Getting weird with the Beard

By Emily Brightman

Courtesy of Flickr/signal the police
Courtesy of Flickr/signal the police

Any active user of social media will tell you that the beard is all the rage these days. From Tumblr to Twitter and the vast wasteland of the Internet in between, this venerable facial adornment has made a sizable comeback and replaced the compulsively clean-shaven fad of the last few decades. The advent of “No-Shave November” and the growing popularity of vaguely metrosexual facial grooming indicates that the beard is most definitely back in vogue, and bewhiskered men everywhere may now candidly bask in their hirsute glory.

At the risk of sounding like a cloying Cosmopolitan writer, I have to admit that I myself have a hugely superficial weakness for beards. I watch IFC’s “Whisker Wars” (yes, it’s actually a thing) with all the wide-eyed ardor of prepubescent One Direction fans, and I have no shame in admitting that I have a crush on Christian Bale in his recent bearded performance in American HustleDisregarding the Freudian implications of Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song,” there’s something to be said for the sex appeal of the “bearded mountain man” aesthetic, and I for one get somewhat weak in the knees for a man with a hefty lot of facial hair.

This superficial proclivity is precisely what led me to the purchase of Rogue’s Beard Beer, an investment warranted by little more than a double-take. Regular readers of this column know the extent of my Rogue Brewery fandom in that I have yet to come across a beer in their repertoire that I don’t immensely enjoy, and I have come to expect nothing less than consistently delicious beer whenever I make a purchase. Thankfully for Rogue, I am also a fan of the incomprehensibly bizarre, so naturally the sheer absurdity of a “beard beer” was more than enough to grab my attention. After doing some research as to what exactly constitutes a “beard beer,” I was more than ready to set to the task of getting a little weird.

Beard Beer is billed as such because it is, according to the Rogue website, brewed with yeast collected from the beard of brewmaster John “More Hops” Maier. Yes, that is correct – this beer was actually brewed with beard yeast. Nauseating as it may sound, the folks at Rogue insist that there is “no need to freak out,” because wild yeast has been a fundamental element of beer brewing since its centuries-old inception.

Maier has been with the Rogue Brewery from their humble Newport, Ore. beginnings and has, according to the company’s website, been present for over 15,000 brews, so it is to be expected that his beard absorbed some physical elements of the brewing process along the way. While the severity of the gross-out factor here bears repeating, yeast in itself is a type of fungus, so Rogue is merely taking advantage of an accessible and naturally occurring yeast source, which warrants some credit for Yankee ingenuity.

Rogue’s homage to the almighty beard is classified as an American Wild Ale, because it deviates from the use of the standard species of yeast (known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae) in the fermentation process. Spearheaded by American microbreweries, ales of this ilk are typically characterized by motley and unique flavor profiles as a result of defying typical brewing convention. Though the style is recognized by the BeerAdvocate platform, it is not an officially recognized style of the Beer Judge Certification Program, the standard organization of brewing literacy. However, many breweries such as The Lost Abbey, Ommegang and Weyerbacher Brewing have contributed to the repertoire as the style continues to gain popularity. So far Rogue, true to their name, appears to be the only brewery bold enough to collect their brewing yeast from some guy’s beard, upholding their consistent devotion to uniqueness.

Popping the top off the standard 22 oz. Rogue bottle unleashes a pungent aroma that is molecules away from acrid: The melding odors of smoke, olives and nebulously Belgian-influenced yeast that permeate the nose are just shy of overwhelming. But despite this jarring bouquet of fragrances, I was nevertheless determined to fully experience this beverage oddity, even if for no other reason than just to say I did it.

The pancake-colored head atop Beard Beer’s hazy golden-amber body is noticeably foamy and settles to a thick top coat of lacing. Moderate carbonation continuously releases the bevy of funky aromatic notes, and small morsels of sediment make themselves known when the beer is swirled around to observe consistency.

Though I hesitated ever so slightly on the first sip, Beard Beer’s taste is noticeably more agreeable than its fragrance suggests. An initial citrusy sourness is balanced out by the fullness of toasted bread laced with a tangy sweetness that eventually gives way to a somewhat watery aftertaste deceived by the strength of the beer’s aroma.

The most prominent tasting note is, naturally, yeast – while most ales possess a bread-like yeast component, the yeast gathered from Maier’s beard apparently comes equipped with a simultaneously sour and sweet flavor complexion that melds with the more robust ale components in such a way that the drinking experience is neither overtly bitter nor sickeningly sweet.

Though there are traces of some distinctly Belgian elements, namely crispness of carbonation and a marginally fruity sensation in the more subtle flavor palate, the sensation of drinkability overall is more closely aligned with saison and farmhouse ale styles, in terms of water-to-bitterness relations. While this is by no means a “boring” beer, it is also by no means the best of the Rogue catalog, but the gimmick value of its origin warrants praise merely for its assertive eccentricity. Rogue set out to make a “wild ale,” and apparently for their brewing staff, it doesn’t get more wild than harvesting the fungus of a brewmaster’s 30-year-old beard. At least they can never be accused of not taking creative risk.

Beard Beer is a limited release from Rogue that can still be ordered through the brewery’s website, but its commercial availability is extremely limited. Unless you happen to possess some supernaturally effective beer-hunting skills (in which case, we should probably talk) the only platform to get your hands on some of this weirdness is via the Internet. I found my personal stash at a hole-in-the-wall liquor store in New Hampshire a few months back and have been patiently storing it in my fridge for the appropriate moment, which finally presented itself this weekend when I was feeling particularly adventurous after a few swigs of whiskey (my other weakness).

If you happen to stumble across a bottle of Beard Beer in your travels and have no psychological qualms about ingesting fermented fungus from the facial hair of a guy you’ve never met, I highly recommend taking a walk on the wild ale side with what is arguably one of the strangest beers on the market. If nothing else, you’ll at least have the bragging rights to say, “I personally tasted John Maier’s beard, but in a totally platonic way,” which in and of itself is a worthy cause, simply for the inherent bizarreness of drinking a “beard beer” to begin with. While the name John Maier or mention of his epic beard may not mean something to everyone you meet, those who know their way around a Rogue brew or two will certainly appreciate the anecdote.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected].