On a hot day, what could be more refreshing than a tall, cold stein full of ramen? That’s the idea behind one of the newest offerings at Yuu Japanese Tapas in Richmond, British Columbia. The restaurant’s summer menu includes a stein full of the beerless noodle creation, topped with creamy foam made from egg whites.
The Canadian restaurant isn’t the only place fusing beer inspiration with ramen flavor. The Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth, Texas has concocted a beer than includes actual ramen noodles. Head brewer Ryan Deyo was inspired to craft Cup O’ Beer during a trip to San Diego.
“He kept seeing all these ramen places and something clicked,” says Dave Riddile, marketing director for Collective Brewing Project. “He came back and literally the next week had a recipe and brewed a seven-barrel batch of that beer without any test batching. And it was actually really good.”
At first, Cup O’ Beer was a one-off project, but then popularity grew and now the brewery bottles it in 500-ml bottles. The gose-style beer is brewed with 55 pounds of ramen noodles, which replace some of the more traditional wheat. They toss the flavoring packets away and instead boil the noodles with lemongrass, ginger and lime. It’s a fairly labor-intensive process that involves opening and sorting each package one-by-one, which is the biggest challenge, according to Riddile. But he thinks it’s worthwhile and “the perfect accompaniment to a rich bowl of noodles [like] a ramen tonkotsu. Some people claim to taste or smell noodles when they drink it, but I have never personally experienced that.”
The Collective Brewing Project team has played around with other edible additions, which are more likely to appear on your plate than in a glass—this past Easter, they made a petite golden sour with butterfly pea flower and marshmallow Peeps—and they aren’t alone. Others are using everything, from ice cream to mushrooms, to create distinctive brews. While it may seem like this is a fairly new development, food-based beers actually have a long history.
The Original Food Brew
Oyster stout is one of the original food-based beers. In Victorian England, people would often snack on oysters alongside their beer. But according to a number of sources, the first true oyster stout was brewed in New Zealand in 1929. At first, brewers just added oyster shells to the brew, but the technique gradually evolved to sometimes include the oyster meat as well. The oysters add a distinctive—and sometimes briny—flavor to the beer. The style has since evolved to include beer made from other types of seafood as well, including lobsters and clams.
Today, the oyster stout is a more ubiquitous beer style, with brewers putting their own spin on how they incorporate oysters into the brew. According to Bon Appetit, Flying Dog makes its Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout with Rappahannock River oysters and sea salt, while Upright Brewing makes its Oyster Stout with oyster liquor and whole oysters. The latter also ages the stout on shells. Then there are the oyster stouts that don’t use oysters at all. For April Fool’s Day in 2012, Denver’s Wynkoop Brewery released a video promoting “Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout,” made with Rocky Mountain oysters—also known as bull testicles. Though the video was a joke, people showed up looking for the beer, so they decided to brew a limited release edition made with 25 pounds of testicles and three “BPB” (balls per barrel).
Bull testicles aren’t the only ingredient that may make people recoil from their beer. Mushrooms are another very divisive food now being used in beer. Adam Milne, owner of Old Town Brewing in Portland, Oregon, and his team developed a beer using candy cap mushrooms for the Oregon Brewers Festival.
“We wanted to make a beer that potentially no one has ever tried before,” Milne says. One of the brewers mentioned a rare mushroom called "candy cap” that smells and tastes like maple syrup and brings those qualities to the beer. Intrigued, they tracked some down, which they sourced from a local mushroom company. When they began working with the mushrooms, it took a little while to realize “a little bit goes a long way,” as Milne says. “It’s so powerful you can open up a bag of these mushrooms and smell it across brewery.”
One of the biggest challenges for brewers is overcoming misconceptions people may have about a particular food and whether or not they think it belongs in beer. While some may vehemently dislike a food, such as mushrooms, they may love it in beer. Milne has made brews with beets as well as a carrot-ginger beer, so he knows a thing or two about divisive ingredients. In the case of the mushroom beer, Milne and his team toyed with the recipe until it balanced the flavors just right. The result was a beer that even avowed mushroom haters were willing to try.
“People were just blown away by the beer. They just are shocked because even for some people that just don’t like mushrooms. They just can’t believe that the flavor comes from a mushroom. Everybody asks if we put maple syrup in there, and we don’t. It’s just all natural from that unique mushroom,” Milne says. “That’s why food-based beers are so much fun. [We get] to do it in a way that you actually surprise people.”
Scream for Ice Cream Stout
Some chefs use even candy cap mushrooms in desserts, while another popular dessert is finding its way into beer: Ice cream. Braxton Brewing Company, located just outside of Cincinnati, partners with iconic local ice cream maker Graeter’s to produce ice cream-flavored beers. Its black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream flavor is a local favorite and Braxton thought it would work great as a beer, so they pitched the idea to the ice cream company, which agreed to partner on the project. The Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout debuted in February 2017. Since then, Braxton has recreated the beer as well as a introduced a new rotating flavor—last year was Blueberry Pie Brown Ale and this year's is yet to be announced.
While they don’t put actual ice cream in the beer, they do use its key ingredients. “What makes it so cool is that we actually use the exact same pure black raspberry puree that Graeter’s uses in their ice cream,” says Jonathan Gandolf, head of marketing for Braxton. According to Gandolf, they can't use the exact same chocolate the ice cream uses due to fat content, but they do use a different type of chocolate. The puree adds a “rich, deep natural raspberry flavor,” says Gandolf. As for the texture, he says, “The texture for this beer comes mostly from the style of the beer which is a milk stout. It's intended to have a smooth mouthfeel with mild sweetness to be reminiscent of ice cream.”
One of the challenges they face is getting the complex flavor just right, but the reward is bringing ice cream lovers to the world of craft beer. “We see people in our taproom, when we release it in our taproom, who’ve never been to a brewery before or never drank craft beer before, Gandolf says. “It’s cool because it helps draw new people into craft beer, and it’s a fun way to do that.”