Beer, like most alcoholic beverages, is an acquired taste. And this can be especially true for the bold flavors found in craft beer. But if you’re someone who thinks that they just don't like beer, or that you’ve tried all that craft brewers have to offer, think again. As the craft beer trend matures, so do the efforts of inventive brewers, who are experimenting with uncommon ingredients and new flavor territories.
If you’ve ever thought that beer tastes too bitter, too hoppy or too funky, the following beers in disguise are for you. Designed to mimic the flavor profiles of other beverages, from coffee to cocktails, these brews can convert even the most stalwart of beer-haters.
Coffee and tea beers
Coffee beer is the most common beer in disguise.The flavor synergy between roasted coffee beans and the dark roasted malts used to make stouts has inspired brewers for decades, but coffee finds its way into beer styles beyond dark stouts and porters. For an unexpected synergy between fruit-forward Ethiopian coffee and earthy hop aromas, try a can of Hotbox IPA from Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery.
Though coffee beer is a common site at local breweries, when tea is used, it’s often more of a harmonizing flavor than the main draw in a beer. In New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta IPA, the bergamot aroma of Earl Grey tea meshes seamlessly with citrusy southern hemisphere hops. Much easier to track down is the Earl from Highland Park’s art-brewers Solarc Brewing. A mashup of a gruit (a spiced ale traditionally made with herbs instead of hops) and a Belgian-style abbey ale, Earl blends locally sourced lemon verbena and rosemary with Earl Grey tea from the Art of Tea in Monterey Park. Solarc has no public tasting room of its own, but you can find the brews at its pop-up inside Mumford Brewing’s downtown tasting room.
Another local brewery working with tea is Hawthorne’s Los Angeles Ale Works, where a custom blend of spicy Thai tea is infused into the ale. The result, Karma Kolsch, balances the brisk, refreshing quality of the kolsch style with a Thai iced tea’s complex spice profile featuring cinnamon, vanilla and black tea. It’s one of those flavor combos that looks funny on paper, but Karma Kolsch is more alchemy than arithmetic. Each sip, from the first taste to the final swallow, can showcase a different spice in the blend, but the underlying essence of crisp malt and zesty hops is never far off.
You’ve heard of beer cocktails, but what about cocktail beers? The former never really took off as a trend, but the latter is gaining popularity with craft brewers. Aging strong ales in used bourbon barrels has been popular for years, and now brewers are using the spirituous note provided by the whiskey barrels as a component in cocktail-inspired beers. The Old Fashioned cocktail got the beer treatment at Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewing, with the Old Fashioned Saison. Boulevard Brewing experimented with a few cocktail beers last year including a Sazerac cocktail variant of their Rye on Rye ale, brewed with spices and lemon peel, and a Manhattan cocktail variant on the special release Imperial Stout. New York’s Southern Tier Brewing launched its new barrel-aging program last year with a Manhattan-inspired beer that was aged in bourbon barrels and made with cherry juice.
It isn’t just whiskey-focused beers that are getting the cocktail treatment, and if you’re more a fan of the refreshing gin and tonic, you need to try G&T Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing Co. The latest flavor in the brewery’s line of canned wheat ales (alongside Blood Orange and Briney Melon), G&T Gose perfectly captures the zippy and bracing qualities of lime juice and gin in a low-alcohol, ultra-refreshing beer. Juniper berries and grains of paradise stand in for the botanical punch of gin.
Coffee, tea and cocktails are just some of beer’s chameleon tricks, and you can find brews that masquerade as everything from horchata (Or Xata from The Bruery) to POG juice (any one of the wildly popular “juicy IPAs”) to wine (Sauvin Nouveau from Garage Project). Next time someone tells you that they don’t like beer, you can try to win them over with a beer in disguise.