pony up $1000. For the past 13 years, Brown-Forman has served a special version of the drink made with Woodford Reserve small batch bourbon. It’ll set you back a grand, but hey, you get to keep the pewter cup—and proceeds benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund (yes, that Jennifer Lawrence). In 2016, the Oscar-winning actress—and Louisville native—founded the organization "to assist and empower organizations that fulfill children's needs and drives art access to positively impact the lives of young people."

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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Animals
The Surprising Role Bats Play in Making Your Margarita
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The next time you have a margarita, raise your glass to the humble bat. Long-nosed bats are the main pollinators of agave, the plant used to make both tequila and mezcal. (Tequila is specifically made from blue agave, or Agave tequilana, while mezcal can be made from any species of the plant.) These agave plants open their flowers at night, attracting bats with their sugary nectar, and in turn, the bats help spread their pollen.

One of those bats, the lesser long-nosed bat, just got off the endangered species list in April 2018, as The Washington Post reported. It's the first bat species ever to recover its population enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List. Its revival is due, in part, to tequila producers along the bat's migration route between Mexico and the southwestern U.S. making their growing methods a little more bat-friendly.

While the relationship between bats and agave might be mutualistic, the one between bats and booze isn't necessarily so. Typical agave production for tequila and mezcal involves harvesting the plant right before it reaches sexual maturity—the flowering stage—because that's when its sugar content peaks, and because after the plant flowers, it dies. Instead of letting the plants reproduce naturally through pollination, farmers plant the clones that grow at the agave plant's base, known as hijuelos. That means fields of agave get razed before bats get the chance to feed off those plants. This method is bad for bats, but it's not great for agave, either; over time, it leads to inbred plants that have lower genetic diversity than their cross-pollinated cousins, ones that require more and more pesticides to keep them healthy.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist who has been nicknamed the "Bat Man of Mexico," has been leading the crusade for bat-friendly tequila for decades, trying to convince tequila producers to let some of just 5 percent of their plants flower. The Tequila Interchange Project—a nonprofit organization made up of tequila producers, scientists, and tequila enthusiasts—led to the release of three bat-friendly agave liquors in the U.S. in 2016: two tequilas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Tequila Ocho, and a mezcal, Don Mateo de la Sierra.

In 2017, when Medellín and his team visited the agave fields of Don Mateo de la Sierra to gather data, they discovered that the project was even more bat-friendly than they thought. The Mexican long-nosed bat, another endangered species, was also taking its meals at the field's flowering plants.

This weekend, raise a glass of tequila to all the bats out there—just make sure it's a bat-friendly brand.

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