The Unusual Beer Guide

Walk on the wilder side with our picks for several distinctive, less-common styles to complete your
Posted September 16, 2011

Barley Wine
Named so because it has an alcohol content similar to wine (around 8–12 percent), barley wine falls into the beer category because it is made with barley, not grapes.

Most barley wines feature strong fruit and alcohol notes with toffee flavors and hoppiness, although they differ greatly from the palette presented by an IPA. Barley wines are a big-tasting beer traditionally only offered in winter.

Ten Squared
Fish Brewing Company, Olympia

Session Beer
There are no formal parameters that describe a session ale, but it's generally moderate to low in alcohol, around or below 5 percent by volume, and that it has a clean and crisp finish. The name comes from England, where a “session” refers to an evening-long conversation at the pub for which people want to be able to drink all night long without getting inebriated.

Baron Pilsner
Baron Brewing, Seattle
India Session Ale
Two Beers Brewing, Seattle

Cask Ale
Any beer can be cask conditioned. In producing this style, the brewer moves the nearly completed beer into the keg without carbonating or filtering. Any carbonation, which is typically very low, is naturally occurring. Cask-conditioned beers, often referred to as cask ale or real ale, are typically served at room temperature.

To give the beer more character, local craft brewers often add special ingredients to the keg (the cask), such as additional hops, spices, citrus rinds and even chili peppers.

Many local beer bars and brewpubs have regular cask nights, where they feature a particular beer—whatever the brewer makes available—served in this manner.

Big Time Brewery taps a cask every Friday afternoon (beers vary), and the beer flows until it is gone.

Sour Beer
Sour beers date back hundreds of years, when naturally occurring airborne yeast was used to ferment beer. Because brewing was primitive, occasionally things would go wrong—sometimes in a good way. Eventually, brewers learned to harness the yeasts that made beer go sour.

Today, sour beers make use of special yeasts and enzymes that impart a noticeably sour flavor to the beer.

Naked City Cherry Pi
Naked City Brewing, Seattle
Sourlicious Sour Berry Ale
Big Al Brewing, Seattle

Barrel Aged
A beer that is allowed to condition in a barrel draws complexities from whatever was previously stored in the barrel. For instance, conditioning a beer in a bourbon barrel will give the beverage a warm alcoholic flavor. Using a wine barrel will give the beer a fruity taste.

Barrel-aged beers are typically bigger, higher-alcohol beers and are available on a seasonal or limited basis only. Often, barrel-aged beers are one-offs that may never be duplicated.

Pike Entire Wood-Aged Stout
Pike Brewing Company, Seattle
Bourbon Barrel Abominable
Fremont Brewing, Seattle (released annually in the winter)

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