Fruit beers don’t always get much respect or attention in the craft beer world, most likely because the early commercially available examples were not very exciting.
Breweries released a number of raspberry wheat beers and other one-dimensional, slightly sweet, artificial-tasting brews designed for drinkers who didn’t actually enjoy beer. However, the addition of fruit ranging from berries to stone fruits to citrus, as well as other more obscure examples (such as acai, raisins, dates, apple, coconut, or melon), can create interesting flavor profiles of great depth.
Following are four examples of California-brewed fruit beers.
• OK, so Belmont Brewing’s Strawberry Blonde Ale may actually fall into the category of lightweight fruit beers that I dismissed above. With a nose of strawberry Kool-Aid, a thin body and a very light but slightly sweet sugared-cereal malt flavor, Strawberry Blonde does not hold the allure or complexity of the other examples that follow. However, it’s cleanly brewed and gently carbonated with an ever-so-slightly tart fruitiness in the finish, and its sessionable 4.5 percent ABV makes it quite drinkable on a hot summer day. You may be able to use this as a “gateway beer” for your friends who say they don’t like beer.
• In collaboration with the Cistercian monks at the nearby Abbey of New Clairvaux, Sierra Nevada brews Ovila Abbey Saison with Mandarin Oranges and Peppercorns. The aroma exhibits a slightly sweet orange blossom note, more likely from German Mandarina Bavaria hops than from the fruit. The Belgian yeast strain contributes fruity bubblegum esters to the bouquet. Not nearly as dry and crisp as a typical saison, the beer features low carbonation, a relatively full body and 7.5 percent ABV, along with a slightly sweet flavor and just a hint of black-pepper spice on the finish. While the beer tastes different from a traditional saison, I’m hard-pressed to identify the flavor as mandarin orange – the fruit works in conjunction with malt, hops and yeast to enhance the overall flavor rather than dominating the beer.
• The Almanac Beer Company has made a name for itself with its distinctive sour beers, releasing a new variety each month. Recent releases have incorporated citrus, strawberries, blackberries, pluots and peaches. Its most recent brew, Cerise Sour Blond Ale, was brewed with Rainier and Bing cherries. Aged in wine barrels, the 7 percent ABV beer smells like a barrel room at a winery – vinous dark fruit and earthy funk, along with lactic sourness from its house yeast blend that includes sourdough starter. The beer is puckeringly sour up front, followed by barnyard hay and horse-blanket flavors, buttery Chardonnay notes and a tart, citric finish. The flavor of the sweet cherries is overpowered by the sour culture, but they do add to the overall taste as well as contributing a beautiful reddish-orange color.
• Lost Abbey’s Framboise de Amorosa is an ale aged in oak barrels with raspberries. It’s incredibly rich and complex, beginning with a base of Lost Abbey’s Lost And Found Ale, a Belgian Dubbel, which supplies the raisin, fig and dark Belgian candi sugar flavors typical of the style. Framboise de Amorosa is a deep ruby-red color, with an overwhelming aroma of freshly picked raspberries and a Pinot Noir-like essence. Moderately carbonated, the beer features an extremely tart berry flavor balanced with rich vanilla and caramel notes characteristic of oak-barrel aging. Full-bodied with a long-lasting tart fruit finish and a hefty 8.5 percent ABV, Framboise de Amorosa is more appropriate to enjoy with a chocolate dessert, or for dessert itself, rather than drinking for refreshment on a warm day.
Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which welcomes beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit sudzers.org.