There's the strict German beer law, the Reinheitsgebot, which only allows the use of water, barley, and hops for beer production. There are many other brewing traditions around the world that will incorporate various locally grown ingredients.
And then there's Dogfish Head.
Based in Delaware, this brewery is named after a place on the coast of Maine, and a dogfish is a small shark. They make some of the most unusual and creative beers in the country, and are willing to experiment with practically anything. Some are winners, some are failures, but they're always trying something new and interesting. The brewers are willing to chew corn kernels and spit them into the pot prior to fermentation. (Only for that one beer, don't worry. You're not drinking Delaware spit if you try the beers reviewed below, or anything other than the Chicha.)
Recently we got together for a guys' night and tried three Dogfish Head beers along with steaks, creamed spinach, and roasted potatoes. Despite the obscure nature of some of these bottles, they are quite easy to find around the country. I picked these up from Joe's Wines & Liquor here in Memphis, where I got to shoot the breeze with Michael for a bit. (In Tennessee, these higher alcohol "big beers" are only available at liquor stores. Joe's has an excellent selection.)
While I've tried several more mainstream Dogfish Head beers, the inner anthropologist in me is particularly interested in their Ancient Ales series using recipes that are, to quote my father, "older than dirt". First up was the Dogfish Head Midas Touch. $4 per 12 oz. bottle, 9% abv. Based off archaeological evidence from the 2,700-year-old tomb of King Midas in Turkey, this falls somewhere between beer, wine, and mead. It's made from barley, Muscat grapes, and honey, and flavored with saffron. While not overly sweet, this would make a great dessert beer, or go well with a series of blue-veined cheeses. It's more like a wonderfully complex Muscat wine rather than a beer.
The second Ancient Ale is inspired by South America: Dogfish Head Theobroma. $13 per 750 mL bottle, 9% abv. This 3,200-year old recipe involves cocoa nibs, honey, and chiles. Unlike some chocolate stouts or other chocolate-flavored beers, there's nothing sweet or creamy about this. It's a tangy, bitter, and spicy beer. Not a great match for this dinner, but alongside roasted pork with a mole sauce this would be incredible. I loved the slightly hot finish--not hot as in alcohol, but that delightful chile burn.
Back to the marriage of beer and wine, here's the Dogfish Head Red & White. $13 per 750 mL bottle, 10% abv. While this was actually the second beer we tried, I had to save the best for last. This is a Belgian wheat (wit) beer, but with a twist. Part of the batch is aged in used Oregon Pinot Noir barrels, and the rest is aged using bare oak staves. Truly one of the most smooth and refined beers I've ever had, one that could stand up to the best of Belgium. It has a rosy color, light wine aromas, a sparkling wine mouthfeel, and a wheat beer finish. While this may sound confusing, it's really a great drinking experience if you love both wine and beer. Like a dry rosé, this would pair with practically anything, but a bottle like this deserves a meal that's a step up from Buffalo wings and nachos. I'd serve this with lobster, a truffled risotto, or roast veal. Hell, maybe all three at once. If you've got a snobbish wine friend that claims to hate beer, serve him this. It will blow his mind.