Latest Craft Brews Inspired by Far More Than Hops

Beers on the vanilla end of the spectrum are also worth seeking out – and in fact, you may have to do some seeking, because most places tend to whip up vanilla porter on a whim (usually because they've acquired a few high-quality vanilla beans) and sell out very quickly. Vanilla Porter from Breckenridge Brew Pub and Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean are both readily available at specialty retailers year-round.

The piece de resistance among dessert brews might be Shorts Carrot Cake beer out of Bellaire, Mich. It doesn't seem like an obvious winner, but critics and fans agree it's spicy, sweet, rich, and gets the carrot cake flavor right on the nose…yes, even the icing.

And In a Category All Its Own…

Here's a seafoody secret that dark beer connoisseurs have been onto for a hundred years : Oyster stout is a palate-pleaser. A handful of oyster shells (or whole oysters) dropped into a brew batch adds a subtle yet yummy marine undertone—perfectly complementary to stout. Domestically, Abita uses freshly shucked local oysters in its Imperial Louisiana Oyster Stout. 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco uses Hog Island sweetwater oyster shells to make its Marooned on Hog Island stout.

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