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23 - Specialty Beer
23 - Specialty Beer

Specialty Beer styles

Surely any well made beer is special, but what makes a Specialty Beer? In terms of brewing how should a beer be classified that does not really fit in a specific style? Read on to find out…

Previously we examined Smoke-Flavored/Wood-Aged Beers, in this article we will cover BJCP Category 23, Specialty Beer, which includes the following Beer Styles:

23 - Specialty Beer
23 – Specialty Beer

First we will cover the history of the category, then take a look at the specifications of each style highlighting the similarities and differences. We then sample commercial examples of each style.


According to the BJCP Guidelines this category of beers has not evolved from anything in particular happening historically in the brewing world but was formed as a way of categorising beers that do not fit into any other specific style due to techniques or ingredients used. Below are some examples:

  • Unusual techniques e.g. ice beers (excluding Eisbocks).
  • Unusual fermentables e.g. maple syrup, sorghum (used in a lot of gluten free beers).
  • Unusual ingredients e.g. rye (excluding German Rye Beers).
  • Combinations of styles e.g. India Brown Ale (a mix of an IPA and a Brown Ale).

The BJCP guidelines also explain that this can be the category where minor world styles go, such as:

  • Scottish 90/- (though these are often seen as Strong Scotch Ales).
  • American Stock Ale.
  • Imperial Red Ale.
  • Non-Alcoholic beers.

There are many more examples of the above on the BJCP site.


According to Jamil Zainasheff in his book, Brewing Classic Styles, this category is a catchall for beers that don’t fit into any of the other categories. This might include historical beers, clones of commercial beers that don’t fit other styles, or beers made with unusual techniques or ingredients that prevent them from fitting into the Fruit or the Spice, Herb, Vegetable categories.

The following table* shows the characteristics of the one style of Specialty Beer:

Characteristic Specialty Beer
Original Gravity: Varies with base style
Final Gravity: Varies with base style
ABV (alcohol %): Varies with base style
IBU’s (bitterness): Varies with base style
SRM (color): Varies with base style

The above table shows that there are no specific guidelines as to a Specialty Beer’s characteristics and that those of the underlying style (if applicable) apply to the beer e.g. Saranac Moonshadow Black IPA is based upon an American IPA so the characteristics of an American IPA should be applied to this beer with allowances for the darker color and perhaps some additional maltiness in the aroma and flavor. Sinamar, which is a liquid malted grain extract, is often used to give the darker color without altering the flavor.

In the following sections we will look in more detail at each of the above Beer Styles.

Specialty Beer

Saranac Moonshadow Black IPA
Saranac Moonshadow Black IPA

Commercial examples of this style include Bell’s Rye Stout, Bell’s Eccentric Ale, Samuel Adams Triple Utopias, Hair of the Dog Adam, Great Alba Scots Pine, Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale, Great Divide Bee Sting Honey Ale, Stoudt’s Honey Double Mai Bock, Rogue Dad’s Little Helper, Rogue Honey Cream Ale, Dogfish Head India Brown Ale, Zum Uerige Sticke and Doppel Sticke Altbier, Yards Brewing Company General Washington Tavern Porter, Rauchenfels Steinbier, Odells 90 Shilling Ale, and Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale. We decided to sample Saranac Moonshadow Black IPAStone Arrogant Bastard Ale and had previously sampled Samuel Adams Triple Bock.

Saranac Moonshadow Black IPA has a base style of an American IPA and the following characteristic which is within style for alcohol content:

  • ABV = 6.0%

This beer is dark red in color with a white head that lasts. A citrusy aroma and grapefruit flavor. Above average carbonation with a good mouth-feel and a clean finish.

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale
Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale

Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale has a base style of either an Old Ale or an American Barleywine and the following characteristic which fits more within Old Ale for alcohol content though fits American Barleywine better for bitterness if the 100+ IBU’s estimates are correct:

  • ABV = 7.2%

This beer is red in color with a cream head that lasts. A slight earthy hop aroma. A bitter hop flavor. Moderate carbonation with an average mouth-feel.

Samuel Adams Triple Bock
Samuel Adams Triple Bock

Samuel Adams Triple Bock has a base style of either a Doppelbock or Eisbock and the following characteristics which are above both for alcohol content and color:

  • ABV = 18.0%
  • SRM = 200

This beer is brewed with maple syrup and comes in a 8.45 Fl. Oz bottle. The example we tried in the summer of 2013 was bottled  on Dec 5, 2000, and poured both thick and dark. Three of us split the small bottle and found the beer enjoyable to drink but very sweet and the small sample was sufficient.

What next?

For now this is the end of our series looking at the BJCP Beer Styles. Do keep checking our Blog as we delve into other HomeBrew and Beer related topics.

If you have any questions or comments about this article or any others in the series, please do not hesitate to leave comments below.

* Beer Styles’ data is courtesy of BJCP.org.

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