Featured Contributor Richard Grahn @
Are Clever Craft Brewers Exploiting Your Grandmother’s Fruit Salad?
I was recently pondering the proliferation of fruity-beers that seem to be taking the American craft beer scene by storm these days and this pondering has introduced a few questions in my mind. The first is obviously, who is drinking all this fruity beer? From there, I begin to wonder about the history behind this current craze and finally, I ask myself, where is all this going?
The term “craft beer” is a fairly new buzzword in the modern lexicon but the fact is that humans have been “crafting” beer for many, many centuries and some deference to that history is in order. Still, we have arrived at an exciting juncture in the evolution of beer where technology, ingenuity, modern agriculture, rapid transportation, and entrepreneurship are pushing the pre-conceived notions of what a beer can be. No longer are brewers limited by regional constraints such as local water chemistry or local ingredients. Thanks to modern chemistry, brewers in California (for example) can produce highly-respectable Belgium-style ales or German-style Weißbiers if they want to.
While brewers can get hops (and other ingredients) from around the world, a growing number have turned to growing at least some of their own hops locally and incorporating other local ingredients into their beer as well. This strategy not only reduces a brewer’s dependence on an increasingly strained hop market, it also serves to reinforce the local identity of small, independent breweries around the country. In was only a matter of time before local or seasonal fruit would work its way into the ever-expanding craft brewer’s repertoire and has it ever. Throw in some hot summer weather and you have the ingredients for a bonanza.
So, who drinks fruity beer? Well, my girlfriend for one. Let’s face it, not everyone likes bitter beer or beer with a heavily roasted flavor. Fruity beer addresses this portion of the market brilliantly. When a beer starts to resemble a wine-cooler or your grandmother’s fruit salad, it’s reaching out to a completely different market than the one that that tends to suck up the hops with an almost religious fervor.
Now before we go too far down the road here, it’s important to note that having a little fruit in your beer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re drinking a “sweet” beer or that your beer can’t also have a bitter component to it. I’ve tasted a variety of fruit-infused beers and the variety is certainly not just in the types of fruit used.
Adding fruit to the brewing process appears to be relatively new “trend” though there is some evidence that Hawthorne fruit and/or wild grapes were used in fermented Neolithic Chinese beverages as far back as 9000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians are also known to have incorporated pomegranates and dates into their fermented beverages so it’s not like it’s something new. Still, some regions of the world have a history of resisting the trend. While you can find references to the use of fruit in English and German beer, they’re more of an anomaly in the historic record than a trend. It seems that, here in America at least, the constraints of tradition and law (search for Reinheitsgebot to see an example of a really old beer law) have given way to innovation, creativity and experimentation in a more pronounced way. Modern craft brewing in America is descended from a rich lineage of brewing traditions from around the world but it’s also the result of the independence, creativity and adventurous spirit of US craft brewers in general. Craft beer in America has become a uniquely diverse and distinct subject in its own right so why wouldn’t one expect to find a little fruit salad in the mix?
Where is all this going? Well, it’s hard to say at this point how many more fruits there are to explore where the brewing process is concerned. The citrus realms have been explored pretty thoroughly (and successfully) already and we’re seeing some really nice peach, pear and apple brews on the market too. Then there’s watermelon beer (yes it tastes like watermelon), coconut, pineapple, mango, guava, grapes, berries of just about any kind, and the list goes on. Name any fruit and you can pretty much bet that it’s already been brewed into a beer or it will be soon. Craft brewers are apparently oblivious to any eyebrows that might get raised in the process of creating the next outrageous beer. It’s a good thing but it also means there is so much beer to sample, I’m never gonna get to the end of it. But maybe that’s a good thing too 😉
Where fruit beer is concerned, this author finds it a fantastic choice for summer. There’s something about adding a touch of citrus or peach or pear to a cold beverage on a hot day that makes it that much more refreshing. Fruit beer brings a bit of exotic to the party and you’ll find it pairs well with the many sizzling tastes of summer (from BBQ to seafood and just about everything in between). Being a craft beer enthusiast sort of implies a sense of adventure. Fruit beers offer that adventure in abundance. Below are just a few of my favorites from this summer’s adventuring so far.
Saint Archer Brewing Company – San Diego, California
Orange peel and coriander give this beer a nice citrusy character without getting too sweet. This is unfiltered beer at its best and it’s easily my favorite beer of the summer to date. It’s only available in California at the moment so if you live there or are visiting, put this on your list (and then send me some please).
Manor Hill Brewing – Ellicott City, MD
This Maryland-brewed, Belgian-style witbeer is also a bit hard to come by (even in Maryland at the moment) but is well worth a tasting if you get the chance. Again, this beer isn’t too sweet and I’ve found it to be a great local rival to my summer favorite above. This tasty treat is brewed with white peach and Mandarina Bavaria hops that achieve a well-balanced, tangy, citrus flavor on the front-end.
Hell or High Watermelon
21st Amendment Brewery– San Francisco, CA
This beer really does taste like watermelon and instantly invokes visions of a summer picnic. It’s a seasonal beer (available April – September) and its low I.B.U.s make it a perfect choice for the fruity beer lover in your life. Recently, I woke up to a rather dreary, overcast day. Before I finished the second can of this beer, the sun was out and it was a new day. I’m not claiming this beer has power over the weather but I won’t rule it out either.
Manor Hill Brewing – Ellicott City, MD
For this example, I’m going to stick with another Manor Hill brew just to emphasize the point that fruity beer can satisfy the hop-lover in you too. This double IPA chimes in at 83 I.B.U.s but has a beautifully fruity nose and a bit of caramel at the finish. This is a more, complex, hop-centric beer and the difference between this IPA and Manor Hill’s witbier demonstrates that different styles can work equally well with fruit.
Flying Dog Brewery – Frederick, MD
And while we’re in Maryland, I would be remiss to mention this widely-distributed (in about 20 states and DC) favorite of mine. Bloodline starts you off with a citrus nose and follows up with a beautiful blend of hops and citrus. Brewed with blood orange and blood orange peel, this beer offers a delicate dance between sweetness and bitterness that can even be enjoyed by those who typically don’t care for bitter beer (like my girlfriend). This is a beer I like having on hand most of the time. I love cooking with it, I love drinking it and I love looking at the label. I’m easy.
If there’s a conclusion to be drawn here, it’s that there’s a fruit beer out there that’s sure to tantalize just about any discerning palate. The question is, how do you find just the right one for you? Whether you’re already a fan of fruit in your beer or have always been reluctant to dive in, I would challenge you to get a little adventurous during your next trip to your favorite brewery or brewpub. There’s so much great beer on tap in America, it would be a shame to miss out on your next favorite due to a preconceived notion that might not be entirely accurate. Don’t be afraid to add something fruity to your next flight and you just might be surprised at where it takes you.
Cheers Brew Fans!
About the Author:
Richard Grahn (BrewFan) is the resident craft beer enthusiast, writer and web developer at microbrewingamerica.com. You can catch up with him at:
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