Divided we drink

Fruity beer?

Photo: Fruit and beer: an unlikely but refreshing combination

By Jim Witmer

We are a nation deeply divided on some very important issues,

Such as if fruit belongs in beer.

There are those who want nothing to do with fruit corrupting the pure and simple creation of the world’s oldest and most favorite beverage. “I want beer to taste like beer.” Or, “Fruity beers are too girly.”

Others are only too happy to grab a pint of the latest fruit infusion into any beer, anytime—and twice on Sunday. “I don’t like the bitter IPAs, but the ones with fruit are really good.”

I hear it quite often.

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend fully engrossed in the world of homebrewing and beer geekery who made a few good points about whether or not brewers should feel the need to bastardize an IPA with the addition of fruit where instead they should rely on the hops themselves to provide the character of grapefruit, mango, papaya, and all tropical nuances that Pacific Northwest (and of late, New Zealand and Australian) hops will impart. I agree that when a skillful brewer pulls out the best tropical notes that hops can provide, it’s marvelous. However, I also made the point that those tropical-esque hops are sometimes significantly difficult and expensive to obtain by many in the brewing industry, so maybe the next best thing is adding some fruit to impart and mimic those flavors, Let’d face it not everyone actually cares or understands what the various hop varieties contribute anyway.

Newbies to craft beer can be drawn into the category by a flavorful fruit accented IPA. Some folks just do not appreciate the dankness or bitterness of the hop and are maybe turned off at the flavor—Maybe a fruited IPA is just the right thing. It’s actually a great introduction into an IPA to have somewhat simpler and familiar flavors … just leave the dank resinous flavors and aromas of a Denver head shop to those who can fully appreciate them.

Sometimes an IPA needs a little help with tropical fruit additions, but hopefully fruit is NOT used to cover up flaws. hThough there is a long list of these companies adding tropical fruit flavors, a nice example is Heavy Seas TropiCannon. The brewery explains on their website that they switched up some of the hops in their Loose and Double Cannon IPA’s with a more citrusy hop option such as Amarillo and increased Simcoe. “We’ve introduced dried grapefruit, orange, and lemon peel in the brewing process and added mango, blood orange, and more grapefruit post-fermentation.” I was then humored by a comment on the Beer Advocate site where a woman opines: ‘The smell is almost overwhelmingly luscious: caramel and guava, mango and coconut milk, and juicy to the max. It’s fortunate that the sweetness is balanced somewhat by citrus and resinous hop aromas.’ Then summed it up with, ‘A beer which, like the best of summer boyfriends, makes an awkward first impression, but quickly grows on you…for now.’”

But it’s not like fruited beers are anything new. Ancient urns have been analyzed only to find that the beer-based liquid therein had components of various fruits. Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch is now such a shout-out to the recipe that was found in King Tut’s tomb. This beer of course was a blend of honey, barley, and grape, with saffron, but nonetheless, a beer base. 

Fast forward in brewing history to the Belgians who are known to produce some of the rarest, funkiest, and most exquisite beers in the world. Using as their most popular fruit both cherries and raspberries for a long list of reasons, the least of which are the availability, fermentability, tartness, and the lovely color they impart. Traditional Belgian Krieks and Lambics have no hop presence, but are pleasingly tart with a touch of sweetness. From upstate New York’s brewery Ommegang, one of the finest examples of a U.S. Kreik readily available is Rosetta Perfectly balanced sweetness with a tart and sour cherry finish expertly brewed in collaboration with their sister Belgian brewery, Leifmans.

During the warmer months, there is no shortage of Shandys and Radlers where typically a lager is enhanced with a fruit flavored soda. One of my favorites is one made instead with a wheat beer base imported from Germany that lays claim to being the world’s first grapefruit hefeweizen. Schofferhofer’s low ABV at 2.5 percent, and its unbelievable refreshing character, is always a summer favorite.

Because nearly any kind of fruit can be added to almost any style of beer, probably the most natural relationship is between fruit and a sour or tart beer, such as Gose and Berliner Weiss. Because fruit is naturally acidic and lower in pH, and these styles are by definition as well, the execution is often glorious. I’m partial to most any release by Cincinnati’s Urban Artifact, although the main issue being that theyavailability is so limited. So, get them while you can.

The ubiquity of fruit in just about every style of beer with every kind of fruit, especially the IPA tropicals…mango, grapefruit, blood orange, guava, passion fruit, etc… in IPAs is no longer just a passing trend, as sales have proven that there is always a market for ones that are well crafted.

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Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at JimWitmer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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