Craft beers have long been touted as great for pairing with hearty meals, but what happens when a classic ingredient in American cuisine — the mushroom — becomes part of the beer itself? In a word: awesomeness.
While the little fleshy fungi aren’t as pervasive an ingredient as say, chocolate or chilis, a surprising number of brewers across the country have found their muse in the mushroom. And contrary to what one might imagine, most of the results are pretty damn delicious.
The best way to think about mushroom beers is to imagine them as the earthy equivalent to oyster stout (which is in fact brewed with actual oysters). The other oddball-sounding brew typically tastes only slightly briny instead of overtly fishy, right? The best mushroom beers achieve the same goal. Most go the subtle route, letting the ingredient weave a delicate footnote of savory umami throughout the beer, enriching malts and balancing out excess sugars.
Also, unlike oyster stouts, which all generally bear some resemblance to one another, no two interpretations of a mushroom beer taste exactly alike. Any of the edible varieties can work and each one adds a different personality to the final product; some pack that obvious punch of gritty dirt, while others simply create a soft lingering sweetness.
Chanterelles are commonly used for the light apricot aromas and slightly buttery texture they impart to the beer, a characteristic both R&B Brewing Company in British Columbia and Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois sought out for their German-style wheat ale and saison, respectively. Sierra Nevada experimented with shiitake mushrooms in a beer called Fungoo during one of their Beer Camps, and Dogfish Head once worked portabellos into a stout for a mushroom festival in Pennsylvania. Other atypical mushrooms like reishi and maitake bring the funk in Haw River Farmhouse Ale’s American Brown Ale. And Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz say the pungent Candy Cap variety adds an unmistakable maple syrup-like flavor to their Rubidus Red Ale.
Technically speaking, working with mushrooms doesn’t pose any major technical hurdles during the brewing process, making it an easy ingredient to play around with, although approaches vary by brewery. Some infuse whole dried mushrooms into the wort (the water extracted during the mashing process), transforming the hot liquid into a sort of mushroom broth, which is then fermented and bottled. Others dry mushrooms and grind them into a powder, which is then made into a tea and added to the beer after fermentation is complete.
Since the brewing process is so simple, it might seem odd that mushrooms aren’t taking off as a popular ingredient like other more mainstream flavors. This is likely due to the fact that many brewers opt to go the local and natural route with sourcing, hiring or partnering up with foragers to dig those little guys right out of their backyards. This can be expensive and relies heavily on seasonality and weather conditions, which is why most breweries will play with the idea in small batches, but you rarely see year-round offerings.
Here are five of the most exciting mushroom beers to check out right now.
1. Haw River Farmhouse Ales | Woodfruit
Brewed in collaboration with Deep River Brewing in Clayton, this bold American Brown Ale features reishi and maitake mushrooms purchased from a local foraging company called Woodfruit (hence the name). The combination creates a beefy, savory flavor with pops of dry herbaceous oregano and thyme that evoke the dark richness of a good beef gravy. Sounds odd, but tastes like a great brown ale on woody steroids.
2. Smuttynose Brewing Co. | Satchmo
James Beard semifinalist Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth, New Hampshire came up with the idea for this satisfying recipe, and Smuttynose Brewing Company helped make the vision a reality. A heaping 35 pounds of dried, locally foraged black trumpets go into every batch, but the flavor isn’t cloying. Instead, the mushroom weaves evenly into the heavy porter in a way that tastes bready, like a fresh sourdough. The aging with red wine barrel chips adds a fruity sweetness that sings when paired with the earthy ‘shrooms and chewy malts.
3. Blank Slate Brewing Co. | Shroominous
Shiitake mushrooms take center stage in this 8% ABV brown ale. The brewery says it’s a beer “made for pairing with anything from steak to risotto,” and, thanks to an aggressive, somewhat bitter malt profile, the suggestion makes perfect sense. The shiitakes bring a dirt-forward flavor to the mix, but in an understated way so that if one were to taste the beer blind, mushrooms would likely not come to mind at all.
4. Jester King Brewery | Snorkel
This gorgeous farmhouse ale is brewed with Alderwood smoked sea salt and local oyster mushrooms (grown with spent grain from other Jester King beers). The 4.5% ABV Gose-style brew packs a hearty punch of salt and tartness as one might expect, but there’s also an underlying river of savory, dry mushroom flavor that enriches and rounds out the experience. It’s a heavenly mix.
5. Rabbit Cerveceria | Ki’Chun Cerveza con Chanterelles
With a name that means “tasty start” in Mayan, this soft Belgian-Style Amber Ale is another departure from the heavy malts most brewers reach for when they think mushroom. It doesn’t taste nearly as boozy as its 9.5% ABV suggests, and the creamy chanterelles add a warm buttery texture that swims just beneath the surface of zingy Belgian yeast and fruity New Zealand Rakau hops.
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