Brewers around the country are now pushing the boundaries of beer as well as the palates of beer lovers. Walk into any pub in America and you may be faced with a selection of beer brewed with oatmeal, ginger, chocolate, espresso, oysters or seaweed. Or you may be able to stumble out after a mug of 40-proof beer aged in Jack Daniel's oak barrels. "Beer drinkers are looking for more flavor in their beers, the same way people are looking for more flavorful breads, cheeses and coffees," says Steve Hindy, founder and president of the Brooklyn Brewery. "Plus, they're thirsty for knowledge about the beers they're drinking." Such "extreme beer" -- part of a growing phenomenon at the edges of America's 25-year-old craft-brewing movement -- has transformed the commodity into a premium product based on spiked alcohol content, higher hoppiness, or unusual flavorings. Such creativity is sparking a renewed interest in drinkers who are growing tired of traditional brews such as Miller and Budweiser. "The standard American beer is the beer equivalent of supermarket white bread -- basically a very bland, empty facsimile of the real thing," says brewmaster Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery. Although the term extreme beer is novel, the idea has been around for many years. Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company coined it back in 1994 to describe his Samuel Adams Triple Bock, which was then the strongest beer on the market at 17.5% alcohol vs. between 4% and 6% for typical brews. Since then, the company has held the record for the strongest beers in the world -- first with Samuel Adams Triple Bock (17.5%), followed by Samuel Adams Millennium Ale (21%), Samuel Adams Utopias MMII (24%) and most recently Samuel Adams Utopias (25%).
Today's extreme beers focus more on the brewer's use of additional flavor profiles than on high alcohol content. Collectively, the newcomers have put at least 10,000 beers on the market. Some of the more popular and mainstream new flavors include Sam Adams Chocolate Bock, made with Scharffen Berger chocolate; Abita Purple Haze, a wheat beer made with raspberry puree; Berkshire Brew Company Coffeehouse Porter, brewed with an organic coffee extract; and Hoptown Oatmeal Breakfast, brewed with oatmeal.