Food & dining


What’s extreme beer? Depends when you ask.

The Extreme Beer Fest showcases boundary-pushing beers.
Beer Advocate
The Extreme Beer Fest showcases boundary-pushing beers.

Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione has a story about the beer industry’s acceptance of new ingredients.

In 2004, Dogfish launched Aprihop, an IPA brewed with real apricot juice. Calagione remembers being at a beer festival shortly after the release.

“I got up in front of 200 beer lovers with a glass of Aprihop, talking excitedly about it,” says Calagione. “And when I was done, the next brewer who spoke laughed at me and said, ‘Fruit belongs in your salad, not your IPA.’”


Calagione has never been afraid to push the boundaries of what goes into beer: He’s brewed with chicory root, lobster, spruce tips, and scrapple, a breakfast item made from pork parts and more. In interviews, he’s quick to mention the Reinheitsgebot, the 500-year-old German purity law mandating beer only be made with water, hops, yeast, and barley. He’s made a career of turning the law on its head.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“For a long time, it was considered sort of disrespectful to brew with ingredients like that,” says Calagione. “Now it’s become not only accepted but celebrated.”

Also in 2004, Calagione began collaborating with Todd and Jason Alstrom, founders of the beer review site Beer Advocate, on the Extreme Beer Fest, the first of which was held in January of that year at Boston’s Cyclorama.

“The goal was to showcase some of the more creative, boundary-pushing beers being brewed at the time,” says Todd Alstrom. “A lot has changed since then, but the core goal remains.”

What’s different now is an industry that’s both more accepting of extreme beers and increasingly wary of their meteoric rise. Fruit beers are commonplace, as are brews with ABVs pushing 10 percent. Both Alstrom and Calagione say bigger doesn’t equal better.


“The most common misconception is that extreme equates to extreme in alcohol,” says Calagione.

Alstrom says the festival has been pivoting in recent years, away from brash IPAs and stouts and toward well-made beers that push the limits in different ways. This year’s festival (Feb. 3-4 at the Seaport World Trade Center) features, for example, Mattina Rossa, a wild ale from Allagash brewed with Maine raspberries and aged in red wine barrels, and Tomato Basil Fleur De Lis, a tart, 4.4 percent ABV saison aged on roasted tomatoes and basil, from Vermont’s Four Quarters Brewing.

The festival has long been sold out, but several Boston-area bars will be tapping special kegs this week ahead of the event, including Row 34 and the City Tap House.


Gary Dzen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen