Joe Sixpack: This contest beckons brewers who walk on the wild side
CATEGORY 23. It is the netherland of beer, a cryptic destination for brewer-artistes whose imaginations pry them from the realm of conventionality.
Category 23 is the final classification in the Beer Judge Certification Program's biblical taxonomy of styles. The first 22 define traditional styles of ales and lagers: porter, wheat beer, Belgian ale, bock, pale ale, and so on. Category 23 is for "specialty beer" - those brews that defy standard definition, in which brewers employ unusual techniques or ingredients.
There are no real rules in Category 23, just pure artistic invention.
That's what Boston Beer is looking for this year in its annual Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest. The winning recipes will be brewed by Boston Beer and packaged next year in its LongShot variety sixpack.
The homebrewing contest is always a fun event, attracting hundreds of entrants nationwide. Last year's winners included an old ale from a New Hampshire homebrewer, a barley wine from New Mexico and a lemon pepper saison from a Sam Adams IT employee.
All three, available on beer shelves now, push the boundaries of conventional styles. But this year the company - known for launching the so-called "extreme beer" movement - is looking for something more.
To make its point, Sam Adams sent me a sample bottle of something it calls Chocolate Chili Bock. Yeah, I know, that's three words you don't often see in a row.
I took a whiff and sneezed at the pepper; my first swallow was roasty, with a bitter (not sweet) chocolate chew. Then the spice kicked in, lacing my tongue like a jalapeño. It went perfectly with grilled chicken.
Unfortunately, the bock is not available for purchase. But if it's inspiration you're after, well, head for your local supplier. Believe it or not, each of these is a real beer: Shenandoah Chocolate Donut Stout, Miyamori Wasabi Dry, Brooklyn Bacon Beer, Mama Mia! Pizza Beer, Wells Banana Bread Beer.
Can't find them? Make your own - that's the whole point of this contest.
Remember, it's not just about creating the most bizarre beer. After all, you could make a Raspberry Basil Salami Porter, but would you really want to drink it?
The BJCP advises that "overall harmony and drinkability are the keys to presenting a well-made specialty beer . . . The brewer should recognize that some combinations of base beer styles and ingredients or techniques work well together while others do not make palatable combinations."
Get to work. More info on the contest is available at www.samueladams.com. Meanwhile, here's a sixpack of beers I've tasted in recent years that could only fit into Category 23:
Blue Moon Peanut Butter Blonde. Coors brewer Keith Villa wows attendees at the Great American Beer Festival with samples of this offbeat wonder. Tastes just like Jif in a mug.
Southern Tier Crème Brulee Stout. Lactose sugar and vanilla bean give this ale the taste and feel of a singed caramel dessert. Available in 22-ounce bottles.
Iron Hill Ring of Fire. A one-off porter aged in a used Tabasco hot sauce barrel. It burned you twice - on the way in and the way out.
Samuel Adams Utopias. A portlike sipper made with a huge variety of malts fermented with a bionic yeast that pushes its alcohol to a whopping 27 percent by volume. Released every other year.
Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale. Bottled year-round by Yards Brewing, it's made with spruce essence and molasses, as called for in a recipe from Benjamin Franklin.
Wormwood Homebrew. Instead of hops, this ale (not for sale) contained wormwood, an astoundingly bitter herb. One sip sucked every bit of moisture from the inside of my mouth.