Friday, March 30, 2012
Fruit of the Vine by Nick Anderson
Men are scared to be seen drinking ‘fruity’ beers. Let’s be blunt and state the simple fact here; there’s a stigma attached to beers that utilize fruit and fruit flavors and it is completely undeserved. Big ad campaigns and decades of social stereotypes have made the presence of fruit in beer something most men are downright afraid of. Let me state one thing right now: there is nothing manly about the fear of being perceived as less manly. Fear is the antithesis of bravery; it is the anchor of ignorance, and the only true barrier separating uncertainty from understanding. If you’ve taken anything away from this ‘Beer 101’ series I’ve been writing, I hope it’s the confidence to never let anyone tell you what it is you should or shouldn’t like and I include myself in that statement. The truth is that fruit has been used in beer as long as there has been beer on this planet and enjoying it says nothing about a person beyond what their taste buds respond to.
Belgian Lambic beers use different fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and black currants with varying degrees of sweetness to produce easily enjoyable Ales with intense fruit character that balance the very sour base beer they’re created from. As we’ve covered before in this space Belgian Wit (or White) beers classically use orange peel among spices like coriander and cardamom to add an additional flavor component. Dogfish Head Aprihop is a springtime treat that melds one of their hoppy IPAs with apricot, playing off of the naturally tropical notes that hops often bring to beer. Dogfish quite regularly uses fruit in their beers to great effect—from the black raspberry and blueberry in Black & Blue to the Pinot Noir juice in Red & White to their ancient Ales Midas Touch (Muscat grapes) and Chateau Jiahu (Muscat grapes and hawthorn berries). Raison d’Etre is a mainstay of the Dogfish lineup and uses golden raisins as a launching point for a malty, food-friendly Ale. Festina Peche uses fresh peach juice to add a subtle fruity note to the sour Berlinerweisse style.
Fans of Louisiana’s Abita brewery are quite familiar with two of their beers that are unabashedly fruit-forward. Purple Haze is a raspberry Wheat Ale that is as smooth as it is refreshing (and popular, I should add) and the other is one of my favorite beers ever—their Strawberry Harvest Lager. Strawberry Lager is everything a fruit beer should be; the fruit is as bittersweet as a bite into a fresh strawberry, and the Lager itself is subtle in allowing the fruit to come through while being substantive enough to reassure anyone scared to be seen not drinking a ‘real’ beer. Strawberry Lager is a once-per-year treat and it’ll be arriving soon, so try not to miss out on it.
All things considered, fruit flavors are as natural to beer as anything. Hoppy beers are often lauded for their ‘citrus’, ‘tropical fruit’, or ‘grapefruit’ notes. Ale yeasts are partially identified by the fruitier character they have as opposed to Lager yeasts. Wheat Ales of all types are naturally lemony and if you tell me you’ve never been served a Hefeweizen with a slice of lemon I will call you a liar to your face. For a twist on that idea check out 21st Amendment’s Hell Or High Watermelon or Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing, made with fresh pineapple juice. Just as wine should taste fruity (it is grape juice, after all), the function of beer as a refreshing and bright beverage almost necessitates some form of fruit character. What you should pay attention to when exploring fruit beers is your response to the level of sugar in the beer. Again, as with wine, there is a plain difference between what we as professionals would consider ‘fruit sweet’ rather than ‘sugar sweet’. That’s not to say sugary stuff doesn’t have its place; it’s simply to say that the vast majority of the time one is more desirable than the other. There is no reason to ever shy away from trying a fruit beer aside from not being a fan of the fruit featured. If anyone gives you grief… well, ask them if they like Pumpkin Ales. If they say no, well they at least know what they like and don’t like. If they say yes, call them a hypocrite and grab another round on me. ‘Tis the season, beer fans. Until next time.