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The Future of Taste


The Wildest Brews in Town

Sarah Zorn

Ready to take your knowledge of suds to the next level? Join Michael Kiser, editor of Good Beer Hunting, as he forgoes the standard roster of lagers, ales and IPA’s for a lively discussion (and sampling!) of a few more decidedly creative and unexpected brews, during his upcoming Taste Talks Chicago panel, The Wildest Brews in Town. Together with John Laffler of Off Color, Ryan Burk from Virtue Cider, and Tim Faith of Goose Island, he'll boldly explore the brave new world of progressive, fermented beverages!

What got you interested in unusual beers?

Unlike cider or wine, beer is much more about the recipe — bringing together ingredients that take you on a journey and combine in new and interesting ways. Flavor, aroma and even visual appeal are wildly variable. For that reason, beer seems to inspire some pretty radical exploration amongst brewers, and it's always fascinating to try their latest experiments, even when they fail. So when it comes to unusual beers, I'm always excited about the potential for surprise, as much as I am in learning more about the brewer's intent, because each ambitious beer provides the industry with new knowledge and experience that might make the next attempt a real winner. 

Some of your favorites on the market right now and why?

While pumpkin beers have received their fair share of scorn as they become more popular and move the season earlier and earlier, I still relish in the release of Southern Tier's "Pumpking" every year. But "wild" beers aren't always about exotic ingredients. Sometimes it's a process or yeast concoction that makes a world of difference. Side Project in St. Louis, for example, makes some of the most ambitious barrel-fermented saisons on the planet right now, blending art and science in ways that not even Cory King, its brewer, fully understands yet. I also love some of the beers that Forbidden Root, a Chicago start-up I've been working with, are making — herbal and botanic beers that evoke some of America's colonial days of brewing with ingredients like honeybush, lemon myrtle, chestnuts, and plenty of spices and extracts. And of course, this year, I've been neck-deep in coffee beer exploration as part of my "Uppers & Downers" series with Intelligentsia, encouraging home brewers and commercial breweries to follow me on a journey into new and exciting ways of making beer with the world's best coffees. There's a ton of great work being done at this intersection! In our recent contest, we had a Brett Saison Ale with coffee, some IPAs, a Belgian golden, and even some Cascara beers that blew our minds.

What topics will you be exploring during your panel?

When talking about wild or extreme beers, it's easy to get distracted by the ingredients themselves. We'll go there for sure, it's fascinating stuff, but we'll also dig into the motivations, processes, and collaboration that's at the heart of many of these beers. It's takes a special kind of person to do it well, and this panel brings together some of the best.  

What should people should look for (or look out for) in the world of funky beers?

If you can think of it, chances are someone's tried to make a beer with it. So set your expectations aside because the world of extreme beers is by definition without barriers, and many of them seem intimidating. But the beer world is amazing at sharing tasting notes and experiences, so if there's a beer you're curious about, or want to try, chance are someone has already started the conversation online and this can be invaluable in helping navigate your options. And the more you learn about what you're tasting, the more you'll enjoy it, I promise! 

Taste Talks Food & Drink hits Chicago October 3-5, 2014. See the full schedule and buy tickets here