Article By: Andy Crouch
WITH THEIR pleasing aromatics, eye-catching colors and luscious flavors, fruit beers are popular both for their approachability and their individuality. Brewers in Europe and beyond have long used fruits to add sweet, sour or tart flavors and aromas to their beers. While there are some historic brewing styles, such as Framboise (raspberry) and Kriek (cherry), which are defined by their use of particular fruits, “fruit beer” is not solely its own style. Instead, creative brewers now use a variety of fruits, from classics to downright obscurities (gooseberry, plumcots, yuzu, and prickly pear), as ingredients in the production of any style of beer.
Once considered gimmicks that smelled and tasted like sugary soda pop, today’s best fruit beers can charm even the most ardent lover of hoppy, bitter beer. Often made with real fruit instead of extract or essence, the leading examples offer a swirling dance between sweet, sour and acidic notes, and rival wine in terms of complexity and character. Offerings in the this fruity group often serve as ‘gateway’ beers for drinkers who profess to dislike beer and quietly nurse hard ciders and ‘adult’ lemonade drinks. The recent and substantial increase in the popularity of cider, radler, shandy, and other related drinks offer retailers an opportunity to connect with a wide range of individual consumers otherwise usually found on the fringe of the beer marketplace. Fruit beers and certain Belgian offerings enlist familiar and accessible flavors, including sweet cherry hints, tart cranberry notes, and milder pear and apricot aromas. Drinkers from the earliest beginners to hardened beer nerds can agree that these fruit beers make refreshing accompaniments to summertime activities and warmer weather.
CHERRY BEER One of best known of all fruit beer styles, cherry beers (sometimes referred to by the French word for cherry ‘kriek’) strike an impressive figure when served in the proper fluted glassware. Often luminous and vividly red, the appearance of a cherry beer is enough to turn heads in restaurants. As with other fruit beers, brewers usually add whole cherries, puree or juice to a base beer as it ferments. The resulting products range in terms of sweetness, with some standout beers offering a welcomed balance of tartness and even light acidity imparted by the fruit.
CASCADE KRIEK ALE
Cascade Brewing Company
alcohol content 8.1% ABV
A small brewery with a growing reputation for sour and barrel aged beers, Cascade’s Kriek Ale is based upon the storied red ales of the Flanders region of Belgium. Colorful beers, occasionally brewed with fruit – and taking some sourness from barrels or inoculation with bacteria – the Cascade version of the style pours with murky, hazy brownish amber color and a great deal of carbonation in its auburn-pink head. The room immediately fills with the tart results of nine months lactic fermentation with fresh whole Northwest cherries in French oak. Pungent dried cherries and a woody funk mark the way for a crispness from the beer’s acidity, staying dry on the palate but with a distinctly full flavor. The sour and tart qualities play well against the lightly sweet cherry fruit flavor to a fantastic end.
LAKEFRONT CHERRY LAGER
Lakefront Brewing Company
alcohol content 5.5% ABV
Another fine Wisconsin offering that uses cherries harvested from local Door County. Founded near downtown Milwaukee in 1987 by brothers Russ and Jim Klisch, Lakefront makes a wide-range of ales and lagers. As its name suggests, this lager selection differs from most of the fruit beers discussed in this article. The beer has a bright, dark red appearance with a lighter pink head. This is not an over-the-top fruit beer, but one whose aroma is only mildly reminiscent of cherries. As with many other lager beers, Cherry Lager is a mellower flavored fruit beer, with a mild cherry flavor throughout that is balanced by a light tartness.
BLUEBERRY BEER Blueberry beers tend to divide beer drinkers into three groups: people who love them, people who think they are wimpy beverages not worthy of their time, and self-loathing members of the second group who lie about not liking them. These beers range from sickly sweet beers that taste like syrupy alcopops to drier, balanced offerings that gently highlight the powerful fragrance and taste of the tiny blueberry. Brewers frequently call upon a small area in craggy eastern Maine for the wild blueberries they use. Praised for their antioxidant qualities and ability to improve nearly every breakfast food, blueberries remain one of the most popular fruit adjuncts in American beer.
BAR HARBOR BLUEBERRY ALE
Atlantic Brewing Company
Bar Harbor, Maine
alcohol content 5.2% ABV
Operating out of an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Bar Harbor, Atlantic’s estate brewery is a popular destination for tourists and beer lovers in the area. Made with Maine wild blueberries, Atlantic’s blueberry ale is a classic case of breweries using their local ingredients to create cult favorites. Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale is a light fruit ale focused on blueberry aromatics, but shunning the sweet, cloying blueberry aftertaste found in many artificially sweetened beers.
BUNKER HILL BLUEBEERY ALE
Boston Beer Works
alcohol content 4.O% ABV
Located across the street from historic Fenway Park in Boston’s Kenmore Square, this brewpub understandably attracts a great deal of visitors. Beer Works’ most famous beer, Bluebeery Ale, offers both a pleasing fruit flavor and a fascinating visual element. The brewers age a golden base ale on top of a foundation of Maine blueberries. To complete the process, the bartender pours two spoonfuls of fresh blueberries into each pint. The result is a cascade of dancing blueberries that bob up and down in the glass as they float against currents of carbonation. The beer itself is medium-bodied, with light wheat and caramel malt notes that finishes slightly bitter.
Wachusett Brewing Company
alcohol content 4.4% ABV
Founded and run by three friends, Wachusett Brewing is a mid-sized brewery with an intensely local focus and following. As the brewery has grown in size, so has the popularity of its blueberry offering, which now stands as the company’s flagship. A pale blonde-colored ale with a simple, wispy head, the beer’s aroma is of pale wheat and mild, muted blueberries. The flavor is light, with a consistent blueberry flavor through to the faintly bitter finish.
Blue Point Brewing Company
Patchogue, New Jersey
alcohol content 4.6% ABV
Blue Point Brewing’s popular Blueberry Ale has spread like wild fruit over tap handles across New York’s Long Island. The vibrant and translucent Blueberry Ale offers a tiny white head and juicy, fragrant aromas of fresh blueberry. The flavor is predominantly a wheaty, biscuity maltiness with a light zesty hop bitterness. Created with 13O pounds of blueberries, the beer’s fruit character is mainly focused in the nose, while the flavor is dry and mildly fruity.
TRIPEL Hardly content to leave the strong ale game to the British and Americans, Belgian brewers produce a beautifully balanced and brilliantly hued contender in the Tripel. A long time holdout in the area of fruitier beers, cast against a sea of strong and hoppy offerings, Tripels bridge the gap between the sweeter beers listed here and the bitter beers American consumers increasingly prefer. Popularized by several Trappist breweries, Tripels pack loads of flavor and aromas into a tightly controlled package. Often bottle-conditioned, with yeast refermenting the beer after packaging, Tripels boast striking golden colors and a sizable and sustained white head. Deceivingly complex, the aromas combine juicy passion fruit and even mild banana notes, phenolic yeast hints, sizable pale malt hints, and robust yet coy alcohol traces. The Tripel’s body is equally mesmerizing, converting all of the aromas into an intricate web of playful flavors, with spicy yeast notes tempering warm malt, candi sugar and fruity alcohol elements. Despite all of these pieces, the multiple fermentation stages result in a dry style with only fleeting touches of sweetness, all while well-hiding the alcohol levels, which can reach up to 1O percent.
alcohol content 8.O% ABV
With its hazy light golden color and full crest of white foam, Tradewinds looks the traditional part. The aroma and flavor that follow creatively depart a little from the traditional standards, imparting a range of strongly sweet European base malts along with a light citric tang and touches of warming alcohol. The flavor sets forth a wash of sweet and dry alcohol, within a tight body of mild pepper spice over a drawn out noble hop flavor. The blend of different elements finishes both sweet and dry, calling for another go at its intriguing character.
FLUFFY WHITE RABBITS
Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
alcohol content 8.5%
Another fun offering from a brewer and his wife who release a quirky line of beers using rented time on other people’s brewing systems. Despite the absence of a bricks-and-mortar facility, Pretty Things manages to brew great beers, including this excellent Spring seasonal. Calling it “some sort of Triple”, the beer boasts a mixture of Amarillo, Saaz and Styrian Golding hops, pours light golden with – yes indeed – a fluffy white head of foam. Big aromas of clove, fruit and a touch of honey mix with hints of an earthy element. The beer maintains a mild malt sweetness, all while presenting a substantial and even layer of underlying hop bitterness and flavor. A new rite of passage for spring beer lovers.
LONG STRANGE TRIPEL
Boulevard Brewing Company
Kansas City, Missouri
alcohol content 9.2%
Recently purchased by Duvel Moortgat of Belgium and led by a Belgian brewmaster, Steven Pauwels, this offering from the Midwest successfully represents one of Europe’s great and classic beer styles. Named after the company’s long tenured employee, this gem of a Tripel pours with a golden amber color, with a solid sustained off-white cap of foam. Aromas are intensely of fruit, balancing banana, pear, apricot, and sweet malt mixed with a touch of spice. The flavor follows suit with a full bodied presentation of fruit, sweet yet balanced malts, and a rounding edge of spiciness. This entrant into the brewery’s specialty Smokestack Series is a fun mixture of sweet malts and big fruit aromas and flavors – a definite keeper.
RASPBERRY BEER Raspberry may have debuted a little later in the world brewing scene as a brewing ingredient than cherry, but it has become one the most popular of all fruit adjuncts. Brewers use an assortment of raspberry products, including extracts, purees and whole raspberries in an array of beer styles, from light wheat ales to foreboding imperial stouts. In the finest beers, the deep, luminous purple tones imparted by the use of actual raspberries are eye-catching and the aromas are unmistakable. A beautiful match with desserts, especially chocolate based treats, raspberry infused ales offer a subtle and pleasing reward for fruit beer fans.
Founders Brewing Company
Grand Rapids, Michigan
alcohol content 7.O% ABV
This unusually named beer packs in fresh raspberries at no less than five different stages of the brewing process. The result is an orange-red hued beer whose aroma is surprisingly balanced between wheat and mild raspberry notes. The flavor is more complex than the aroma suggests, with a slight tanginess upfront, followed quickly by a spritzy tartness, mild fruit sweetness, and a pleasant, tart finish. Rübaeus has a medium to full body and the relatively high alcohol content is at times noticeable. If you like the strength of this beer, try its imperial sibling, Blushing Monk, which is brewed with four times more raspberries than Rübaeus.
Abita Brewing Company
Abita Springs, Louisiana
alcohol content 4.2%
A long time consumer favorite from this New Orleans area brewery, Purple Haze layers raspberry flavor, with a puree added after filtration, over an American style wheat beer base. While not purple in color, the beer pours with a hazy orange amber hue and a slightly pinkish tint. The aromas remain of blackberry and raspberry fruit notes, mild overall and never over-powering. Not for advanced beer geeks but a readily accessible offering for fruit beer fans.