Meadowlark Brewing’s Fungus Shui
Mushroom beer?! I don’t suffer from mycophobia, but mushroom fear is real, bros. Tim Schnars, brewmaster at Meadowlark Brewing in Sidney, Mont., is on a mission to change minds, though. “The most rewarding thing about brewing a beer like this is watching people’s facial reactions when they try it!” he says. “The best is the person who winces all the way to their lips and then their face brightens up in shock and disbelief, ending in a wide grin. It’s definitely one of those ‘aha’ moments that is found so often in craft beer and gastronomy culture.”
Schnars takes the art of creating good food (and beer, of course) to the next level. We’re talking crypto-gastronomy applied to brewing, which is basically hiding the true origin of flavors. For example, making your brain think that it’s tasting maple syrup when it’s actually a lactone (a type of ester) known as sotolon, which is derived from candy cap mushrooms.
No joke. These unusual and expensive mushrooms are foraged and used in exotic dessert recipes thanks to their pronounced maple, and sometimes curry-like, notes. And now they’ve been used to brew beer, but not without some challenges. Aside from overcoming fungus fret with a lot of consumer education, there’s no “Mushroom Beer” style category. “We had to submit a formula and statement of process to the TTB [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] for label approval, in which we also had to submit the accredited forager’s information,” Schnars explains.
Candy caps are also powerful. Only three pounds of dried mushrooms were used for a 15-barrel (465 gallon) batch, a lesson learned the hard way. “When we brewed this ale last year, the maple syrup flavor was so strong that after a couple beers you would actually start to smell like maple syrup, so we toned it down for this batch,” adds Schnars.
Needless to say, I had to taste it. Plus, the nameplay is on point. When you think “maple” you think “dark beer,” but this ale is surprisingly clear and golden with a short-lived head. The aroma is full of maple syrup with earthy and buttery notes. And, sure enough, it tastes exactly like maple syrup. Slightly crisp with a light body, both of which allow the maple flavors to dominate. Some local honey amplifies the perceived sweetness, which borders safely below cloying with a delicious fermented honey and light mead-like finish.
Except for an earthy edge, there’s really no sign of mushrooms. But as the beer warms and leaves the palate, I do start to pick up both savory and sweet notes of curry. It’s kind of crazy, and I’m finding myself lingering with the flavors just to see if more will unfold.
Brewed annually in the spring and available on draft and in bottles, Fungus Shui is truly an “aha!” beer moment that all gastronomy geeks must try.
Meadowlark Brewing | Sidney, MT
STYLE: Fruit/Vegetable Beer
AVAILABILITY: Spring (Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming)
Look: 3.5 | Smell: 4 | Taste: 4.5 | Feel: 3.5 | Overall: 3.75
Todd’s Score: 91 ■