Accidental Beer

Bob Barnes - Happy Mishaps That Led To Great Brews

The culinary world is full of accidents and improvisations that led to wonderful discoveries. Champagne was originally bottled wine that didn’t ferment properly; artificial sweetener was discovered by a chemist who didn’t wash his hands; and chocolate chip cookies were the result of a desert recipe gone wrong. It’s no different in the world of beer. Here are some beers that have their origins in circumstances that led to brewers extemporizing some lucky, accidental and, in my opinion, great brews.

Allagash Brewing Company
Portland, Maine

Allagash Curieux
11% ABV

Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing has distinguished itself for its Belgian-style creations. One of its most favored beers came about in 2004 when Founder Rob Tod had a batch of his tripel that was ready to be bottled, but no place to put it, since his bottle shipment was delayed. Fortunately, he had some Jim Beam bourbon barrels he had recently acquired, so necessity being the mother of invention, his tripel became a barrel-aged beer by accident, one that has been repeated every year since. Aged for eight weeks in Jim Beam bourbon barrels stored in the brewery’s cold cellars, the aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh Tripel. The resulting beer is soft with coconut and vanilla notes, with hints of bourbon. Also evident are some roasted charcoal and a malt-rich body which hides its 11% ABV alcohol strength. This beer was awarded the bronze medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup.

Innis & Gunn
Edingburgh, Scotland

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer
6.6% ABV

Innis & Gunn Owner/Managing Director Dougal Sharp began working at his father’s Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh, Scotland when he was 14. In 2002, after running the Caledonian Brewery for 10 years, William Grant & Sons Distillers asked him to produce a sweet, malty, full-flavored beer to season its whisky barrels with. After conditioning, the workers would pour the beer down the drain, but when curiosity led them to taste it, they began taking it home, as it was decidedly way too good to dump. Dougal went on to leave his position at Caledonian and start the Edinburgh-based Innis & Gunn (the beers are contract brewed in Glasgow). He named the company after his middle name and his brother’s (Dougal’s is Gunn.). The beers are known for being barrel-aged, with coconut/vanilla aromas and flavors of creamy, malty sweetness. Beers are produced for and marketed to different countries and the original accidental creation has now expanded to include several styles, such as Toasted Oak IPA, White Oak Wheat Beer, Oak Pale Ale and Irish Whiskey Cask Stout, all of which are barrel-aged. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, also a native of Scotland, makes no secret of the fact that Innis & Gunn beers are his favorite, and even brewed the flagship beer in his backyard for his UK TV show The F Word (F is for food).

Indian Wells Brewing Company
Inyokern, California 

Orange Blossom Amber
5.5% ABV

Indian Wells Brewing, located in Inyokern, California, utilizes pure artesian spring water from its historic Indian Wells Spring that saved a gold rush party lost in Death Valley in 1849. Based on its Mojave Red amber lager, this 5.5% lager was invented when Owner/Brewer Rick Lovett was brewing a test batch of beer and, after eating several oranges, decided to throw the peels into the boil. While the name is a bit misleading (there are no orange blossoms in this beer), the essence of orange through the addition of orange peels imparts a refreshing citrus aroma followed by a burst of sweet orange flavor balanced with a dry, slightly bitter tartness.

Joseph James Brewing Company
Henderson, Nevada

Fox Says Wee!
12.5% ABV

In 2013, Brewmaster Matt Marino at Joseph James Brewing in Henderson, Nevadaexperienced a happy accident when he brewed a Scottish-style Wee Heavy in celebration of the brewery’s 5th anniversary, using 1/3 of the grist smoked over bourbon barrel oak staves from the brewery's previous barrel release and then aged in bourbon barrels for 6 months. When filling the barrels, the last one was only half full when the Wee Heavy ran out, so instead of wasting the remaining beer he improvised by mixing in some Imperial Stout and also got even more creative by later adding cacao nibs and vanilla beans. The result is the best of both styles, as its rich, malty stout goodness is made more complex with the smokiness of the smoked grist and the cacao and vanilla notes. This beer turned out to be so popular that it was reprised on a larger scale in future renditions.

Bob Barnes is Editorial Director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News, and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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