At in Santa Cruz, Calif., owner Alec Stefansky brews a red ale using maple-scented candy cap mushrooms. Stefansky, who has also experimented with fragrant redwood branches, says using wild, local ingredients in his beer is a way "to make flavors that are uniquely Northern Californian."
For his beer — called Rubidus Red, after the candy cap's Latin name — Stefansky collects the mushrooms himself each fall and winter. He says that the maple syrup aroma of dried candy caps is so potent that a single cup will do for seven barrels of the beer. What's more, if a person drinks just 2 or 3 pints of Rubidus Red, he or she will begin to smell deliciously like the fungus, according to Stefansky.
"You'll wake up smelling like breakfast," he says.
The article is full of other retch-inducing examples. Too few breweries make a decent red ale, let alone one with wild mushrooms, or salmonberries, or chokeberries or stinging nettles. I'm not a complete beer curmudgeon, the sage-brewed Stone/Dogfish Head/Vicory collaboration Saison du BUFF is great, and Ballast Point's San Salvador saison, brewed with San Diego-sourced ingredients, is a beer I want to try (if ever brewed again). I believe a brewery needs to master a few basic beers before starting down uncharted paths. Bringing in strange, non-traditional ingredients is a convenient way to mask a marginal beer or brewer. I'd much prefer a well-made local beer paired with a soup or stew or other dish created with locally sourced ingredients.