The Session #44: Frankenstein Beers

This month The Session is hosted by Ashley from Drink With The Wench, and in keeping with the Halloween theme of October she poses the topic of “Frankenstein Beers.” From her blog:
Many craft brewers are like Frankenstein. They have become mad scientists obsessed with defying the laws of brewing and creating beers that transcend style guidelines. These “Frankenstein Beers” challenge the way people perceive beer. They are freaks of nature — big, bold and intense. The ingredients resemble those of a beer and the brewing process might appear to be normal, but some aspects of the entire experience are experimental, unorthodox and insane.

An altercation with these beers produces confusion in the eye of the taster … is it a beer, or a monster?
Frankenstein for me has always evoked the image of a huge man-like monster, intended by it’s creator to be greater than the sum of its mismatched parts. Depending on the version of the story, the monster is either an evil hulk bent on destroying the world, or a misunderstood and maligned gentle soul. Surprisingly it’s very easy to translate this idea into the beer world.

Like Frankenstein, a lot of brewers have begun meddling with “hybrid” beer styles, combining (sometimes radically) different types into one. Like the two notions of Frankenstein, the evil monster and the misunderstood creation, two of these hybrid beers stick out for me. One is the Belgian IPA, and the other is the Black IPA.

I feel like the Belgian IPA falls into the category of the movie monster that was rotten from the beginning. This new style looked good on paper, combining the citrusy and piney aspects of American hops with the fruity and spicy esters of Belgian yeast. However like Frankenstein, the result is not at all what was intended. The Belgian yeasts do not play well with the bitterness from the hops, resulting in a burnt plastic flavor that I’ve tasted across many examples of the style.

The Black IPA (Dark IPA, Cascadian Dark Ale, that’s a whole ‘nother post) is an example of a good beer that is simply misunderstood. When presented with a Black IPA, a consumer might be confused. Is this a hoppy stout or a roasty IPA? Sometimes brewers themselves aren’t sure which way they want to take the style. Some try and take a standard stout recipe and load it with hops, while others approach it more like a schwartzbier, looking for dark color and only a hint of roast. At its core Black IPAs are good beers, the flavors make sense and work together. Like Mary Shelly’s Monster, it’s a beer style that is searching for its identity.