Lately I've been drinking some odd beers at bars. Some of them have been pleasant surprises; others have made my mouth feel possessed. I may be getting frumpy in my early middle age (actually, I've always been frumpy), but I've started to wonder whether the craft beer movement, which has explored so much fascinating territory over the past decade, has strayed off the map altogether. When I found out that Colorado's Wynkoop Brewing Co. was making its Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout with roasted bull testicles, I was forced to ask myself: Has craft brewing finally gone too far?
"One of the great things about making beer," Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø said to me on a recent visit to Tørst, the Greenpoint beer bar where he curates the list, "is that there are almost no rules." Jarnit-Bjergsø, a Dane who now lives in Brooklyn, is widely regarded as one of the superstars of the craft beer world; for his Evil Twin Brewing label he is as likely to create fairly classic IPAs or pilsners as he is concoctions like his Imperial Doughnut Break, a jet-black porter made with, apparently, 1,000 glazed doughnuts. "If I want to put olives in a beer, or strawberries, that's OK—as long as what I end up with tastes good," Jarnit-Bjergsø told me. "If you tried to put olives in a wine, on the other hand, no one on earth would drink it." I asked him for his opinion of the much-hyped Beard Beer from Oregon's Rogue, which is fermented with wild yeasts harvested from Rogue brewmaster John Maier's facial hair. "If you're going to put yeast from your beard into what you're brewing, it's fine," Jarnit-Bjergsø said, weighing his words carefully. "But you'd better have a really good reason."
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So, do these experiments in extreme brewing still qualify as beer? At what point do they turn into something unrecognizable—and, more importantly, not worth the risk? Inspired in part by my conversation with Jarnit-Bjergsø, my good friend Alex and I decided to do a tasting (this might be the place to state, for the record, that I'm not a craft beer fetishist). I went to St. Gambrinus Beer Shoppe in downtown Brooklyn and spent just over $100 on what struck me as an interesting, albeit highly unscientific, sample of what's out there these days. Then we drank everything. The result? Suffice it to say our tongues are in stable condition, and we're told we'll be able to drink beer again one day.