Europe’s most curious beers

Daniel Neilson
21 April 2015

Seawater, smoky bacon and spicy chillies… craft beer expert Daniel Neilson takes a boozy crawl around Europe’s most innovative breweries that are using unlikely ingredients to create quirky pints

1. Denmark: Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon, 7.5%

Danish brewery Mikkeller started off as a ‘gypsy’ brewer using any kit he could find and now has been elevated among the world’s greatest breweries. The ‘Beer Geek Breakfast’ — a stout made with some oatmeal — has dozens of versions including calvados and tequila, but the smoky bacon version is unmissable.

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2. Germany: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, 5.4%

This smoked black beer isn’t new — in fact, it was first mentioned in 1405, and the Schlenkerla brewery that built its reputation on it, was founded in 1678. The Rauchbier Märzen is the flagship beer (you get quite a following in 350 years) and is indeed very smoky, very black and almost a meal in itself. A beer you’ll never forget.

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3. Spain: Er Boqueron, 4.8%

This Spanish beer is made with seawater, and is an electrifyingly different beer, yet utterly drinkable. On the nose it is certainly salty, but a nice cool gulp and there’s a well-rounded, mildy sour flavour with a hint of vanilla. It’s fresh, pure tasting and utterly unique.
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4. Belgium: Boon Oude Geuze, 7%

A lambic beer is one that is spontaneously fermented in one specific valley in Belgium. The beer is literally opened to the yeasts and bacteria floating through the air to ferment it naturally. The result is a pleasantly sour flavour. Some of the beer is then aged in oak casks, others blended with older beer to create this masterpiece. A tip: start with the Kriek that has cherry flavours.

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5. England: Wild Beer Co Sourdough, 3.6%

Wild Beer Co is one of the English breweries seriously pushing the boat out and making seriously good beer. The Sourdough uses beer yeast as well as a 58-year-old sourdough yeast from a local West Country bakery. The result has a hint of sourness and of fruit, and clearly reflects its name in taste.

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6. The Netherlands: De Molen Braggot Brett Barrel Aged , 8.5%
We could have picked out any of the De Molen beers — this in an inventive brewery. Particularly pushing the boundaries is the Braggot Brett Barrel Aged. Now, this should be a Pilsner lager. Saaz hops, tick. Pilsner malt, tick. But wait, it’s aged in old Wild Turkey Bourbon or Bordeaux barrels? This not only strengthens the beer, but imparts incredible flavours. The ‘brett’ refers to the type of yeast that adds a funky flavour to it (in a good way). Or just get De Molen’s amazing witbier.

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7. Denmark: To Øl Liquid Confidence, 12.3%
As one of Mikkeller’s contemporaries, To Øl (‘two beers’ in Danish), is one of the most innovative breweries in the world. Liquid Confidence is an imperial stout — it comes in at a whopping 12.3% — and uses chipotle, ancho and guajillo chillies to flavour it. Surprisingly drinkable, but aim for anything from these guys.
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8. Norway: Nøgne ø Lemongrass, 5%
The northern masters, Nøgne ø, have developed a following for their diverse range of accomplished beers. There are all sorts of fascinating brews, but this is one of the best. The addition of plenty of lemongrass makes this a refreshing hot beer. Also try the Wit with coriander seeds and orange peel.

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9. Wales: Waen Brewery Chilli Plum Porter, 6.1%

There’s some great beer coming out of Wales, from the likes of Otley and Tiny Rebel. But the small Waen Brewery also turns out an inventive range of beer, including Snowball, a chocolate, vanilla and coconut stout and the Chilli Plum Porter, which has a spicy edge.

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10. Scotland: William Bros. Brewing Co Kelpie Seaweed Ale, 4.4%

According to the brewers, barley grown in coastal Scotland was fertilised by seaweed, giving the beer a distinctive taste. To recreate that flavour, the William Bros. Brewing Co has added fresh bladderwrack seaweed into the mash to give this dark beer lightness around the edges. 

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