I was drinking at the East Village’s Proletariat with my friend, the noted Syracuse sports blogger John Cassillo, when we coined a term I’d like to think is very useful to suds geeks and novices alike: “troll beers.” You know, those beers that breweries had clearly made not for their customers to enjoy, but rather to troll them, to troll the media, and to troll everyone in the whole damn industry.
Did these breweries even care if anyone drank their troll beer? Probably not, since who had time to drink any of them with our mouths so busy discussing how terrible, gimmicky, and truly ridiculous they all sounded. And look, we’re still talking about them!
From ingredients like bull testicles and lobsters, to bizarre packaging concepts like taxidermied varmints, here we trace the unpredictable, snarky history of troll beers.
Breweries were trolling well before the craft-beer revolution began. What else could explain the much-discussed release of Billy Beer in 1977. The Falls City Brewing product was named after and promoted by Billy Carter, the trouble-making younger brother of then-president Jimmy Carter. Each can trolled customers with a bold statement from Billy himself, “I had this beer brewed up just for me. I think it’s the best I ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot. I think you’ll like it, too.” Reportedly, that was a lie, as Carter himself was really a PBR drinker. The trolling clearly wasn’t a success as the brewery, opened since 1905, shuttered its doors the very next year. Countless cans remained unsold, and Carter was forced to sell his house to settle back taxes owed to the IRS. (Photo: eBay)
The End of History
Scotland’s BrewDog are surely the master trolls of the beer industry. They make plenty of tasty beers, but they’ve received the most press for such offerings as Nanny State, a 0.5% ABV beer brewed to mock criticism of their higher strength beers; a Creatine-infused beer called Never Mind The Anabolics; and a Viagra-laced beer meant to poke fun at Will and Kate’s royal wedding, Royal Virility Performance. Nevertheless, their biggest troll beer of all was The End of History, a 55%-ABV 2010 offering with a bottle count of only twelve. Though, when I say “bottle count” I’m being a little inaccurate, as the beer actually came in a taxidermied squirrel. It cost $765 and I’ve never met a human being on earth who has tried it. (Photo: Brewdog.com)
It was the turn of the decade and ‘MOAR HOPS!’ was the siren call from the growing legions of craft-beer consumers. Thus, the era would see many “hop bombs” arise with silly names like Palate Wrecker and Tongue Buckler. But it took an enigmatic gypsy brewer from Denmark to truly troll us with hops. With Mikkeller’s 2010 release of 1000 IBU, beer fans felt challenged, others felt mocked, and many just felt confused. Could a beer actually have 1,000 IBUs (International Bitterness Units)?! Most folks had believed anything over 100 was imperceptible and just a theoretical measurement. Whatever the case, the trolling novelty became a minor hit—“Like chewing a hop field,” said brewery owner Mikkel Borg Bjergsø—and it remains a part of his lineup to this day (even if it’s almost certainly not 1,000 IBUs). (Photo: Beerforum.co.kr)
Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout
Probably the best example of a troll beer that actually became a hit, Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Company originally conceived this beer as an April Fools’ Day joke back in 2012. The supposed stout was made with a popular local delicacy, rocky mountain oysters, otherwise known as bull testicles. Improbably, many customers found the idea of a ball beer fantastic, and Wynkoop was forced to release an actual beer, which blew up at that year’s Great American Beer Festival. The rich, savory stout was later canned for a few small-batch releases. (Photo: Facebook/Wynkoop Brewing Co.)
It sometimes seems that the majority of hot sauces exist solely to troll people—and I say that as a heat freak. Still, a brewery claiming to make “The hottest beer this side of hell” was going to get some attention—especially when it appropriated the name of the fifth-best member of the Wu-Tang Clan (okay, now I’m trolling you). Colorado’s Twisted Pine added Indian bhut jolokia (i.e., ghost peppers, the world’s hottest chiles) along with five other peppers to a base “malt beverage.” I was able to get my hands on one of the bottles and decided to bust it out as a joke at my Christmas party last year. Ultimately, the biggest trolling was how easily drinkable this beer was. No water or milk was needed and no palates were scorched—everyone in the tasting group simply took a sip and went, “Eh.” (Photo: lukasliquorstl.com)
Ever since Samuel Adams began releasing unexpectedly high-ABV beers like Triple Bock (18%, 1994) and then the massive Utopias (27%, 2002), an alcoholic arms race was on. Our old friends BrewDog got into the game with the well-publicized releases of their freeze-distilled beers Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32%, 2009) and Sink The Bismarck! (41%, 2010), two beers I must admit I kind of liked (they tasted like hoppy whiskey). But by now, the cat was out of the bag, and quality was hardly an issue—breweries from across the globe were simply trying to hold the current world record. Next came 2011’s Schorschbock 57 (57.5%) from Germany’s Schorschbräu, a beer that briefly held the record even if no one ever got to try it. Finally, Scotland’s lightly-regarded Brewmeister Brewery burst on to the scene with two beers in 2013 that were clearly designed to troll us all. First, Armageddon, which hit a whopping 65% ABV, and ultimately Snake Venom at 67.5%, stronger than many barrel-proof liquors and the current holder of the most troll-ish crown in all of craft. (Photo: Scotchwhiskyauctions.com)
The Beard Beer
Oregon’s Rogue Ales sometimes seems like a brewery whose entire business plan is in trolling customers. I wouldn’t be surprised to one day learn Rogue was created by a prankster comedian like Nathan Fielder simply to f*ck with us all. In recent years Rogue has made a series of donut-infused beers in garish pink bottles—Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate, Banana & Peanut; Voodoo Doughnut Lemon Chiffon Crueller Ale; Voodoo Doughnut Pretzel, Raspberry & Chocolate Ale—all of which get hilariously bad reviews. Last year they came out with Sriracha Hot Stout, in a bottle meant to look like the famed Thai rooster sauce, and, yes, it also bombed. But their biggest troll had to be 2013’s on-the-nose named The Beard Beer. Yes, the beer was made using a goddamn beard—more specifically, the natural yeast existing in the beard of brewmaster John Maier. Guess what? This wild ale also got fairly lackluster reviews from creeped-out consumers. (Photo: Flickr/Mike Mozart)
Ground Control Imperial Stout
What’s in the water in Oregon? If it wasn’t trolling enough that Eugene’s Ninkasi Brewing decided to found something called, seriously, the Ninkasi Space Program in 2014, it was when they decided to release their first beer under the program. This big, imperial stout was literally brewed with vials of yeast they’d launched inside a rocket into “outer space” (about 400,000 above earth) with the assistance of UP Aerospace. You might wonder, does such a gimmick actually do anything to the yeast? Yeah, one thing—it gets a massive article written about it in Wired. Still, even if few fans thought the beer truly tasted “out of this world,” the limited offerings still got fairly respectable reviews. (Photo: Ninkasibrewing.com)
I’d typically never accuse an elite brewery of trolling, and, believe me, Oxbow is certainly elite. For my money, this Newcastle, ME farmhouse brewery makes some of the finest saisons and bière de gardes in all of America. Nevertheless, not a lot of folks outside craft-beer’s cognoscenti have probably heard of these guys, let alone tried any of their uber-limited stuff. So perhaps it’s no surprise they might have wanted to troll us just to get a little press. They did that flawlessly last week with their Saison dell’Aragosta, a beer brewed by dunking live lobsters in the beer’s hot wort (“aragosta” is Italian for lobster). Of course, beer and seafood has a legitimate history—think oyster stouts—and a few people I’ve talked to have actually found it to be a splendid little summer sipper. (Photo: Yelp/Alexandra A.)
Pumpkin Peach Ale
Beer geeks are often a sensitive, easy-to-troll bunch, so it was no surprise when big bad Budweiser went at us earlier this year. On Super Bowl Sunday, the industry giant put out a commercial claiming their beer is “not brewed to be fussed over” and suggested that it was happy to leave the nerds to “sip their pumpkin peach ales.” While craft-beer fans ran to message boards and their mommies to complain about how a savvy commercial had just offended them, another brewery decided to fight trolling with fire. Michigan’s well-regarded Bell’s Brewery actually made that hypothetical pumpkin peach ale, selling the bottles at an inflated $20 to benefit charity. A reverse troll! That’s one for the history books. (Photo: Bellsbeer.com)
Aaron Goldfarb (@aarongoldfarb) is the author of How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide, The Guide for a Single Man, and The Guide for a Single Woman.