If you’ve never heard of glitter beer, the internet sure has. A March Vice Munchies story reported that female brewers in the craft beer business had innovated the process of infusing beer with food grade glitter — the kind you might find on cupcakes. Within hours, an entire glitter beer subgenre of trendspotting stories, photos, and videos were shared internationally by online beer circles.
Spoiler alert: not everybody was on board. Self-appointed defenders of craft beer virtue decried the glitter beer trend as gimmicky, pandering, unnecessary, annoying, or somehow as a threat to masculinity. They're apparently angling for snowflake beer.
Love it or hate it, glitter beer creates a captivating visual. A flood of fine sprinkles swirl throughout the beer when poured, creating an animated metallic shimmer in the glass, and a persisting twinkle on the beer’s surface as you drink it.
Or so I found while drinking one in North Park.
I didn’t expect Mike Hess Brewing would be the first place I’d come face to face with glitter beer. Not because its brew team are all men, necessarily, but because I haven’t ever known the eight-year-old brewery to follow beer trends. It routinely offers historic styles, such as altbier or vienna lager, but has generally ignored recent trends such as pastry stouts, milkshake IPAs, and the most in-demand beer trend of all: the hazy IPA. Until now I’d say its faddiest beer was a pumpkin stout.
“If we do a beer, it’s not for the sake of do a style, but doing a style well,” explains Mike Hess, the namesake owner of the brewery. He notes the brewery’s first hazy beer is finally on the production schedule, now that the industry has refined best practices for making one.
But glitter beer isn’t a beer style. Glitter gets nowhere near the brewing process, it's only added to a keg just before being tapped. When Hess encountered a vendor demonstrating glitter beer at a recent Craft Brewers Association trade show, he didn't see anything girly about it, he just thought, “It might be kind of fun to try something funny.”
He got enough to sparkle three kegs of a beer dubbed Unicorn Dust, tapping one in each of its three tasting rooms, promoting it with a video of a young man dancing around the brewery in a unicorn costume.
The critics of glitter beer aren’t wrong that it’s gimmicky. It has exclusively been used as a promotional tool. But judging by the reception at Hess Brewing, the gimmick works. Hess says the Friday his crew tapped Unicorn Dust, it outsold every other beer in the lineup by at least 50 percent. Not just among ladies: most of those ordering it were men.
And glitter doesn’t change a thing about the beer except for how it looks. It didn’t make the beer gritty, or sugary, or any other concerns I had. But it did reintroduce me to a beer trend of yesteryear: fruited IPA.
Turns out, Unicorn Dust is just the glittery version of a new Hess beer, Tangerine A-Fair, this year’s official beer of the San Diego County Fair. I fell off the fruited IPA bandwagon a couple of years back, and wouldn’t have ordered it other than for the glitter. But I’d have missed out on a very tasty brew that adeptly showcases why tangerine has followed in the footsteps of grapefruit and blood orange as the IPA fruit du jour. Real fruit, wheat added for smoothness, and plenty of Citra hops yield a refreshing, summer fair-accessible IPA.
Cans of it being distributed around town do feature a unicorn on the label, but they feature zero glitter. Hess Brewing is out of sparkle, so if you want any, you’ll have to add it yourself.