Beer Man

Try These Denver Durian Beers — Made With the Stinkiest Fruit in the World

This durian was not a stinky as expected.
This durian was not a stinky as expected. Jonathan Shikes
Durian is known in many places as the king of fruits. But its malodorous reputation and spiky surface have framed this southeast Asia native as more of a tyrannical monarch than a benevolent one. In fact, several large cities in Asia have banned people from eating or opening the fruit in public places due to its smell — which has been likened to sewage, gym socks and rotting vegetables.

Still, durian is used in many dishes in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries, from curries and fried snacks to sticky rice, pies and cakes. And on November 26, you can actually try two durian beers that are being tapped at Jade Mountain Brewery & Teahouse in Aurora and Wah Gwaan Brewing in Denver.

"I've been talking about making a durian beer forever — threatening to make one, really," says Jade Mountain owner and head brewer Sean Guerrero. An Aurora native, Guerrero spent three years running a brewery in China, which is when he first tried the fruit and thought about it as an ingredient. "But I don't even think this is the weirdest beer I've ever done," he adds. A candidate for that honor might be Player 456, a German-style gose that Guerrero recently made with squid ink.

At Wah Gwaan, head brewer Dickie Tucker, who is of Thai decent, has wanted to make a beer with durian for a while as well, and he recently decided to just "go for it," says brewery co-owner Harsha Maragh. Although durian aren't native to Jamaica, where a lot of Wah Gwaan's culinary inspiration comes from, it does fit in with the brewery's other tropical fruit beers, like its Trop Queen Jackfruit Kolsch.

"We used real frozen durian and processed it into a purée," Maragh says. "We wanted the true flavor of the fruit to come through, so we stuck to the real fruit instead of a concentrate or extract. It's definitely not as potent as fresh durian. And the taste? She describes it as "super sweet, custardy, citrusy and with a flavor similar to pineapple," adding, "It has a sulphur-like smell and taste, as well."
click to enlarge Jade Mountain's Sean Guerrero processes durian fruit for a beer. - JONATHAN SHIKES
Jade Mountain's Sean Guerrero processes durian fruit for a beer.
Jonathan Shikes
Once the beer is tapped, though, Maragh says the sulphur smell will have been toned down, allowing the true flavor of the durian to come out. "We tend to have adventurous beer drinkers who are looking for more exotic flavors in beer, so I think this reception will be similar to our jackfruit beer," she notes.

At Jade Mountain, Guerrero used six large fresh durian, and although they are in season, they aren't cheap — costing $50 each as a result of their long, complicated voyage across the Pacific. He spent a couple of hours processing them earlier this week, opening his brewery's garage doors and wearing gloves.

But the smell wasn't nearly as bad as its ignoble reputation, possibly because the fruits weren't overly ripe or because they had been flash-frozen for import — or simply because some people may not pick up on the stench as much as others. At worst, it smelled like rotting fruit mixed with old cheese, Guerrero says. The flavor is another matter entirely, though — reminiscent of a combination of pineapple, coconut and persimmon.

The resulting beer, called Durian King, will be a mixture of sweet and sour, as Guerrero is also adding vanilla, lactose and his house strain of Koji yeast, which is used for sake, shochu, miso sauce and soy sauce in Asia. Many of Jade Mountain's other beers are made with Koji yeast, too, as it imparts "clean, tropical and sour pineapple" notes, he says. Most are around 4 to 5 percent ABV.

"Nobody messes with this fruit, so it was funny that we both did this at the same time," Guerrero says. The beers will tap Friday, November 26, at their respective breweries.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes