Dustin Hall / The Brewtography Project

This isn’t easy for me to admit...but I have, indeed, uttered the word “gross,” when hearing about particular styles of beer for the first time. But I’m trying not to be that guy anymore. That’s because, as a professional beer writer (I still can’t believe they’re paying me to do this), I’ve had a ton of beers that initially I thought I’d absolutely hate. And instead of dismissing the beer simply because “I don’t like the sound of” something like, say, a cucumber sour, I’ve begun to try these odd beverages with reckless abandon. And you know what? Most of the time, I’m glad I did! (Case in point: that cucumber sour beer.) It turns out that the greatest beauty of beer drinking is the discovery of fun new things to pour down the ol’ gullet.

So it was with this positive attitude that I strolled into Denver’s wondrous Collaboration Fest, where every beer is brewed by a Colorado brewer that has teamed up with another from around the country to make one killer concoction (many of which are limited edition one-offs!). It’s not only one of the most innovative beer festivals around -- turns out it’s one of the most fun, too.

align:center width:800 credits:"Dustin Hall / The Brewtography Project"

Here’s what I tasted, thought, and learned from those beers:

Life’s A Birch

Who Made It: BJ’s BrewHouse and Shine Brewing Co.

Why I was scared to drink it: I worried it’d be an unbearably cloying hard root beer.

What happened when I drank it: First off, hats off to the name of this beer. But I still didn’t want to drink it -- especially since there was this hazy DIPA from WeldWerks and Great Notion called Bitsbox beckoning me. (That beer ended up knocking my damn socks off.) But you know what? This strong American cream ale brewed with birch bark wasn’t bad! I thought I’d get a sugar bomb, but instead I got a crushable cream ale with delicious birch bark notes. While some people confuse birch with root beer, it’s a little different: Birch beer features mint and licorice notes, and there were such flavors in this actual beer, too. My one complaint is that I missed my chance to drink it and then scream, “Life’s a birch and then you die!” But that’s on me.

Foster Child

Who made it: CAUTION: Brewing Company, WestFax Brewing Company, LandLocked, Green Mountain, Great Frontier, and Ironworks Brewery

Why I was scared to drink it: A bananas foster beer sounded like it could be a syrupy mess.

What happened when I drank it: The six breweries above weren’t afraid to bring the bananas foster flavors -- and I love that about this brew. The nose is like sticking your entire face into a dish of bananas foster, which consists of a bowl of bananas, vanilla ice cream, and banana liqueur set on fire. It’s no subtle dessert, and it’s certainly not a subtle beer. Unfortunately, the finish had some lingering sugary notes, and it was a bit too Laffy Taffy-esque for me. But what else would you expect?

Caribbean Rum Cake

Who made it: CO-Brew and Southern Brewing and Winemaking

Why I was scared to drink it: When I think of dessert, I almost never crave rum cake.

What happened when I drank it: I didn’t mind this one! I was worried it would be overly sweet and taste like I was drinking a piece of pound cake accidentally soaked in a rum bottle full of beer. It didn’t! I enjoyed its dark rum aroma, and I also got some banana notes, too. Though that could also just be because I hadn’t properly rinsed out the glass from when it had bananas foster beer in it…. Look, I made my own collaboration beer!

Birth of Cool

Who made it: Spangalang Brewery and The Real Dill (not a brewery, but a pickle company)

Why I was scared to drink it: Pickles belong in bloodys, not beer...right?

What happened when I drank it: Remember how I was a little hesitant about that cucumber sour? Well, I was equally hesitant about drinking this gose brewed with cucumber water. But the brewery linked up with one of my favorite pickle makers in the whole dang world, so I had to give it a shot. Though it didn’t smell at all like pickles, it did, indeed, taste a little like pickle juice. But the beer redeemed itself when paired with a Real Dill pickle made with Spangalang’s D-Train IPA. And it was spicy. I’m a wimp when it comes to heat, but the spiciness of the beery pickle had me going back to the beer. The more I ate the pickle, the more I drank the beer. And in the end, I ended up digging both.

credits:"Dustin Hall / The Brewtography Project"

Corner Store

Who made it: Gravity Brewing and KettleHouse Brewing Company

Why I was scared to drink it: The beer was meant to taste like malt liquor.

What happened when I drank it: Gravity specializes in beers that will knock you on your butt. And they’re delicious. I wasn’t familiar with KettleHouse out of Missoula, MT, but they seem to have a good rep. I was a little bummed the dry hopped beer wasn’t poured directly into a brown paper bag, but hey -- I’m no brewer. As for the taste, it went down as easy as any booze Billy Dee Williams has ever shilled for, and it had an actual malt backbone. While I’ve moved past the days of heading into an economics class with bleary eyes the night after a malt liquor bender, I think of this beer as a delightful, grown-up version of the trashy booze from my younger days.

Knackered Knickers Olde Ale

Who made it: 38 State Brewing and Backcountry Brewery

Why I was scared to drink it: In an age of fruity, juicy beers, this features straight molasses.

What happened when I drank it: The breweries describe this “Knackered Knickers” olde ale as possessing “flavors of malty, sweetness, and slight spice from black molasses.” Sadly, when I got a whiff of the beer, I was greeted with a smell not unlike actual knackered knickers. It was not pleasant, and I almost began to cry. But I had to drink it, because spending a few seconds choking on beer I didn’t like was an easier out than admitting I didn’t have the guts to do this story. And yet, as the beer coated my tastebuds, a funny thing happened: I realized this was delicious. Sometimes the smell of a beer gives a poor preview for what the beer will actually taste like. This beer ended up having a serious malt body and a pleasant molasses finish. I was in shock. I’d thought I hate English-style beers. I guess not!

Lemon Zest Grisette

Who made it: Alpine Dog and Mountain Toad

Why I was scared to drink it: I couldn’t imagine liking a beer that reminds me of lemon Pledge.

What happened when I drank it: Don’t worry, I didn’t know what a grisette was, either. Turns out it’s one of those saison-esque beers you can have a few of without getting hammered. Considering it was 70 degrees outside, I thought there might be a line for a refreshing-sounding beer like this. There was not. And everyone (including myself, before I tried this beer) was silly for not lining up. Once again, the aroma seemed a little...off. But the taste! Oh, the taste! It was like drinking lemon sunshine, and every sip made me desire another one. The lemon flavors danced on my tongue -- but not in a way that made me pucker. I’m hoping this won’t be the last grisette I encounter on the shelves or in a taproom. I like lemon grisettes!

Japanese Saison

Who made it: Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery and Überbrew

Why I was scared to drink it: Shiitake mushrooms do not belong in beer.

What happened when I drank it: I’m just going to list some of the ingredients in this brew: green tea, shiitake mushrooms, kelp, roasted seaweed, ginger, yuzu, toasted sesame seeds, and Japanese pepper. I thought this mess would taste like seawater and mushrooms, and after taking a sip I’d have to spit it back into the cup like a baby and apologize to the nice brewery workers who poured me my sample. Instead, it was one of the more complex and rewarding beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. It was ginger-forward and earthy, while the yuzu added a level of tartness. Every sip revealed something new about the beer.

After drinking that last beer, I went to the Weldwerks/Great Notion booth for that hazy IPA I was craving. As I mentioned, it was worth waiting in line for. But there’s also something to be said for drinking something unexpectedly great, too.

May you have as many awful-sounding beers in your future as I had that day. You’ll probably love ‘em.